Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Our Thoughts on Cow's Milk

If you know me, you know that I love cow's milk.  My whole life long, I've been drinking TONS of it.  It's so yummy and good!  I drink a tall glass (or several) with every single meal.

But despite my love of cow's milk, my vocation of Motherhood has me looking carefully and closely at everything we choose for our Liam.  All conventions and cultural norms aside, I question.  I research.  And I repeat, as often as needed or possible.

So, at Liam's one-year check-up last month, when the pediatrician said that we could go ahead and offer cow's milk now, I knew it was an opportunity to research.  Oh, glorious Research, you!

Yes, Liam enjoyed some cold cow's milk that evening.  And he enjoyed several cold glasses of it in the days and weeks that followed.  But my research continued.  I wanted to read scientific articles from reputable sources, interview physicians I knew personally, call a pediatric hotline, chat with our lactation consultant, ask a nurse, and survey friends.

This is how I do things, I guess.  I have to ask everybody that I know.  In this information-gathering phase, I might come across as undecided or easily influenced, but silently within me I'm stacking up the evidence and formulating the foundation of my decision.

Then, most importantly, I run everything by my dear husband, our God, and my own heart.  And from this, I can say that our decision--for right now--is to withhold cow's milk from Liam's diet.

Shocking, I know.  ;)  In a moment, I shall explain the facts behind our decision in more detail.  But first, I must apologize for something.  Unlike the "Breastfeeding Beyond One" posting that I published tonight (which contained sources), I did not think to keep a record of my sources when I started this research (which began months ago).  So, my hope is that you'll trust my judgement here and--if you feel compelled--double-check my facts, if you question them.

This is what I did, though:  After reading many scholarly research articles from leading universities, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, we've decided to temporarily withhold cow's milk from his diet.

Only one article source did I record, this being Dr. Kim Fleischer Michaelsen's article called "Cow's Milk in Complementary Feeding" which was featured on the American Academy of Pediatrics' journal and published in 2000.

To summarize, here's why we're withholding cow's milk:

Cow’s milk is low in iron.  

Cow’s milk is heavy in saturated fats, which studies show leads to increased cardiovascular risk.

Cow’s milk has a very high renal solute load from being overly high in protein and minerals, which—among other negative health effects--can cause dehydration and hypernatremia (too much sodium/salt in the blood) during illness.

The excessive protein load in cow’s milk can also overload a young one's kidneys.

Cow’s milk is low in essential fatty acids.

Cow’s milk is low in zinc.

Cow’s milk is low in Vitamin C.

Cow's milk is deficient in Vitamin E.

Cow's milk is deficient in copper. 

Cow’s milk is low in niacin (a type of Vitamin B).

Cow’s milk does not contain any human antibodies.

Cow’s milk contains antibiotics that are made for cattle, not humans.

Cow’s milk contains two types of undesirable growth hormones: natural ones that are meant for a calf to grow large and quickly, and unnatural ones that are added for greater milk production.

Cow’s milk tends to be consumed by children in large quantities that are too much for them.  It will provide all the energy he or she needs, but its overabundance means the child will eat other foods less and will increase the chance of malnutrition without the parent even knowing that this is starting to gradually happen.

Finally, too much cow's milk in a child's diet can put him at risk for iron-deficiency anemia because milk can interfere with the absorption of iron.

Conversely, studies performed in 2001 showed that 448 mL of breastmilk given daily during the second year of life (12-23 months) provides:
  • 29% of energy requirements
  • 43% of protein requirements
  • 36% of calcium requirements
  • 75% of vitamin A requirements
  • 76% of folate requirements
  • 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
  • 60% of vitamin C requirements 
Believe it or not, increasing mom’s calcium intake does not increase the amount of calcium in her milk; a mother's milk has the right amount of calcium, even if mom does not get enough in her diet. 

Although it's true that human milk contains less calcium than cow’s milk, the calcium in human milk has over twice the bioavailability of the calcium in cow’s milk.   More specifically, human milk averages 5.9-10.1 mg/oz calcium.   Sixty-seven percent of this calcium is absorbed by the body.  Conversely, whole milk contains 36.4 mg/oz calcium.  Unfortunately, however, the National Dairy Council admits that only 25-30% of cow’s milk is absorbed by the body.

So what about the high-fat content needed for proper neurological development in a child's brain?

Breastmilk has a higher fat content than whole cow’s milk, plus a long list of components for the child's development that are species-specific and thus not present in cow's milk.

According to my research, there is no need to add cow’s milk to a toddler’s diet (or the equivalent nutrients from other milks or foods) as long as the child is nursing at least 3-4 times per day. Cow’s milk is really just a convenient source of calcium, protein, fats, vitamin D, etc.

The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees that breastmilk and water are suitable to be the child’s only beverages during the first two years of life, but it encourages parents to incorporate plenty of meat, eggs, and fish into the child’s diet.

And while we do incorporate those things regularly, our boy LOVES his cheese and yogurt and eats plenty of both daily. 

We feel comfortable allowing this dairy into his diet because of the digestibility of cheese and yogurt.  Unlike cow's milk, the lactose in yogurt has been converted into lactic acid.  Unlike cow's milk, cheese has had its whey proteins removed (so only casein proteins remain) and the curdling enzymes break down the casein proteins into smaller protein molecules.

So there you have it!  These are our reasons for holding off on cow's milk, at least for now.  :)