When Is It Safe to Feed a Baby Cheese?

Baby with ricotta cheese on his face

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Introducing new foods to a baby can be a delightful task, but it can often also be filled with anxiety as parents wonder when it’s safe to introduce certain foods. Cow’s milk products are among some of the most common food allergens. In fact, cow’s milk is the most common food allergy in infants and small children. Knowing when it’s safe to introduce milk products, like cheese, is important. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests introducing yogurt and cheese when a baby is around 7 or 8 months old. Of course, if your baby has a known milk allergy or you have other concerns, you should discuss introducing cheese and other cow's milk products with your child's pediatrician first.

Nutritional Benefits of Cheese

Milk products, including cheese, provide a number of nutritional benefits. According to the USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans, dairy products are one of the core elements of a healthy diet.

Some nutritional benefits of cheese include:

  • Protein
  • Calcium
  • Essential minerals like phosphorus
  • Vitamins such as vitamin A and B12

During the first year of life, even as solids are introduced, breastmilk or formula should still be an infant’s primary source of nutrition. During this time, solids are considered complementary foods. In the second year of life, when a toddler is 12 to 23 months of age, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that a child who is no longer receiving breastmilk or formula consume 1 2/3 to 2 cups of dairy each day.

The calcium in dairy is important for strong, growing bones, and cheese is versatile and easy to serve, which makes it a convenient way to include dairy in your young child’s diet.

Considerations

For a baby, full-fat dairy options are best because babies require fat for growth and brain development. In addition, make sure that the cheese you select is pasteurized. This ensures that the product has been sterilized and is safe. Keep your eye out for whole cheese versus cheese products, which are highly processed and much less nutritious.

If your baby has had an allergic reaction to any foods or if your child has shown signs that they may be susceptible to food allergies, talk to your pediatrician before introducing cheese.

Allergies

Food allergy symptoms in children include:

  • Skin rashes, including eczema
  • Respiratory difficulty
  • Sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes
  • Upset stomach

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance can begin in childhood and tends to get worse with age. Signs to watch out for include:

  • Bloating
  • Stomach pain
  • Excess gas and burping
  • Diarrhea
  • Explosive bowel movements

It can sometimes be difficult to detect lactose intolerance in babies and small children because they can’t directly communicate what is going on. It can be helpful to watch your baby to see if bouts of fussiness correspond with their dairy consumption.

Constipation

Dairy can be a source of constipation for some children. In babies and small children, constipation presents as infrequent bowel movements that are hard and painful to pass. If you notice your child experiencing symptoms of constipation, you may want to take cheese off the menu for a while to see if it helps. 

Goat’s or Sheep’s Milk

Parents sometimes wonder if cheese made from goat’s or sheep’s milk is an acceptable alternative to cheese made from cow’s milk. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not consider them a good alternative because many kids with cow’s milk allergies are also allergic to goat’s and sheep’s milk. If allergies are not a concern and you want to feed your child cheese made from goat’s or sheep’s milk, be sure the cheese is pasteurized and avoid any soft, mold-ripened cheeses.

Finding the Best Cheese for Baby

There are many varieties of cheese so it can be confusing to know which cheese might be appropriate for your baby. Cheese is a great source of densely packed nutrition, but some cheeses are better than others, and there are some things you want to avoid.

Some quality cheese choices include:

  • Shredded cheese, including mild cheddar, Colby, Parmesan, and mozzarella
  • Cottage cheese
  • Cream cheese
  • Ricotta cheese

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that children under 14 consume less than 2,300mg of sodium per day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black children and children with certain health conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease, should consume even less.

Cheese is one of the common high-sodium food types that kids consume. Mozzarella and cheddar cheese can have more than 700mg of sodium per serving and processed cheese singles can have upwards of 1,200mg per slice.

Cottage cheese, cream cheese, Parmesan, ricotta, and Swiss, on the other hand, are all examples of lower sodium cheeses. Read labels and consider other sources of sodium in your child's diet to ensure that it remains within the recommended guidelines.

Things to Avoid

As a solid food, cheese can present a choking hazard. Be sure to keep a close eye on your baby as they are learning to eat finger foods like cheese. Avoid cubes or chunks of cheese, and stick to shredded, melted, or cottage cheese instead. 

Avoid soft, mold-ripened cheeses, like feta and blue cheese, because they may contain listeria, a bacteria that can be particularly dangerous for small children.

In addition, Penicillium mold is used to make certain soft cheeses. Although it is a different variety than the mold used to make the penicillin antibiotic, people with a penicillin allergy may also react to other species. To be safe, always check labels to be sure that the cheese is pasteurized. 

Tips for Feeding a Baby Cheese

For babies, cheeses that can be spoon-fed are good choices to start. Cottage cheese and ricotta are both spoonable options that can be blended even further for a smoother texture. As your baby gets older and has developed the pincer grasp, shredded cheese can be a good finger food to experiment with. 

The older your baby gets, the more you’ll be able to mix foods and include cheese as part of a dish. Before you do this, you want to be sure that your baby has already been introduced to the other ingredients in the dish separately and has tolerated them well. 

If your budding gourmand seems to enjoy the milder types of cheeses, you can introduce them to others that are stronger, such as Parmesan or Romano. Some delicious ways to do that (that you may enjoy, too):

  • Grated over pasta
  • In a quesadilla cut up into appropriate portions
  • Melted over warm veggies or on small pieces of bread or toast
  • Mixed into scrambled eggs

Since breastmilk or formula is still an infant’s primary source of nutrition until they reach 12 months of age, you don’t have to worry too much about your baby getting "enough" of the solid foods you serve them. The AAP recommends starting out with a tablespoon of each food type that you introduce.

A Word From Verywell

Adding cheese to a baby’s diet can be a fun milestone, especially if your family consumes cheese and dairy regularly. Choose pasteurized mild cheeses at first. Avoid hard chunks of cheese that could present a choking hazard. Be sure to communicate with your pediatrician about changing your baby’s diet, including when to start solids and introduce new foods like cheese. 

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10 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  5. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Cheese.

  6. American College of Gastroenterology. Lactose intolerance in children.

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  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC VitalSigns - reducing sodium in children's diets. Updated September 5, 2018.

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  10. American Academy of Pediatrics. Healthy portions for a 9 month old

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