When Can a Baby Have Cheese?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 15, 2023
4 min read

When you first introduce your baby to solid foods, it's best to stick to purees of single fruits and vegetables. If your baby is getting to be a pro at eating these early purees, you may be wondering when it's time to introduce cheese and which kinds your baby can eat. Read on to learn which cheeses you can feed your baby and which you should avoid. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that your baby's first foods be single-ingredient purees or very soft foods. However, once your baby is ready for more textured foods, around 9 to 12 months of age, you can start to introduce cheese. The cheese you give your baby should be grated or cut into small cubes. 

Before you give your baby any finger foods, including cheese, you should ask yourself: 

  • Does it melt in your mouth?
  • Does it mush easily?
  • Can it be gummed?
  • Is it small enough? 

Don't give your baby chunks of cheese because it's a choking hazard. The cheese you give your baby should be full-fat and pasteurized. Some good options are: 

  • Cottage cheese
  • Cream cheese
  • Mozzarella 
  • Cheddar
  • Swiss
  • Other cheeses that are clearly labeled "made from pasteurized milk"

Some cheeses may be harmful to your baby. These include:

  • Mold-ripened soft cheeses like brie or camembert
  • Blue-veined cheese like roquefort
  • Ripened goats' milk cheese like chèvre
  • Any cheese that is not pasteurized

Unpasteurized cheeses can contain bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can invade food and cause foodborne illnesses, also called food poisoning. Children under the age of five are at a higher risk for contracting food poisoning because their immune systems aren't fully developed. They can't fight off infections as well as older children and adults. Young children also produce less stomach acid that kills off harmful bacteria. 

Additionally, young children are more likely to become dehydrated from vomiting and diarrhea because of their small size. Children under five who get food poisoning from the bacteria E. coli are more likely to develop a serious complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome. This can cause chronic kidney disease, kidney failure, and even death. 

Pasteurization is a heat treatment process that kills the bacteria that causes food poisoning. If you aren't sure if a food or drink is pasteurized, don't give it to your baby. 

Cheese is a nutrient-dense food that contains proteins, fats, and minerals. Aged cheese contains lower levels of lactose than milk does, so it can be better tolerated by people who are lactose intolerant. Lactose is a type of sugar that is not easily digested by people who don't have the enzyme to break it down. Cheese is also high in: 

  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin A
  • Protein

When you first introduce cheese to your baby, they will still get most of their nutrition from breastmilk or formula. By the time your baby is two years old, they should be getting two servings of milk daily. A serving is 1 cup of milk, 1½ ounces of hard cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese. 

There are two main safety concerns associated with feeding cheese to babies: milk allergy and milk intolerance. Let your pediatrician know immediately if your baby has any reaction to cheese. Testing can be done to confirm a milk allergy so that you can avoid milk products in the future. 

Milk allergy. The most common food allergy in babies and young children is cow's milk. Most children will eventually outgrow their milk allergy, although some will not. When a child is allergic to milk, their body reacts to the milk protein by triggering an immune system response. The reaction can range from mild to severe. Symptoms of milk allergy occur after your child eats or drinks a food that contains milk. Symptoms that can be immediate include: 

  • Itching or tingling around lips and mouth
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing or shortness of breath
  • Hives
  • Vomiting

Some symptoms take longer to develop. These can include: 

  • Diarrhea, which may contain blood
  • Stomach cramps
  • Watery eyes
  • Colic in babies
  • Runny nose

A milk allergy can also cause anaphylaxis, which is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis requires emergency treatment. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include: 

  • Constricted airways (e.g., a swollen throat that makes it difficult to breathe)
  • Itching
  • Flushed face
  • Shock, with a significant drop in blood pressure 

Milk intolerance. Milk intoleranceis different from a milk allergy. Milk intolerance doesn't involve the immune system. People with lactose intolerance don't have the enzyme they need to break down a type of sugar in milk called lactose. 

Lactose intolerance. People with lactose intolerance don't have the enzyme they need to break down a type of sugar in milk called lactose. It is usually harmless, but the symptoms -- bloating, gas, and diarrhea --  can be uncomfortable. People with lactose intolerance may not need to give up all dairy products. Aged cheese contains less lactose than milk, so it may be better tolerated.