Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Daughter Isn't a Cow

I was asked to write about why I won't be giving my daughter milk, and I was ambivalent about writing this. There are three reasons for my ambivalence:
1. I don't see any reason TO give milk to a human child, she's not a cow.
2. I give my daughter cow's milk formula.
3. I don't like to be negative in terms of my diet, but prefer to focus on the things that I do enjoy eating.

So, you caught #2 huh. I put it that way because I think it's a poopy thing to do to a child. I could explain myself, but the gist of it is that I'm a hypocrite who won't give her milk in a sippy cup, but do give it to her from a bottle. The decision to give her formula was a very hard one, and when we broke down and did giver her formula, we had really done just that; broken down. As a mother, the hardest thing so far is to feed my daughter for 15 hours a day and still have her not gain an ounce, to know her brain needs to be developing and know that she's not getting the nutrition she needs from my ready and willing breasts, and to have tried everything all the professionals and moms around you suggest and still see no change. It's heart breaking and made me feel so discourage and helpless. For my husband, it was even harder, because as much as I felt like I couldn't do any more, he really felt like there was nothing he could do. We researched and took advice from a lactation consultant and were strongly discouraged from using soy formula (which isn't vegan anyway: see last week's article on Spawn Better). The point is we gave her some cow's milk formula and she grew. She has continued to grow and we've continued with cow's milk. I don't think it's what's best for her, but we were so fearful to stop the ONE thing that finally worked. I know now that she doesn't have a soy allergy because we share a bowl of oatmeal with soy milk in it every morning, and that seems to be the main concern from what I've read. There's also some questionable suggestions that an animal protein is better than a plant protein for babies. Who knows. I'm happy to report that I am writing this with a can of soy formula on the counter ready to try out. My daughter is the strongest, most active and adventurous baby I have ever seen at her age, and I have high hopes that she will continue to thrive with this formula.

Okay, so after formula and breast, what will I give her then? Well, when she turns one, she will not spontaneously turn into a cow (I hope) and so I will not spontaneously start giving her milk for a baby cow. I had been putting off this research because I couldn't imagine any argument for cow's milk that would make any sense. I knew the basic one would be calcium and protein, but our soy milk is enriched and she'll get her calcium from the same place I get mine. Her protein is not a concern seeing how this kid loves beans and rice and lentils and tofu and any other protein source I've given her. So instead of looking for why NOT to give a toddler milk, I looked up WHY to give a toddler milk. I think kellymom sums it up best in one word: convenience. I really see nothing to add as she gives great alternatives to cow's milk excluding only one that I can think of which is soy and coconut yogurts which are more readily available now.

If you are still thinking this whole convenience thing is more than you can give up, consider this. Yes, I agree some of these things sound extremist or exaggerated, just like claims that milk is "healthy" for children. While I might tend to agree that these are probably not all going to apply to you and your baby, I will say that more and more Americans are discovering that they have milk intolerance that is mild and has gone undiagnosed. People who just tend to be gassy or get stomach aches a lot are finding more and more that they have a dairy intolerance. And why wouldn't they? Humans are supposed to lose the ability to produce lactase in childhood because they are no longer nursing, so drinking the milk of another species should make us sick.

If these seem like biased opinions, consider where you usually get your information about milk and who is funding them. The USDA who is setting up the food guide doesn't have a lot to gain from its consumers choosing to boycott milk and milk products.

But, as LeVar Burton always said, "You don't have to take my word for it."

More resources:
The Harvard School of Public Health says that milk is not the best source of calcium.
The Cancer Project links milk consumption with prostate cancer.
Time ran a story about a possible connection between childhood diabetes and cow's milk.

There are also entire websites dedicated to the dangers of milk:
Not Milk
Milk Sucks

In the end, it is up to you to provide your child with what you feel is the healthiest and most beneficial nutrition you can. For me, that doesn't mean the most convenient, it means the best.

Related Reading:

Fiction: This story includes some harmful effects of the ethnocentric notion that all children need cow's milk.

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