Kefir

Food Type:
Age Suggestion: 6 months +
Nutrition Rating:How nutritious a food is with a focus on the specific nutrients babies need for optimal growth. The more nutritious a food, the more stars it will have.
Prep Time:How much time a food takes to prepare safely for a baby. The more time-consuming a food is to prepare safely, the more clocks it will have.
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Common Allergen: Yes (
  • Dairy
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May cause allergic reactions.

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a glass mason jar with kefir in it

When can babies have kefir?

Kefir (from cow, goat, sheep, buffalo, or camel’s milk) can be introduced in solid food as soon as baby is ready to start solids, as long as it does not contain honey or added sweeteners and as long as it is served as a solid food (dip, etc.) and not a drink until 12 months of age. Dairy in the form of a solid food is okay to introduce before 12 months of age, though babies should not be given cow’s milk as a drink until closer to 12 months, because a baby’s digestive system may not well tolerate cow milk protein in large quantities.1 Also, compared to breast milk or formula, cow’s milk is nutritionally incomplete, which means that it does not provide all of the nutrients babies need to thrive.2 3 For more see our Milk FAQs.

Background and origins of kefir

Kefir originated in the Caucasus region and is a traditional beverage throughout Eastern Europe, Russia, and Southwest Asia, where it goes by names such as кефир and gıpı. There are thin, drinkable versions of yogurt, and both yogurt and kefir are fermented milk products, but their preparation is different. Kefir is made by fermenting milk with kefir “grains” (not true grains, but rather dehydrated clusters of bacteria and yeast) and it tends to contain more diverse bacteria than commercial yogurt. These grains can also be added to water or coconut water to make water kefir or tibicos (we’ll be focusing primarily on milk kefir here.)

While kefir is most often enjoyed on its own as a drink, it also makes a great dip, a delicious creamy base for soups (like Lithuanian šaltibarščiai), or a way to add richness to baked goods (similar to how you would use buttermilk.)

Bennett, 7 months, eats kefir for the first time as a finger paint.
Julian, 12 months, drinks kefir for the first time.
Amelia, 14 months, tastes kefir for the first time.

Is kefir healthy for babies?

Yes—but only as a dip or in another solid food preparation. Wait until 12 months of age to serve kefir as a drink.

Kefir is bursting with key nutrients such as the all-important calcium for bone development, vitamin A for eye, skin, and immune health, all B-vitamins for energy, zinc for immune health, and potassium. Additionally, kefir from animal milk often contains some vitamin D—either naturally from the animal’s diet or added to the final product. In general, benefits of kefir include ample protein and carbohydrates to fuel cell growth, plus plenty of healthy fats that are an important source of energy and vital for cell structure, metabolism, brain and nervous system development.4 5 6

As you would with yogurt, avoid low-fat and non-fat kefir and opt for full-fat varieties. Babies needs lots of fat at this age to support cell structure, metabolism, brain, gut, immune, and nervous system development.7 8 9 10

Notably, the probiotic cultures that turn milk into kefir can be beneficial for babies, whose microbiome (the friendly bacteria that live in the digestive tract) matures in the first few years. Because the microbiome may influence heart, brain, metabolic, and especially immune health, regular intake of probiotic-rich foods such as kefir, or its cousin yogurt, can help build beneficial microbial colonies in the gut.11 12 Kefir may even be a more “powerful” probiotic than yogurt because of its greater diversity of bacteria and yeast strains.13

Concerned about the effervescence in kefir? There’s nothing to fear. The fermentation process causes carbon dioxide, which gives kefir its fizz. Also, there may be a trace amount of alcohol present in kefir, especially if homemade. The good news is that many store-bought milk kefirs are made to be free of alcohol.

★Tip: Read labels and avoid kefir that has added sugars such as maple syrup or honey (which can cause infant botulism.)

Is kefir a common choking hazard for babies?

No, though in theory an individual can choke on any food or liquid. As always, make sure you create a safe eating environment, stay within an arm’s reach of baby during meals, and never put kefir in a bottle or sippy cup.

For more information on choking, visit our sections on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.

Is kefir a common allergen?

Yes. Kefir is often made from cow’s milk, which is a common food allergen in young children, accounting for about 20% of all childhood food allergies.14 And, while kefir may be made from other milks, dairy products from other ruminants such as sheep, goat, and buffalo may provoke similar allergic reactions to cow’s milk dairy products.15 That said, there’s good news: milk allergy often disappears with time. Research shows that the majority of children with cow’s milk allergy will outgrow it by age 6 and many babies with milder symptoms of milk protein allergy (which can show up as painless blood in stool) are able to successfully reintroduce cow’s milk as early as their first birthday, with the guidance of their appropriate pediatric health professionals.16 17

For those with older children who are lactose intolerant (uncommon for infants), more good news: because kefir is fermented, it may be better tolerated by those with lactose intolerance, as it has lower lactose content than regular milk.18

If you have a strong family history of milk allergy or suspect that baby may be allergic to dairy products, you can consult an allergist before introducing kefir. The allergist may advise you that the risk of home-based introduction is low. Alternatively, you may be offered the opportunity to introduce kefir under medical supervision in the clinic, also known as an oral food challenge. As with all common allergens, start by serving a small quantity for the first few servings, and if there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the quantity over future servings.

Is raw milk kefir safe for babies?

No. Babies’ immune systems are still developing, and raw milk kefir can harbor pathogenic bacteria and other potential contaminants that can increase the risk of foodborne illnesses, which can be fatal to babies.19 Pasteurization—the process of heating a food to a certain temperature to kill bacteria—is fundamental to reducing the risk of foodborne illness and thus making food safer to eat.20 For these reasons and more, many medical organizations recommend that all milk for human consumption should be pasteurized.21 In kefir making, pasteurization of milk occurs before the probiotic grains are added to create kefir, so the probiotic benefits of kefir are maintained.

What is the best kefir for babies?

Full-fat (or whole milk), pasteurized, plain kefir served as a dip or incorporated into other foods is best for babies.22 While there are many plant-based kefirs on the market, made from coconut, almond, cashew, and other milks, know that their nutritional content varies and they may not be a reliable source of calcium, vitamin D, or other nutrients like protein and fat for children.

Is coconut or water kefir healthy for babies?

It can be, depending on baby’s age. Before 12 months of age babies should only be drinking breast milk, formula and if desired, very small amounts of water. After 12 months of age and assuming they have a balanced diet, offering coconut or water kefir as an occasional drink is fine. These alternatives to animal-derived kefir still contain similar benefits of the gut-supporting microbes as milk kefir, though they typically don’t offer fats, proteins, calcium, vitamin A, or vitamin D. Coconut water does contain many electrolyte minerals and natural sugars. Take note, some coconut or water kefirs can contain alcohol from fermentation and may not be appropriate for children. Read labels closely.

How to prepare kefir for babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 12 months old: Offer full-fat (whole milk), pasteurized, plain kefir mixed into meals or as a solid food (like kefir cheese) but not as a drink. Add kefir into porridge, buckwheat, or mashed potatoes. To serve kefir like yogurt, try mixing in nut or seed butters to thicken the consistency and boost nutrients. You can also mix in finely chopped herbs and spices and offer as a dip. Alternatively, offer strained, thicker kefir varieties, much like Greek yogurt, or kefir cheese, if you have access to it, or you can try straining it yourself at home, which is surprisingly easy.

12 to 24 months old: At this age, it’s fine to offer kefir both in meals and as a drink. You can even try a traditional savory kefir drink with finely chopped mint as a refreshing beverage for your toddler. Note that at this age, it is very common for kids to consume too much dairy—between cow’s milk, yogurt, and cheese—which can lead to iron deficiency anemia. Remember, children only need around 2 to 2.5 servings of dairy per day or an equivalent calcium-rich food. Check out our Milk FAQs for more information.

For more information on how to cut food for babies, visit our page on Food Sizes & Shapes.

★ Tip:

Want a fun food for teething? Try blending kefir with fresh fruit and freezing into popsicle molds.

Recipe: Mint Kefir

Serving Size: 1/4 cup / 60 milliliters

Cooking Time: 5 minutes

Age: 12 months+

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon (5.5 grams) minced fresh mint leaves
  • ½ cup (120 milliliters) kefir
  • 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) lemon juice

This recipe contains a common allergen: dairy. Only serve after this allergen has been safely introduced.

Directions

  1. Stir all ingredients together in a small cup.
  2. Serve: Offer a very small amount (2 ounces at most) of the mint kefir in a small open cup. Model cup use by bringing it to your mouth and taking a small sip, then offer it to the child for them to try. For more tips on this process, see our Cup Drinking FAQs.

To Store: Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Flavor Pairings

Kefir has a tartness that is often even more acidic than yogurt. That means it goes well with bright fruit flavors, such as blueberry, raspberry, banana, pomegranate, kiwi, pear, or strawberry. Kefir’s creaminess also provides a great base for the mellow, nutty flavors from peanut, macadamia nut, pistachio, sesame, and flaxseed. It also makes a great dip, especially when combined with herbs like mint and cilantro or spices like ginger, cumin, or paprika.

Reviewed by

J. Truppi, MSN, CNS

V. Kalami, MNSP, RD

K. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT

S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. (allergy section)

R. Ruiz, MD Board-Certified General Pediatrician and Pediatric Gastroenterologist

  1. Martin, C. R., Ling, P. R., & Blackburn, G. L. (2016). Review of Infant Feeding: Key Features of Breast Milk and Infant FormulaNutrients, 8(5), 279. DOI: 10.3390/nu8050279. Retrieved May 4, 2021
  2. Martin, C. R., Ling, P. R., & Blackburn, G. L. (2016). Review of Infant Feeding: Key Features of Breast Milk and Infant FormulaNutrients, 8(5), 279. DOI: 10.3390/nu8050279. Retrieved May 4, 2021
  3. Leung AK, Sauve RS. (2003). Whole cow’s milk in infancy. Paediatrics Child Health, 8(7), 419-421. DOI: 10.1093/pch/8.7.419. Retrieved April 30, 2021
  4. Delplanque, B., Gibson, R., Koletzko, B., Lapillonne, A., & Strandvik, B. (2015). Lipid Quality in Infant Nutrition: Current Knowledge and Future OpportunitiesJournal of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition, 61(1), 8–17. DOI: 10.1097/MPG.0000000000000818. Retrieved April 30, 2021
  5. Lee, H., Padhi, E., Hasegawa, Y., Larke, J., Parenti, M., Wang, A., Hernell, O., Lönnerdal, B., & Slupsky, C. (2018). Compositional Dynamics of the Milk Fat Globule and Its Role in Infant DevelopmentFrontiers in pediatrics, 6, 313. DOI: 10.3389/fped.2018.00313. Retrieved April 30, 2021
  6. Pietrzak-Fiećko, R., & Kamelska-Sadowska, A. M. (2020). The Comparison of Nutritional Value of Human Milk with Other Mammals’ MilkNutrients, 12(5), 1404. DOI: 10.3390/nu12051404. Retrieved April 30, 2021
  7. Lee, H., Padhi, E., Hasegawa, Y., Larke, J., Parenti, M., Wang, A., Hernell, O., Lönnerdal, B., & Slupsky, C. (2018). Compositional Dynamics of the Milk Fat Globule and Its Role in Infant DevelopmentFrontiers in pediatrics, 6, 313. DOI: 10.3389/fped.2018.00313. Retrieved April 30, 2021
  8. Delplanque, B., Gibson, R., Koletzko, B., Lapillonne, A., & Strandvik, B. (2015). Lipid Quality in Infant Nutrition: Current Knowledge and Future OpportunitiesJournal of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition, 61(1), 8–17. DOI: 10.1097/MPG.0000000000000818. Retrieved April 30, 2021
  9. Pietrzak-Fiećko, R., & Kamelska-Sadowska, A. M. (2020). The Comparison of Nutritional Value of Human Milk with Other Mammals’ MilkNutrients, 12(5), 1404. DOI: 10.3390/nu12051404. Retrieved April 30, 2021
  10. O’Sullivan, T A, Schmidt, K A, & Kratz, M, (2020). Whole-Fat or Reduced-Fat Dairy Product Intake, Adiposity, and Cardiometabolic Health in Children: A Systematic ReviewAdvances in Nutrition, 11 (4), 928–950, DOI: 10.1093/advances/nmaa011. Retrieved April 30, 2021
  11. Conlon, M. A., & Bird, A. R. (2014). The impact of diet and lifestyle on gut microbiota and human healthNutrients, 7(1), 17–44. DOI: 10.3390/nu7010017. Retrieved May 4, 2021
  12. Burokas A, Moloney RD, Dinan TG, Cryan JF. (2015). Microbiota regulation of the Mammalian gut-brain axis. Advances in Applied Microbiology, 91, 1-62. DOI: 10.1016/bs.aambs.2015.02.001. Retrieved April 30, 2021
  13. Bourrie, B. C., Willing, B. P., & Cotter, P. D. (2016). The Microbiota and Health Promoting Characteristics of the Fermented Beverage KefirFrontiers in microbiology, 7, 647. DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2016.00647. Retrieved May 4, 2021
  14. Warren CM, Jhaveri S, Warrier MR, Smith B, & Gupta RS. (2013). The epidemiology of milk allergy in US childrenAnnals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 110 (5), 370-374. DOI:10.1016/j.anai.2013.02.016. Retrieved May 4, 2021
  15. El-Agamy, E. (2007). The challenge of cow milk protein allergy. Small Ruminant Research, 68, 64-72. DOI: 10.1016/j.smallrumres.2006.09.016. Retrieved May 4, 2021
  16. Mukkada, V. (2019). Cow’s milk protein allergy. GI Kids. Retrieved May 4, 2021
  17. Wood RA, Sicherer SH, Vickery BP, et al. (2013). The natural history of milk allergy in an observational cohortJournal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 131(3), 805-812. DOI:10.1016/j.jaci.2012.10.060. Retrieved May 4, 2021
  18. Farag, M. A., Jomaa, S. A., El-Wahed, A. A., & El-Seedi, A. (2020). The Many Faces of Kefir Fermented Dairy Products: Quality Characteristics, Flavour Chemistry, Nutritional Value, Health Benefits, and SafetyNutrients, 12(2), 346. DOI: 10.3390/nu12020346. Retrieved May 4, 2021
  19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Raw Milk Questions and Answers. Retrieved May 4, 2021
  20. WHO Working Group. (1988). Foodborne Listeriosis. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 66 (4), 421-8.  Retrieved May 4, 2021
  21. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Raw Milk Questions and Answers. Retrieved May 4, 2021
  22. de Oliveira Leite, A. M., Miguel, M. A., Peixoto, R. S., Rosado, A. S., Silva, J. T., & Paschoalin, V. M. (2013). Microbiological, technological and therapeutic properties of kefir: a natural probiotic beverage. Brazilian journal of microbiology: [publication of the Brazilian Society for Microbiology], 44(2), 341–349. DOI: 10.1590/S1517-83822013000200001. Retrieved May 4, 2021