Yoghurts for babies: all the info you need

Authored by the Raffferty’s Garden Accredited Practising Dietician & Nutritionist

Nutrition and health benefits of yoghurt for babies

Yoghurt is a safe and healthy food to introduce to your baby when they start solids around the age of six months. It is a nutrient-dense food that is recommended by the Australian Dietary Guidelines1 and delivers a smooth creamy taste and texture that babies love!

Yoghurt provides over ten nutrients for healthy growth and development such as high-quality dairy protein and carbohydrates. It also provides essential vitamins and minerals, most notably calcium, which builds strong bones and teeth in young babies.

When it comes to nutrients like calcium, it’s not only the amount found in foods that is important, but also the bioavailability, which indicates how easily calcium is absorbed in the gut. Yoghurt, like other dairy products, is high in calcium that is easily absorbed2, which means your baby’s body can use it effectively to build bones and teeth. Calcium is also important for nerve and muscle function and helps body cells to divide.

Yoghurt is an excellent example of a ‘whole food matrix’. This means the physical structure of the food, in combination with the individual nutrients within, results in a greater health benefit than what could be achieved from consuming isolated nutrients on their own.3,4

What age can a baby start eating yoghurt?

When to introduce yoghurt to babies is a common question among parents.

The Australian Infant Feeding Guidelines state that regular (full fat) yoghurt can be introduced around the age of six months, when a baby is showing signs that they are ready to start eating real food.5

Yoghurt is an ideal first baby food as the smooth, creamy texture is easy for babies to eat and it’s nutrient-rich. It is important to feed your baby regular (full fat) yoghurt varieties (as opposed to low fat varieties) as the extra fat and kilojoules provide essential energy for your baby to grow and develop. And regardless of whether yoghurt is plain or sweetened, all yoghurts provide essential macro and micronutrients.

When feeding your baby yoghurt for the first time, offer it as a single food by itself and watch out for any signs of an allergic response or food sensitivity. If your baby displays any sign of a negative reaction, it is important to seek advice from a qualified health professional. 

Why is it ok to introduce yoghurt at 6 months when we can’t give a six month old child milk?

Whilst baby yoghurt can be included in everyday meals and snacks, cow’s milk should not be offered to young babies as a drink by itself until they are at least 12 months old (it can however be used as an ingredient in recipes).

The reason is that babies obtain most of their nutritional needs from breast milk or infant formula up until the age of 12 months. If a baby is offered cow’s milk, it may reduce the amount of breast milk or infant formula they drink and compromise their nutrition intake.

Yoghurt on the other hand is an ideal first food recommended by health professionals, as the smooth creamy texture is easy for young babies to manage with minimal choking hazards. Of course, when feeding your baby, proper adult supervision is always imperative. 

What types of yoghurt can a baby have?

There are a number of different yoghurts available in the Australian marketplace including Greek yoghurts, set yoghurts and stirred yoghurts. 

Australian Yoghurt Varieties:

  1. Set yoghurt: the mixture of milk and starter culture is poured into containers and incubated without any further stirring. The milk sets and has a characteristic thick texture.

  2. Stirred yoghurt: the mixture of milk and starter culture is fermented in a large vat, and continuously stirred to create a creamy texture. Once the fermentation reaches the desired level, the yoghurt is pumped through a cooler to stop fermentation.

  3. Greek yoghurt: a denser type of yoghurt that is made by straining whey from the yoghurt curd to give it a thicker and creamier consistency and a distinctive tangy taste.

  4. Flavoured yoghurt: flavoured yoghurt could include any of the above types of yoghurt. Fruit or other sweeteners can be added as a base or stirred into the yoghurt mixture.

Yoghurt with natural sugar vs. added sugar

Most yoghurt is made with milk, which contains a naturally occurring sugar called lactose, also known as “milk sugar”. Lactose is found in the milk of all mammals including humans and is a component of breast milk. The lactose found naturally in yoghurt is converted to lactic acid by the bacteria that are present in yoghurt, which thickens the milk and gives it the tangy taste of yoghurt.

Yoghurt can be sweetened using fruit (which contains a naturally occurring sugar called fructose), or refined sugar (e.g. cane sugar, which is a form of sucrose). It can be difficult to discern the difference between natural vs. added sugars and this can lead to confusion when it comes to choosing a healthy yoghurt for your baby.

Unfortunately, simply looking at the nutrition information panel on the packaging will not provide this information as usually all sugars are grouped together to provide a total value, and there is no breakdown of lactose, fructose (the naturally occurring fruit sugars) and sucrose (found in refined sugars). Fructose and lactose are not toxic or unsafe.

They are a normal part of whole foods that contain many other beneficial nutrients and are not considered a problem in a balanced diet. Sucrose found in white, brown and raw sugar is the type of sugar that we should minimise in baby’s diets, as it is nutrient poor and provides no health benefits. 

How to choose a healthy yoghurt

Babies can eat any kind of yoghurt in their diets, but parents and carers often want to know “what is the healthiest yoghurt to feed my baby?”

One of the simplest ways to choose a healthy yoghurt is to look at the ingredient list on the back of the packaging. If you see the word “sugar”, especially if it is near the start of the ingredient list, it most likely contains a form of sucrose, a refined sugar.

Try choosing yoghurt that contains no added sugar and if you are looking for yoghurt with a sweet flavour, choose a variety that includes fruit, which will provide a natural sweetness.

Rafferty’s Garden yoghurt contains no added sugar. With three delicious flavour varieties to suit your baby’s taste buds, including natural baby yoghurt, as well as strawberry yoghurt and banana yoghurt, all made with real fruit!

How much yoghurt to offer your baby

One serve of yoghurt for infants is 20mL, which is about 4 teaspoons. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that babies from age six to 12 months should eat 3-4 serves of dairy foods each week.1

Exposing your baby to many different foods will encourage them to enjoy different flavours and textures and ensures they receive a broad range of nutrients from all food groups. Yoghurt is versatile and can be included in everyday meals and snacks. Whilst yoghurt is a highly nutritious food, make sure to offer a range of other foods throughout the day. 

Remember that the role of solids from the age of six to 12 months is to get your baby used to eating real food, enjoying family meals and developing healthy eating habits. They will still continue to receive the majority of their nutrient requirements from breast milk or infant formula until they turn one year old.

Meal suggestions to add yoghurt to your baby’s diet

Yoghurt is such a versatile food – it can be enjoyed straight from the tub or pouch, or added to a variety of meals, especially breakfast.

Try these great baby recipes using yoghurt – a perfect breakfast meal or any other time of the day.

  • Iron-enriched infant cereal mixed with breast milk / infant formula and yoghurt
  • Fresh seasonal fruit pieces topped with yoghurt
  • Fruit and yoghurt breakfast smoothie
  • Yoghurt and fruit compote
  • Stewed apple with swirled yoghurt and cinnamon

References:

  1. National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2013.
  2. Rizzoli R. Dairy products, yogurts, and bone health. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 May;99(5 Suppl):1256S – 62S.
  3. Thorning TK, Bertram HC, Bonjour J-P, de Groot L, Dupont D, Feeney E, et al. Whole dairy matrix or single nutrients in assessment of health effects: current evidence and knowledge gaps. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017;105(5):1033–45.
  4. Jean-Michel Lecerf PL. Are the nutrients effects depending from the foods which contain them? The matrix effect. Cahiers de Nutrition et de Diététique. 2015 Jun;50(3):158–64.
  5. National Health and Medical Research Council (2012) Infant Feeding Guidelines: Summary. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council.