Soy milk or cow's milk for baby?

I believe it is healthier for a baby to be on soy products instead of milk and dairy. My friend disagrees, and says she heard that soy can stimulate fat cell growth. Who is right?


Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

A baby under one-year-old should be drinking neither soy milk nor cow's milk, but rather should be drinking breastmilk or a formula that can be either soy based or dairy based.

Most pediatricians recommend a dairy based formula for infants because it more closely matches breastmilk. Both formulas will provide comparable nutrition because they are required to meet strict government standards regarding nutrient levels.

Soy formulas are prescribed for baby's with a dairy allergy (or potential dairy allergy), lactose intolerance, or digestive upset from dairy formula. Soy is as potentially allergenic as is cow's milk and some babies are allergic to both in which case a hypoallergenic formula is required.

Soy contains hormone-like compounds called phytoestrogens. These compounds are currently under debate and researchers are trying to determine what effect, if any, they may have on a baby.

Once a baby turns one-year-old, and has progressed to table foods, the choice between soy milk and dairy milk is an individual matter. If a child is allergic to milk, is lactose intolerant or for some reason cannot tolerate or dislikes milk, or is being raised in a vegan vegetarian family, a soy milk is a better choice. However, it should not be lowfat, and it should be vitamin and mineral fortified. For most toddlers, cow's milk is generally a better choice because it is more nutrient dense and naturally contains more vitamins, protein and minerals than does soy milk. A one-year-old still needs a diet relatively high in fat. Milk is a big source of fat in an infant's diet, offsetting an expanded food repertoire that includes lower fat foods such as fruits, vegetables and grains.

Milk naturally contains a readily absorbable form of calcium, and has higher quality protein than soy milk. The ratio of protein, fat, and carbohydrates are also a good balance for baby. By one year, an infant's digestive track has matured enough to be able to handle the protein content of cow milk, which prohibits its use prior to that.

Glass for glass, you can compare soy milk to dairy milk for nutritional content:

  Fortified Soy Milk (8 oz.) Cow Milk (8 oz.)
vitamin A
vitamin D
6 grams
5 grams
20 grams
300 mg
100 RE
2.5 ug
8 grams
8 grams
11 grams
300 mg
33 mg
92 RE
2.5 ug

Neither of these beverages promotes fat cell growth. Neither a soy based nor a dairy based formula will promote fat cell growth unless it is over consumed.

Ultimately, the answer to your question is individual and is dependent on the nutritional needs and restrictions, as well as the taste preferences of the child. Children have been raised sucessfully on both types of milk.

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