Breast milk is the best form of nutrition for babies. It contains essential nutrients, protects them from infections and diseases, enhances their immune system, and nourishes their brain. As the only source of food in the early months of a baby’s life, breast milk has a vital role to play in the development of an infant’s brain.
You might not think so, but in fact, breast milk is a dairy product, just like the milk you drink from the grocery store. It’s not the same type of dairy, however. Breast milk is dairy in the same way that a cow produces dairy when it’s lactating, which has nothing to do with what kind of animal it was before it became an adult cow and had its first calf.
The whole idea that breast milk isn’t dairy comes from the common misconception that anything produced by animals can be considered meat or meat by-products or some other such food group.
The Similarities Of Breast Milk And Dairy
Breast milk and dairy products contain a slew of vitamins and minerals that benefit our health in a number of ways.
Here are a few of these similarities:
Both cow’s milk and breast milk contain calcium. However, our bodies absorb calcium more easily from cow’s milk than they do from breast milk. Still, that doesn’t mean you should stop drinking your mother’s breast milk or switch to drinking milkshakes.
The way our bodies process these two types of dairy food is different. Our gastrointestinal tracts digest milk (and milk products) in a matter of hours, while the same process takes several days with breast milk. As such, drinking cow’s milk creates a quick spike in blood calcium levels.
Conversely, it takes several hours for the human body to digest breast milk into its components (including proteins), which causes a gradual elevation in blood calcium levels that lasts longer than what comes with consuming other types of dairy food.
According to research, in addition to calcium, both cow’s milk and breast milk contain vitamin A—although much less of it in breast milk. While eating either type of dairy product can give us enough vitamin A each day, researchers still aren’t sure how exactly these nutrients affect bone health.
How Breast Milk Can Be Consumed by Vegans?
For vegans and those with lactose intolerance, breast milk may seem like a strange product. But it can be consumed—and even produced—without harm to animals. Producing your own breast milk is not easy, but if you’re in dire straits and need to go meat-free to avoid animal products, here are some steps that you can take. We do advise talking to your doctor before consuming dairy in any form.
Comparing Breast milk to Cow’s Milk
Breast milk and cow’s milk are two types of milk that are very different, both in appearance and how they’re made. Yet when a child begins on solid foods, parents often switch to cow’s milk out of convenience. But breast milk and cow’s milk are actually more alike than you might think.
Here we compare breast milk to cow’s milk so you can make an informed decision about which type of nutrition your baby needs during those first few months. The chart from Baby Center shows three cups of cow’s milk contain just as much calcium as one cup of breast milk: In fact, throughout our lives (and depending on age), we should aim for 1,000–1,300 milligrams per day.
Cow’s milk is also rich in proteins, vitamins B-12 and D, as well as zinc—all nutrients essential for optimal growth of bone cells and healthy brain development. However, research has shown there may be factors within breast milk that boost cognitive function beyond what cow’s milk provides.
One study found children who were fed infant formula had IQ scores 4 points lower than children who were exclusively breastfed for at least 4 months. And another found children who received early supplementation with formula had higher levels of depression later in life.
Also, some babies have allergies or sensitivities to dairy products like lactose intolerance, while most mothers produce enough milk that infants don’t need anything else until around 6 months old.
For these reasons and more, pediatricians generally recommend breastfeeding for babies up to six months old, then supplementing with cow’s milk until at least 12 months old.
Reasons why vegan parents should consider formula over breast milk
It’s not actually a dairy. A cow’s milk has a much higher fat content than breast milk, but what makes it dairy is a protein called casein. In humans, these proteins are broken down into peptides in our stomach and small intestine before they enter our bloodstream.
However, babies have immature digestive systems which may allow them to be harmed by these proteins passing directly into their bloodstream if they consume them through human breast milk or even organic formula that uses dairy-based ingredients.
While there aren’t many studies on human milk sickness, as it’s known, some do suggest that exposure to large amounts of undigested lactose can potentially cause an upset stomach and diarrhea; more research will be needed overtime to confirm whether or not any dangerous long-term effects are linked with human breast milk consumption from mothers who eat non-dairy foods.
Women who don’t eat dairy, lactose-free or not, face a risk of nutritional deficiencies that may cause complications during pregnancy and after giving birth.
Vegans and lactose-intolerant women are more likely to have low iron levels; without enough iron in their diet, they can have trouble carrying oxygen to vital organs and muscles—including those used for breastfeeding—which can lead to anemia, tiredness, headaches, and rapid heartbeat. Non-dairy calcium is hard to come by, too.
Although you’ll find plenty of it in greens such as spinach and kale, these vegetables also contain oxalic acid which blocks the absorption of calcium from food. The result: a weak skeleton and an increased risk of fractures later on down the line.
4 reasons why dairy products may increase the risk for allergies in children
This enzyme breaks down lactose in milk into two simpler sugars: glucose and galactose. Glucose can be absorbed from food without difficulty by anyone’s body. However, there are only certain types of cells in our bodies that can absorb galactose, which makes it a potential allergen.
When we consume dairy products containing large amounts of lactose sugar (i.e., too much galactose), these foods may cause allergies to form because they were introduced at an age when they weren’t typically considered safe foods—especially if one grew up on breast milk as opposed to formula or dairy foods.
Second, some studies have shown that bovine growth hormones contribute to increased allergic reactions; other research links some harmful bacteria found in cows’ digestive systems with symptoms like wheezing and stuffy noses.
In a study published in JAMA Pediatrics, scientists discovered that children whose mothers consumed low levels of bovine growth hormone showed higher levels of cow-milk allergy than those whose mothers consumed high levels. Third, pasteurization also destroys naturally occurring healthy bacteria that help fight infections.
3 Benefits Of breastfeeding A Child who is Allergic To Dairy
Human breast milk is devoid of lactose (the sugar found in dairy products) and therefore does not cause an allergic reaction for infants who are intolerant to it.
In addition, since human breast milk contains lower amounts of proteins than bovine breast milk, some children may be less likely to develop a sensitivity to these proteins over time when compared with those fed cow’s milk-based formula, which can lead to lactose intolerance and other food allergies later in life.
The protective factors of a mother’s immune system that are present in her own breast milk help fight infections and bolster immunity, especially important if your baby has already been exposed to cow’s milk or developed a sensitivity or allergy while being nursed.
For all three reasons combined, mothers should strive to exclusively nurse their baby throughout his/her first year even if they themselves drink dairy regularly.
Why Should Mothers Who Are Breastfeeding Avoid Soy Supplements?
Soy milk is a favorite among those trying to wean themselves off dairy. However, soy milk is actually more comparable to cow’s milk than it is to breast milk. Soy milk contains no lactose, but still has a ton of sugar and fat. Soy also contains phytoestrogens that mimic estrogen in our bodies.
Excess estrogen can slow your metabolism and contribute to weight gain. For breastfeeding mothers, it’s best to stick with human-milk-based baby formula—like Similac or Enfamil.
And when you do supplement your diet with other foods like eggs or cheese, make sure they’re free from hormones (like rBST) and antibiotics so as not to disrupt breast-milk production. Additionally, don’t forget about fenugreek seeds! Fenugreek seeds are high in fiber content which has been shown to aid lactation.
Studies have also found them to increase milk production by 25%. They’re small, round seeds similar in size and shape to caraway seeds. Add them to cereals, soups, curries, or anything else where their flavor will complement another food. Just be aware they have a strong flavor so use them sparingly until you get used to them.