Before this moment, you probably never imagined you’d spend hours researching every milk on the market to find your baby’s perfect fit. From traditional cow’s milk to plant-based alternatives — such as soy, almond, and pea — goat’s milk hops in as another animal-derived option.
In fact, goat’s milk or goat’s milk-based formulas may be a healthy and nutritious option for babies with cow milk sensitivities, or for those with other health concerns about cow milk. On the flip side, goat’s milk products may not be for everyone.
If you’re considering moo-ving over to goat milk, we know you don’t want to make the decision feeling, well, meh. And because you’re passionate about providing your baby with the best possible nutrition, we’ll explain when it might — or might not — be a good choice.
What the experts say about goat’s milk and safety
What you choose for your baby’s source of nutrition is likely driven by several factors. All these may come into play:
- your personal health beliefs
- conditions affecting your baby’s health (such as eczema, allergies, or sensitivities to cow’s milk)
- availability of resources
But regardless of these drivers, safety is always first.
Hooves down, goat’s milk is generally deemed a safe cow’s milk alternative, but only when following the appropriate timeline to introduce it to your baby.
Goat’s milk-based formulas are safe from birth to 12 months, but fresh goat’s milk — and any other type of pure milk that’s not considered an infant formula and isn’t breast milk — should be avoided entirely in the first 12 months of your little one’s life, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
This is because goat’s milk alone doesn’t provide adequate nutrition for infants. It’s been associated with serious health and developmental consequences if consumed as an alternative to infant formula or breast milk.
Further, infants’ digestive systems are not mature enough to digest the large amounts of proteins in animal-derived milks.
Once a baby reaches age 1, however, it’s safe to introduce pure goat’s milk as long as it’s pasteurized. (Raw, unpasteurized goat milk may contain bacteria that can cause serious illness in infants and young children.)
Common reasons for considering goat’s milk
One of the top reasons parents consider goat’s milk is a cow’s milk allergy or intolerance. Cow’s milk allergy affects up to 3 percent of infants in the developed world.
Symptoms of a cow’s milk allergy range from diarrhea and coughing to more serious and potentially life threatening symptoms like shortness of breath and anaphylaxis.
Interestingly, many people with cow’s milk allergies (between 40 and 100 percent) don’t experience the same allergy to goat’s milk — perhaps because goat’s milk is higher in protein and has other properties that make it easier to digest. (Contrary to popular belief, goat’s milk does contain lactose — just less.)
Even so, replacing cow’s milk formulas or pure cow’s milk with goat’s milk products should always be discussed and supervised by your child’s pediatrician — especially if they have an allergy.
How goat’s milk and cow’s milk compare nutritionally
Nutritionally, pure goat’s milk tends to have slightly more protein and fat compared to cow’s milk. Goat’s milk may also pack significantly more calcium, potassium, vitamin A, and copper, among other important vitamins and minerals.
But where goat’s milk ranks higher in some vitamins and minerals, it’s lower in others. For example, cow’s milk contains higher amounts of vitamin B12 and folate, where goat’s milk contains more potassium and vitamin A. Horns-to-horns, this makes cow’s milk and goat’s milk fairly even, nutritionally speaking.
Goat milk’s potential edge might be its ability to enhance the body’s absorption of certain nutrients like iron, as shown in animal studies comparing the two.
Another key nutritional difference is in lactose (the natural sugar found in all animal milks). Even without a true allergy, many people have a hard time digesting this milk protein, which often erupts as tummy troubles.
Goat’s milk contains less lactose, and this is a big reason why those with cow milk sensitivities may tolerate goat milk much better.
Goat’s milk-based formulas
Some new mamas can’t or choose not to breastfeed (and that’s perfectly OK). If you fall into this group, you may be searching for the next best thing — and eyeing goat’s milk-based formulas as a real possibility.
This 2014 study showed comparable healthy infant development between those fed goat’s milk formulas and those fed cow’s milk formulas.
More studies on goat’s milk are needed to expand upon nutritional advantages of using it for infants. But a 2019 study suggest goat’s milk-based formulas may more closely mimic human breast milk when it comes to a handful of protective prebiotics called oligosaccharides, which help promote gut health and even immune development.
One thing to note: The nutritional content of goat’s milk-based formulas will differ by brand, so review your formula choice with your pediatrician before feeding it to your baby. Then, you can feel confident it meets standard nutritional and safety requirements.
Goat’s milk for eczema and reflux
While reading up on goat’s milk, you might come across some anecdotal claims that it can help reduce the severity of eczema or reflux in infants, but solid research surrounding these direct benefits is lacking.
If you’re concerned that milk products are related to your child’s eczema or reflux, discuss this with their pediatrician for the best advice and guidance before changing their diet.
Drawbacks of goat’s milk
Goat’s milk is an animal product and shares similar allergens with cow’s milk. So it’s actually very likely that if your child has a true allergy to cow’s milk, they’ll also be allergic to goat’s milk. (This may vary based on the severity of the allergy.)
In fact, research has shown that goat’s milk can cause reactions in more than 90 percent of children with an allergy to cow’s milk.
So as we’ve previously stated, always talk to your child’s doctor about whether it’s safe to try goat’s milk — or any type of alternative milk product, for that matter.
Accessibility and cost are additional potential challenges to making goat’s milk a staple in your kiddo’s diet. You’re less likely to find goat’s milk on your favorite grocery store and pharmacy shelves. So, you could have to scout it out at health foods stores, special order it, or hunt for it online.
And lastly, if you’ve ever tried goat cheese, you know it has a distinct earthy flavor that differs from cheese made from cow’s milk. You can expect a similar taste with goat milk. Some little ones might snub it at first or entirely — especially if they’re used to cow’s milk products.
If you’re not sure where to start, ask your child’s pediatrician to recommend particular brands, or print out the nutritional information of a few options you’ve found and discuss what is best for your baby.
Safest types of goat’s milk
For babies under 12 months, you should only consider nutritionally appropriate formulas. Goat’s milk-based infant formulas should be fortified with vitamins and minerals. That said, it’s important to look at the nutritional label with your baby’s pediatrician to ensure it checks all the right boxes.
Your pediatrician may recommend supplementing with vitamin D if the formula doesn’t have it already. Others may recommend iron supplementation as well.
When it comes to pure goat milk for toddlers and children age 1 and up, the standards relax a bit because your kiddo should be getting their nutrition from a variety of foods.
While different brands will vary slightly on nutritional content, it’s very important to make sure your goat’s milk is pasteurized. The idea of farm-fresh goat’s milk seems like the fun and “organic” option, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns against it because harmful bacteria in raw milk can cause serious illness in children.
Compared to other countries around the world, goat milk’s is a less popular choice in the United States when it comes to infant formulas and pure animal- derived milk options after age 1. But that doesn’t mean it might not be the right fit for your little one.
In fact, if your baby is showing sensitivities to cow’s milk products or you have other health concerns, you might discuss the option of goat’s milk options with your baby’s pediatrician.
Studies show that goat’s milk-based infant formulas and pure, pasteurized goat milk after age 1 offer nutrition that’s comparable to cow milk — and may even pack a few additional health benefits.
But they do have some drawbacks, including being harder to find, different tasting, and coming with a higher price tag. If these reasons don’t count goat milk out, discuss it with your baby’s pediatrician to see if it’s a good fit.
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