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Should You Give Your Child Cow's Milk?

—  found in  Family  —

This video blog is a long time coming because it's such a common question from parents, and rightly so. There's a ton of contradictory information on the topic of cow dairy and whether or not it should be the first choice after weaning from breast milk or formula. Your pediatrician tells you one thing, but you read another, and then your experience tells you something entirely different. So what's a parent to do? 

My best advice is to do your own research and then ultimately listen to your gut, but I'm here to share what's worked for us.

Disclaimer: Before I get into it, if you are giving your child cow's milk or you gave your child cow's milk and they're all grown up and doing great, please don't feel bad about my post. You've done your best, and I have no doubt, you're doing what works for your family. This post is NOT intended to make you feel bad about your choices – I'm simply here to inform. Heck, until I was around 10 years old, we'd have a glass of milk with dinner because this kind of information wasn't available and my parents just didn't know. They were following their doctor's advice and Canada's Food Guide at the time. Once I stopped drinking cow's milk (in my 20s), I immediately looked less puffy, my digestion improved and some aches and pains I had disappeared too. 

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If you look to Canada's Food Guide to see how it was updated, you'll notice it was recently revamped and dairy was removed as a food group. In fact, the food groups were removed entirely in favour of showing a balanced plate of healthy food. This is great to see because dairy is simply not a requirement to be healthy!

That being said, if you dig a little deeper into the food guide, the government is still recommending homo milk cow's milk for babies and toddlers and infant cereal as a suggestion for a first food. The cow milk recommendation is misguided when you consider a whopping 60–65% of people cannot even digest the main milk sugar in milk. And infant cereal, a highly processed grain cereal, as an ideal first food? Oh boy.

If you need some suggestions for baby food introduction, I have a wonderful post here. Vienna's first food was actually bone broth and her first solid food was avocado. She LOVED bone broth, but avocado took a little to get used to. Now, she absolutely loves avocado, especially The Everything Guac or this Creamy Avocado Pasta. 

This brings me to my latest video where I share why I don't recommend cow dairy to children and why it's just not necessary. I have summarized my points below.

Here's a brief summary of the points I talk about in my video.

1. Despite what television commercials have told us, there's no evidence that milk does the body good. In countries such as India, Japan and Peru where calcium consumption doesn't exceed 300 mg per day, they have the lowest incidence of bone fractures. Those countries with the highest rates of dairy consumption have the highest rates of fractures. These studies don't paint the full picture, but they do call our dairy consumption into question.

2. Homogenization and pasteurization are not good things.  Homogenization changes the natural structure of the fat globules. There's no nutritional benefit to homogenized milk – it's purely for aesthetic reasons – and it makes up 99.9% of the milk sold in grocery stores. When milk is homogenized it's pushed through a filter at an insanely high pressure, which makes the fat globules 10 times smaller and allows them to be evenly dispersed.

homogenized fat globules

The image on the left is before homogenization and the image on the right shows the after. You can see how the structure of the fat has been altered. These teeny tiny fat molecules can now bypass proper digestion all together and are one of the main reasons many people can consume skim milk but not milk with any fat, because their fat-digesting enzymes can't easily break down this fat.

Depending on your age, you might recall glass milk bottles that had a schlop of fat at the top – that would have been non-homogenized milk, so if you're going to drink milk, look for that stuff. 

Homogenization also alters the proteins in the milk and may even trigger autoimmune diseases. This could be why many people find relief from their autoimmune conditions when they eliminate dairy, among other reasons.

Pasteurization is a whole other beast. It kills all the microorganisms (good and bad) and most of the nutrients. Good bacteria actually aids in the digestion of the milk sugars, which is why many people can't tolerate cow milk but can eat yogurt with no problem because there are beneficial microbes. Of course, the advantage is that the bad bacteria are removed. Pasteurization diminishes the vitamins in milk such as B6, B12 and vitamin C. Ironically, there have been more reports of food poisoning over the years from pasteurized milk compared to raw milk. 

3. Protein in cow milk is made up of mostly A1 casein protein, among other proteins. This milk protein is inflammatory to the body and the cause of milk allergies. As I discuss in my video there is far less casein A1 in goat and sheep milk, which is predominantly A2 protein, making it a better option if you still want to give your child dairy milk. Research has shown that dairy is implicated with eczema and acne. If your child suffers from either condition, I recommend you remove all forms of dairy from their diet. 

4. 65% of the world's population is lactose intolerant. That's roughly 4.8 billion people who do not have the enzyme necessary to digest lactose, the main milk sugar. Interestingly, choosing fermented dairy instead that contains a strain of microbes called lactobacillus acidophilus aids in the digestion of lactose. This is why people who can't tolerate cow milk may be fine with fermented dairy products like kefir or yogurt. 

5. Calcium is important for bone and teeth health. Due to the dairy industry's influence, many have been led to believe that cow milk is the only source of calcium when in fact, milk is only one of many sources of calcium. Also keep in mind that yes, calcium is important for bone health but vitamin D is just as important.

It is important to get calcium on a daily basis through the diet. There are many non-dairy sources of calcium including:

  • Tempeh: 1 cup has 184 mg of calcium. If you haven't tried this BBQ sauce yet, it's perfect drizzled over baked tempeh. 
  • Green veggies like broccoli and bok choy: I bake broccoli at least once per week because it's one of Vienna's favourite veggies. Bok Choy is delicious in a stir-fry. 
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Knowing all this, you may wonder, but what about raw milk? In Canada, it's not legal to sell or buy raw milk, but you're correct in thinking that it would be far more nutritious.

My final thoughts are if you're going to consume milk, look for certified organic, grass-fed non-homogenized milk.

Organic milk has been found in research to have lower pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and higher omega-3 fatty acid. That's a good thing!

I know this is a lot of information to digest, and if you're a parent reading this, there's no right or wrong answer. Simply take some time to evaluate this information as well as the guidance from other nutrition experts, and you'll come to the best decision for your family.

Any questions, please post below!

Joy xo

Ps In case you're wondering, my favourite milk for a latte or a smoothie is either almond milk, cashew or oat milk. Oat milk has a very neutral and it's my current favourite at the moment.

38 Comments
Janelle   •   March 19, 2019

My kids love having milk, they get a small amount 3x a day...What can I replace it with that they may not notice a difference?

Reply
Joy McCarthy   •   March 19, 2019

Gracie   •   March 19, 2019

Hey Joy! I was wondering about what type of dairy you would recommend for teens, specifically for ones who are competive athletes. Would it be okay to do cows milk or would you recommend another type? If I do cows milk should it be organic and grass fed? Also it would be very helpful if you could share the best types of store bought yogurts and cheeses (dairy products) in the future.Thank you so much and I would love it if you could get back to me... thanks again!

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Joy McCarthy   •   March 20, 2019

Florence   •   March 20, 2019

Hi Joy, When you suggest to "remove dairy", do you mean remove milk? Or remove milk and fermented milk products altogether? Another question regarding the allergenicity of cow milk proteins: a physician has told me that it is not the A1 casein or other cow milk proteins per se which are allergenic, but the fact that most cows are fed soy. Certain allergenic amino acids originating from soy are then found in cow milk. Do you think it is true? Many thanks, Florence

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Joy McCarthy   •   March 20, 2019

Trish   •   March 26, 2019

Great post!! Thank you! Definitely saving this to hopefully use in the future. I’m hoping you do a post on the best options if breastfeeding is not an option (ie, adopted infant)

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Joy McCarthy   •   March 26, 2019

Susan Hitchens   •   March 26, 2019

So is the milk itself bad or the process to homogenize and pasteurize? People eat animal products all the time and nobody says a thing. Why does milk get such a bad rep?

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Joy McCarthy   •   March 26, 2019

Rebecca   •   March 26, 2019

I love all of your information and appreciate the research behind it! Rebecca, RN, IBCLC

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Joy McCarthy   •   March 26, 2019

Leanne   •   March 26, 2019

What do you recommend for a baby you are weaning from Similac alimentum?

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Joy McCarthy   •   March 27, 2019

Sarah   •   March 26, 2019

Lots of great information! While I do love cheese and kefir, I find that so much of the yogurt out there is hard on my stomach. I don’t think I’ve had a glass of milk since I was a very young toddler, I just never liked it. My daughter is lactose intolerant and while she tries to avoid most dairy, she’s not 100% dairy free. Her symptoms have gotten worse in the past couple years since being diagnosed so I think we will both look at being more “cow dairy” free and trying out more goat, sheep, and plant based alternatives.

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Joy McCarthy   •   March 27, 2019

Paulina   •   March 26, 2019

Hi Joy! My daughter is 9 months, I have not and don’t plan on giving her cow milk or products (currently she is breastfed and eating solids) but I do want to introduce yogurt can you recommend some good non dairy brands for babies? And is this the age to introduce cheese as well? If yes can you recommend some good companies and types. Thanks Joy!

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Joy McCarthy   •   March 27, 2019

Lindsay Grinevitch   •   March 26, 2019

Great stuff! Thanks for sharing :)

Reply
Joy McCarthy   •   March 27, 2019

Suki   •   March 27, 2019

Hi Joy You mentioned black strap molasses has calcium but I once had a holistic nutritionist state that it’s not good to consume black strap molasses. She said it can damage the gut Is this true and is there any evidence or research ?

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Joy McCarthy   •   March 27, 2019

Lisa   •   March 27, 2019

Hi Joy! Does organic, grass fed, non homogenized milk exist in Canada? What brands if any?

Reply
Joy McCarthy   •   March 27, 2019

Kara   •   March 27, 2019

Love this information but since raw milk is hard to come by, what’s another alternative? Is unsweetened almond milk suitable for a 1 year old?

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Joy McCarthy   •   March 27, 2019

Hayley   •   March 27, 2019

Great info Joy! A question on taste: is sheep’s milk as “strong” as goat’s milk?

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Joy McCarthy   •   March 27, 2019

Jenn   •   March 27, 2019

Hi Joy, Thanks so much for sharing this information. Loved your video as well. My son LOVES milk. Yes, I know tisk tisk lol, but I’m sure I represent a large portion of the population who just isn’t informed :( So again, thank you for this info! It makes total sense and you did a great job explaining it. Any brands of say almond or coconut milk I should look for/avoid? I know you said fortified - will that be clearly marked on most packaging? Grateful, Jenn.

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Joy McCarthy   •   March 27, 2019

Kait   •   April 5, 2019

Hi Joy! Did you do goats milk just for ease of bedtime or for the calcium? We’re dairy free because I feel terrible for those poor animal Mamas, not being about to see or breastfeed their own babies :( but I do think about the calcium with my kids, 15 mo (breastfed) and 4. We eat a LOT of veggies and smoothies though, but haven’t been rotating our nut milks. Could our kids develop an allergy if drinking too much almond milk? Thank you!

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Joy McCarthy   •   April 6, 2019

Amy   •   April 24, 2019

This was very helpful. You said it, it’s frustrating and confusing. Just home from the paediatrician (my son’s 18 month check up) and when I told her I’m still breastfeeding and not giving cow’s milk, she said it may be time to stop breastfeeding as his weight is low. He’s been on the small side since the beginning. He doesn’t like goats milk but I do use it to make smoothies and he doesn’t like yogurt - I’ve tried all kinds. Cheese is iffy, he likes some. He’s a good eater, I make sure to include lots of fats. I breastfeed 3 times per day and certainty don’t count those times as meals. Doctor said that the goats milk doesn’t have the necessary folate and that I should be giving vitamin D (I am). Anyway, not really a question here, more of a comment in frustration / confusion. We have to go back in 3 months to check his weight and I think I’ll just tell the doc I have stopped breastfeeding and am giving cow’s milk. Thanks for the info, looking forward to more kid posts... meal and snack ideas too 👍😃

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Joy McCarthy   •   April 25, 2019

Gracie   •   June 10, 2019

Hey Joy! I was wondering if you still consumed cows milk products such as cows milk Kiefer, cheeses, and yogurts? Would you recommend consuming these or something else as an alternative such as these products with goats milk instead?

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Joy McCarthy   •   June 11, 2019

Laura   •   June 26, 2019

Thank you for this summary!!! You gave me all of the information I needed to have a productive conversation with my RD about transitioning my 1 yr old son to milk. We decided on Ripple’s pea milk combined with a diet high in fat, calcium, and iron! Thank you!!!

Reply
Joy McCarthy   •   June 27, 2019

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