Breastfeeding is a lot more in vogue than it was when my mom was having kids. In those days, breastfeeding was extremely taboo and women were pretty much required to start their wee ones on formula from day one, starting in the hospital. This way of thinking has (thank goodness!), has mostly fallen by the wayside for the most part (at least in some parts of the country), and breast milk is known to be the best food for infants. It’s common to see women nursing in public, and thanks to those cute little pull over nursing contraptions, it’s also become a lot more hip and convienant to do so modestly and discreetly.
Despite a positive shift in thinking, and a step in the right direction, I’m still baffled at the abominable advice that well-meaning pediatricians often give to young mothers, which is, wean your child by one year of age, at which point begin giving them the milk from a cow.
I am currently teaching a class on how to transition to a plant-based diet. Last night we had our second class, where we discussed dairy foods and the associated ills that go along with their consumption. One of the points addressed is that dairy foods (milk, cheese, ice cream) are not health foods, ESPECIALLY for children, and that there is a strong association with juvenile diabetes and dairy consumption in young children. This of course is not the only negative side affect. Colic, chronic ear infections, skin rashes, diarrhea, intestinal bleeding, chronic runny nose (a sign of allergic reaction), are just some of the many wonderful side affects of consuming dairy (either by a breastfeeding mother or by baby).
Dr. Neal Barnard, has said about milk:
“It would be hard to imagine a worse vehicle for delivering calcium to the human
I would add to this statement, as it applies particularly to children and say that by pushing milk and other dairy products on our children, we are setting them up for a future of poor health that may include (but is not limited to): obesity, heart disease, diabetes (type 1 and 2), autoimmune disorders, and greatly increases the risk of many types of cancer.
If parents knew how toxic milk really is, no parent in their right mind would continue feeding this stuff to their child.
I HIGHLY recommend downloading and listening to or watching Dr. McDougall’s free lecture entitled “Marketing Milk and Disease” (it’s under McDougall’s medicine). This will wash away absolutely all doubts or reservations about not giving your kids dairy products.
So during class, the question came up, so after you wean your baby, what do you feed them? Soy milk? Rice milk? My response:
Children should be breastfed ideally until they are at least 2 years of age. If they are weaned before this time, they need to be on formula, preferably an organic soy formula. There is absolutely no equal replacement for mother’s milk (the PERFECT food for a rapidly growing baby). Not cow’s milk (especially not cow’s milk!), not goat’s milk, not cow’s milk formula, and not even soy formula. Every mammal produces lactation fluid (milk) for their offspring that perfectly meets the protein, carbohydrate, fat and other nutrient needs specific to that species. A human’s protein needs are at about 5% of total calories (breast milk ranges from 2.5-5% calories from protein). A baby cow requires a much higher level as their growth rate is much faster. A baby calf goes from about 90 pounds to several hundred in two years or less. A human is born around 8 pounds and grows to 100-200 pounds in eighteen years. Our growth rate is much slower.
Many pediatricians mistakenly recommend putting babies on cow’s milk at one year of age. I don’t know what’s so magical about the one year mark, because before that, giving your child milk is considered toxic and has led to the severe malnutrition, kidney failure (due to the high protein content), and even death of young infants. So somehow (I’d like my pediatrician to explain this phenomenon), an infant, under no certain terms, should not be fed cow’s milk, but as soon as they turn one, milk is transformed from a toxic substance to a health food for babies.
Weaning your child, what’s next?
A lot of the women taking the course are nursing moms. Two of the moms approached me after class and explained that their 12 month old babies have been recently weaned. Both said at their babies one year visit, the pedestrian asked, “Have you weaned your baby yet?” and then recommended and encouraged that the babies be put on cow’s milk. Am I the only one in the world to hear this and say, “What are they (the pediatricians) thinking?!!” How does this make any sense at all? Essentially the pediatrician is saying, stop feeding your child YOUR lactation fluid, and instead wean your child from your milk so you can feed your child the lactation fluid of another mammal (a cow, a dirty cow, injected with antibiotics and growth hormones, at that). Does any other species on earth do this?!! Do you think the cows are out there, thinking, “I had better produce milk for those human babies so they can grow big and have strong bones?” No! They have no choice in the matter, being artificially put in a constant state of pregnancy and lactation so they can produce massive amounts of milk for our consumption. So instead of nursing their own young, for whom their milk is intended, their young are ripped away from them (if it’s a male, it’s sent to become veal, a female, sent to experience the same fate as it’s mother). Rather than having the opportunity to nurse their own young, they are hooked up to machines and forced to rapidly produce as much milk as possible day in and day out.
Anyway, I suppose I’m digressing a bit here. The point is, if after reading the medical and scientific literature about the negative effects (an understatement in my opinion!) of dairy consumption, you are still hesitant to stop giving your child cow’s milk (for fear of stunting their growth, rotting their bones due to calcium deficiency, and other unwarranted fears), if nothing else, think of the mixed up, faulty logic of it all. I suppose if we could read the minds of cows, they might be thinking, “Geez, those humans are sure confused! Is their milk somehow deficient that they feel the need to steal our milk to feed their young?”
The options are many…
There are literally dozens of plant milks to choose from, as well as a wide variety of soy and coconut yogurts, soy/rice/almond cheeses (beware of those that have casein though!), so when your little one is ready for it you have plenty of options to choose from. The world suddenly becomes so much bigger once you get away from cow’s milk. Here are few of the varieties of milks out there:
- hemp original, vanilla, and chocolate milk
- soy plain, vanilla, chocolate, non-fat and low-fat milk
- rice original milk
- hazelnut milk
- oat and other grain milk
- almond unsweetened, orginal, and vanilla milk
Tips for Successful Breastfeeding
Here are some tips for you breast feeding mothers, or breast feeding mothers to be:
- Do whatever you possibly can to make breast feeding work. There countless benefits for mother and baby.
- Get breast feeding counseling, join the La Leche league, get outside support and educate yourself on breastfeeding.
- You do not need to drink cow’s milk to produce quality breast milk. Think about it, do lactating cows drink horse’s milk, or dog’s milk in order to produce quality milk? The best way to produce quality milk is to eat a wide variety of whole plant foods, particularly leafy greens and starches (such as sweet potatoes, brown rice) and drink plenty of filtered water.
- Vegan breastmilk is not deficient or inferior to the milk of an omnivore! Make sure you are getting a daily source of vitamin B-12 (at least 5 mcg). Otherwise, your milk should be much cleaner (much less pesticide/herbicide residue, hormones, and other toxins) than the milk coming from a mother with a diet high in animal foods.
- If you work, you can still breast feed by pumping. It takes a few days to get into it, so don’t get discouraged if you’re not very successful for the first day or two. Once you get into the mode of pumping, your body and milk production will adjust and pumping will become the norm.
- If you have issues with milk production, for example is it’s too low, you need to address your diet and lifestyle. Your body requires a highly nutritious (high in quality, nutrient-dense plant foods) diet and sufficient calories and hydration in order to produce the milk needed for a growing baby. Many women who just “dry up” do so because of a number of factors: not enough calories, not enough nutrients in the diet, or a combination of both. A steady diet of nutrient-defecient fast foods and animal foods will do nothing to help your milk production. I once knew a woman who claimed she just “dried up” when her baby was 3 month’s old. Closer inspection of her diet revealed the truth. Her diet was primarily made up of white flour, cheese, processed meats, refined sugars and oils, with virtually no fresh produce of any kind.
- The first few months, especially for the first child, are the hardest. It gets much easier, and will soon become much more natural and instinctive (and enjoyable).
- Every mom’s experience with breastfeeding (and mothering!) is different. Don’t compare yourself to other women’s experience. Embrace your experience and enjoy it for what it is, not what it is not.
- This is just a small, small portion of the child’s life, that will influence the rest of the child’s health and well being for the rest of his/her life.
- Many women quit breastfeeding prematurely or don’t breast feed at all for a number of reasons: lack of support from family/medical practitioners, lack of education, discomfort, too inconvenient, ect. All of these can be remedied. Get support if you don’t have it. Educate yourself with books and online. The discomfort is usually temporary. And if it’s inconvenient, my response is, babies are inconvenient. They require massive amounts of undivided love and attention and breastfeeding is but one of the many responsibilities that mothers sign up for when they decide to have a baby.
- Aim to breast feed your baby until at least 18 months-2 years of age. If your baby absolutely refuses to nurse and naturally weans earlier or if you choose to wean your baby earlier, your baby should be on sort of soy formula (preferably organic soy) until 2 years of age. Plant milk, such as soy, almond, rice, ect. are all deficient in critical nutrients needed for a growing baby and it’s not recommended that they be a replacement for formula. These milks are not necessarily bad to give to your baby (one year and up) on occasion, but again, should not be used as a replacement for formula.
On a personal note, I feel I’m somewhat of an expert on breastfeeding, having breast fed all 3 of my children and having been a lactating mom for nearly 4 years straight now. My experience has been extremely positive, in fact, very easy to say the least. I have pumped on occasion (when my 3rd child was only 2 weeks old, I had to do a full-time training for a month so I pumped that entire time and my baby took the bottle, my milk production was very high). I have been extremely active, exercising vigorously nearly daily (running, teaching aerobics, Pilate’s, doing yoga, ect.) nearly the entire time I have been breast feeding. That said, I support this lifestyle with a sufficient calories from highly nutritious foods and keep myself hydrated by drinking plenty of filtered water. Beyond all of this is the fact, that I actually ENJOY breastfeeding. The third time around has been much more enjoyable (I was preganant for half the time I nursed my first child so my experience was a bit thwarted, for example). It gives me an opportunity to bond, feed and nourish my child, not to mention sit down and have a little break from the constant movement of the day.
The bottom line is this (and often hard to hear or swallow), breast milk is leaps and bounds superior to anything else that you can give your baby (0-2 years). Cow’s milk is detrimental to your child’s health and should be avoided at all costs. If you must use formula, use a soy formula, which is certainly not ideal, but is much better than the alternative (dairy based formula).