Ask Amma

Animal milk for children?

In Yes / No on 19 September 2013 at 4:00 pm

Is animal milk (cow or buffalo) essential for a child’s growth?

– Mamma of 2-year old from Hyderabad

Well, of course it depends on whose child it is!  I am sure the zebra, elephant, deer and cow below would each tell you with full confidence that her milk was essential for her child’s growth!

Human babies do not normally require the milk of other animals to grow.  Human beings do not require milk as adults, either – we need milk only during childhood and the optimal milk comes from our mothers.  Next best is another mother of our own species. When we are ready to eat food on our own, we no longer need our mothers to eat on our behalf and produce milk for us to drink.

Weaning from mother’s milk should be gradual.  Breastfeeding not only provides nutritious food for growing babies and children, but also prepares the young digestive system for everything that the elders of the species eat.

For the first six months of life we depend entirely on mother’s milk, and some years later, are completely weaned and able to chew and digest a wide variety of food on our own.  All the while, breastmilk is the right food to complete a child’s diet.  Typically solid food makes up 10% of a baby’s diet by age 1 and 50% by age 2 (YMMV).  Breastfeeding provides not only physical and emotional nourishment, but also the right context for children to learn to eat foods.

When we drink milk of other animals, we are essentially getting is grasses and leaves (if the animals graze) or grains / animal feed (if they are in confinement), chewed and predigested by those animals.  We are also getting any other substances consumed by or injected into the mother animal, which are not necessarily good for us, or for the animal.  Even if the cow grazed freely on wonderful wild grasses, the milk cannot be superior to the milk of a human mother for a human baby.  Furthermore humans absorb nutrients from human milk far better than from cow’s milk.

Every mother makes the milk that is just right for her baby, at every age and every time of day.  The more you nurse, the more milk your body produces.  Your milk at night is different from your milk in the daytime and your milk when nursing a sick baby will be different from when your nursling is running around and stopping by for brief sips on the go.   Your body responds to your baby and to the environment that you share.  Second best to mother’s milk is milk donated by another mother.   You may find one through word-of-mouth, your local midwife or La Leche League group.    Eats On Feets is a site that facilitates Community Breast Milk Sharing.

The World Health Organization recommends that children breastfeed exclusively for 6 months and continue breastfeeding for at least 2 years and beyond as long as mother and baby wish.  Most mothers would continue breastfeeding as long as their children wished, if they knew how healthy it was.

But you knew that, right?

Well, even though I resisted the temptation to copy and paste every cute photo of baby animals nursing right into this post, I couldn’t resist sharing this one:

Breastfeeding Stories:

Chetana Amma: Ups, Downs and Even Upside Down!

Aravinda Amma: Weaning and Free Learning


David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD; Walter C Willett, MD, DrPH, “Three Daily Servings of Reduced-Fat Milk: An Evidence-Based Recommendation?” in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, September 2013, 167(9), pp. 788-789.   Quote from the article: “Humans have no nutritional requirement for animal milk.”
  1. Agree in principle. However, I belong to a generation and clan where consumption of dairy was/ is the norm. In fact, I quite like the taste of it too.

    I’ve found raw milk (cow’s and goat’s) to be a totally different animal (pun intended) from the stuff you get packed and processed in stores as dairy. Over the last 3 years, consuming raw milk and making products ranging from yogurt, cottage cheese, cream cheese, butter and more, maintaining the rawness of it all, I’ve come to appreciate real milk as a live fruit/organism, which transforms itself under the action of its own bacteria and cultures. It is a truly amazing process, and doing it on a small scale at home was transformational (both for the milk and us). The nutritive value of it (especially the free-range, grassfed cattle ours comes from) is about as good as it gets in the dairy world. Having been on both sides now (regular and raw dairy consumption), ironically, I can appreciate the vegan point of view even more. If you don’t/ can’t get the real deal, it is probably better to abstain all together.


    • Hi Sonika,
      I followed the links in the site you mentioned and came across this book: The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle over Food Rights
      by David E. Gumpert. Have you looked at this book?


  2. No, I haven’t specifically. I might have read some articles by him, though- read the synopsis of the book on amazon and all the issues sound familiar. I did my research a while back and unfortunately didn’t compile resources. Most of my reading on the subject has been in the form of scholarly articles, though. Also came across reference to raw in books by other authors on food/natural birthing choices including Michael Pollen although I haven’t read a book specifically dedicated to the subject.
    Some other titles that have been recommended by others in our raw milk circles include: Holy Cows and Hog Heaven: The Food Buyer’s Guide to Farm Friendly Food and Everything I want to Do is Illegal by Joel Salatin.. Also the Untold Story of Milk…. by Ron Schmid. The TOC of the last one really caught my attention.. I think it covers most things I want to read about- especially that chapter on fermentation of milk which we are only now getting into.. I’m intrigued now.


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