When your health care provider says it is time to start introducing solid food to your baby, you may be wondering which foods are appropriate for her to eat and which are no-nos. One great question is, when can my baby eat cheese?
As a registered dietitian, I get questioned whether a baby can enjoy cheese quite often. This article will break down when your baby can transition to solid foods, whether she can have cheese, and tips on how to safely incorporate cheese into her diet.
When can my baby have solid foods?
While every baby is different, most get the green-light to start solids between 4 and 6 months of age. The permission to start introducing solid foods is based on your baby’s developmental milestones and not simply on a date on a calendar, so always consult with your health care provider before beginning to introduce new foods.
Some developmental signs that indicate baby is ready to try solid foods include:
Baby is able to sit upright without being supported.
Baby shows interest in food when a caregiver is eating.
Baby can hold her head up by herself.
Baby no longer has the tongue thrust reflex that she had when she was younger and was breast or bottle feeding.
The medical literature suggests that introducing solid foods too early may lead to increased risk of chronic disease, as well as increased risk of diarrhea, as baby’s gut may not be fully developed. On the other hand, introducing solids too late may increase feeding difficulties. Your health care provider will encourage you to set up the high chair when the time is right.
When can I feed my baby cheese?
Since babies should not be fed cow’s milk until one year of age, other dairy foods like cheese and yogurt should be considered. Cheese is a tasty and nutritious food that provides nutrients like protein, calcium, and vitamin A. Cheese may be introduced around 9 months.
In the past, parents were told to avoid potentially allergenic foods, like dairy and eggs, to reduce the risk of baby developing a food allergy. However, experts now agree that babies should be exposed to common allergenic foods early and often, as this practice is now being linked to fewer food allergies in children.
If you are concerned about lactose intolerance in your baby, it is important to note that this condition is actually very uncommon in infants, and symptoms typically develop closer to the age of three. In addition, lactose intolerance should not be confused with a milk protein allergy. Due to culturing, cheeses like cheddar and colby naturally contain very little lactose. However, if your baby has a confirmed milk protein allergy, they should not be offered cheese. It’s always a good idea to consult with your health care provider before introducing a food if you have any concerns.
What to Look For
There are certain features to look for when evaluating which cheese to feed your baby and toddler:
Choose cheese made from the milk of pasture-raised cows.
Cheese made from pasture-raised milk contains higher levels of healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of Food Science and Nutrition showed grass-fed milk contained 147% more omega-3 and 125% more CLA than the milk of cows fed grain-focused diets.
Choose certified organic cheese.
Organic cheese is always produced without antibiotics, synthetic hormones, toxic pesticides, or GMOs. (What does certified organic mean?)
Choose pasteurized cheese.
At this age, it’s best to avoid raw (unpasteurized) cheese and soft cheeses like brie. Organic Valley offers a number of pasteurized cheeses including colby, mild and sharp cheddar, American singles, and string cheese.
Tips for Introducing Cheese to Your Baby
Handing your baby a hunk of cheddar is not the safest choice for your toothless baby, as clearly this could be a choking hazard. Once baby is developmentally ready to taste the wonder that is cheese, try some of these tips:
Mix Organic Valley shredded mozzarella cheese into dishes like scrambled eggs for a calcium boost.
Once your baby is able to self-feed and tolerate finger foods, finely shredded Organic Valley cheese blends are a simple addition to your kiddo’s meal that she can feed to herself. Or at least attempt to!
As your baby becomes a toddler and it is developmentally appropriate, Organic Valley Stringles cheese sticks are perfectly portioned and sized for your little one’s hand.
Cheese can be a healthy part of your baby’s diet once she is developmentally ready to chew and swallow it. It is a source of high-quality protein and important bone-building nutrients that are essential as baby grows. Choosing organic cheeses like Organic Valley’s options ensures baby is not being exposed to toxins or pesticides that you normally try to avoid. Incorporating cheese into your baby’s diet is a nutritious choice to make for your family.
Recommendations for Further Reading:
“Prevention of Allergies and Asthma in Children” by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Kleinman R.E., Greer F.R. American Academy of Pediatrics, Kleinman RE, Greer FR. Pediatric Nutrition: Policy of the American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2013.
Lauren Manaker is an award-winning registered dietitian and book author. After spending over 15 years working in healthcare and industry, she started a consulting business focusing on reproductive, pediatric, and women’s health. Lauren resides in Charleston, South Carolina, with her husband and young daughter. In her spare time, she can be found enjoying an outdoor oyster roast in the cooler months, doing anything on the water in the warmer months, and practicing yoga year-round.