You’re on the couch with your partner after one of those days (you know the kind). You’re deep into the gooey, chocolatey swirls of a pint of ice cream before you realize you have an audience: Your baby is staring at you in jealous fascination, drooling over every spoonful.
OK, so maybe it’s your imagination — they’re teething and drool just comes with the territory. But you see the look in their eye… they want some of what you’ve got.
You start to offer them a taste of the ice cream on your spoon before you stop yourself — can baby have ice cream yet?
Maybe! Here’s how to know if — and when — it’s OK to share.
The stuff you buy in pints and gallons at the supermarket is usually milk-based (unless it’s vegan), so ice cream is a dairy product. That means your baby can technically have ice cream after their first birthday, since that’s also when you can begin introducing cow’s milk.
If your baby has never had ice cream before, it’s a good idea to offer it to them for the first time at home. This way you can keep an eye out for any dairy or lactose reactions, like gas, diarrhea, or skin rash.
You can make your own simple, minimal-ingredient flavor with an ice cream machine or one of those no-churn Pinterest recipes. You can also choose a plain, no-frills store-bought variety like vanilla or chocolate.
When it comes to serving, make sure you don’t overdo it: Your baby might go bananas for the taste (honestly, who wouldn’t?!), but if their stomach isn’t accustomed to loads of dairy yet, you and your kiddo are going to regret it later on.
There are a few reasons why you shouldn’t introduce cow’s milk or other dairy products like ice cream to a baby earlier than 12 months of age, but a big reason is that most babies’ digestive systems aren’t developed enough before then to handle high amounts of dairy.
And let’s not fool ourselves here: While we all deserve a sweet, cold bowl of ice cream once in a while (hey, even a baby can have a hard day!), it’s not exactly a healthy snack.
Most ice cream comes packaged with a not-so-delicious blend of sugar, fat, and artificial flavorings, colors, and preservatives.
Prior to your giving your baby a spoonful of ice cream, they may not have eaten anything that falls quite so squarely in the “junk food” column.
So even if they’re familiar with dairy and not allergic to any of the ingredients, they could still end up with an upset tummy if you introduce ice cream too soon.
Like many of the other foods you feed your baby, homemade options are generally a safe bet; plus, they’re often a little healthier and (a lot) more flavorful than the store bought kind.
We know that making your own ice cream isn’t always realistic or even possible, though. So if you’re going to buy ice cream for your baby, look for brands that are:
- pasteurized and, if possible, organic
- free of common allergens, like nuts and strawberries
- free of “add-in” ingredients your baby may not be able to eat, like sandwich cookies, bits of candy, caramel sauce, and sprinkles (all of which may contain allergens or be choking hazards)
- short on ingredients, with milk or cream being at the top of the list
You may also want to choose varieties that are lower in sugar than others, to keep those brand new baby teeth free of the sugary buildup that causes tooth decay and cavities. Frozen yogurt sometimes has less sugar than traditional ice cream and may be a healthier option, too.
Before giving your baby ice cream, opt for a brand with as few ingredients as possible — and aim for one that contains a minimal amount of sugar per serving, too. (You don’t want to deal with a baby having a sugar crash, trust us.)
Also make sure the product doesn’t contain any ingredients you know your baby is allergic to or can’t consume yet.
After giving your baby ice cream, keep an eye out for any signs of allergic reaction. This may include vomiting, hives, swelling, itching, or difficulty breathing.
Your baby may also seem fussy or gassy or have changes in their bowel movements if they eat too much ice cream in one sitting. Offer a few tastes and then move on to something else.
If your baby isn’t quite ready to have traditional ice cream yet, they don’t have to miss out on the experience of enjoying a cold treat on a hot day. Lots of the foods you’re probably already giving your baby can be turned into frozen treats.
If you have a blender or food processor, you can mix any kind of “dairy” — whether it’s whole milk (if your little one is a year old), infant formula, baby-friendly yogurt, or even breast milk — with some of your baby’s faves, like banana, blueberries, peaches, or avocado.
You have two options for preparing:
- Purée first, then freeze. (You may need to allow some time for the mixture to soften before eating.)
- Freeze the individual fruits first, then blend them with the liquid or yogurt and serve immediately (kind of like making a smoothie, only thicker).
So ice cream is mostly junk food… and that’s OK! Most people, including babies, can enjoy treats like ice cream once in a while without any adverse health effects. (And we would argue that depriving yourself of ice cream forever because it’s “bad” for you can have adverse mental health effects, but that’s a whole other story.)
Of course, as a dairy product, ice cream does contain calcium, and it’s usually also made with the whole milk fats your baby needs to grow.
The cleaner the ice cream is (i.e. the less artificial stuff it has), the healthier it becomes; but given that most ice cream is loaded with sugar, the disadvantages of the unhealthy ingredients often outweigh the benefits of the healthy ones.
Still, as long as you’re only feeding your baby traditional ice cream in moderation, there’s no reason to worry about the harmful nutritional effects of ice cream for your baby.
Ice cream is a treat — there, we said it. But there’s a time and place for treats, especially ones shared in celebration.
If your baby is over 12 months old, it’s fine to let them try a few bites of ice cream — just make sure that the ingredients are safe for baby to consume and that you don’t let them indulge too much.