Objective: To summarize the best available evidence regarding the short- and long-term health effects of cow's milk intake in healthy, full-term infants up to 3 years of age.
Design: We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis.
Setting: We searched MEDLINE (via PubMed), EMBASE and the Cochrane Library between 1960 and July 2013 and manually reviewed reference lists of pertinent articles. Two researchers independently reviewed abstracts and full-text articles and extracted relevant data.
Subjects: We included (randomized/non-randomized) controlled trials and observational studies.
Results: We included data from twenty-three studies (one randomized controlled trial, four non-randomized controlled trials, eight case-control studies and ten cohort studies) for the evidence synthesis. Pooled results of four studies revealed a higher risk of Fe-deficiency anaemia for infants consuming cow's milk compared with those consuming follow-on formula (relative risk=3·76; 95 % CI 2·73, 5·19). For type 1 diabetes mellitus, six out of seven case-control studies did not show a difference in the risk of developing this disease based on the age of introduction of cow's milk. We did not find negative associations for other health effects.
Conclusions: Cow's milk consumption in infancy is associated with an increased risk of developing Fe-deficiency anaemia. Limiting cow's milk consumption may be important to ensure an adequate Fe intake for infants and toddlers. High-quality patient information for caregivers is needed on how infants' Fe requirements can be met.
Keywords: Cow’s milk consumption; Infants; Systematic review.