Too Old for Breast Milk?

November 1, 2012

by Adam Prochaska, President, MilkWorks Board of DirectorsAdam_and_daughter

Earlier this year, Ann Seacrest wrote a blog post  about the controversial Time magazine breastfeeding cover photo.  A three-year-old is standing on a chair next to his mother and nursing.This photo was the perfect catalyst for a public debate on "how long is too long?"

It's unfortunate that a portion of our society considers a toddler who breastfeeds as strange or inappropriate. Human milk is considered more species specific, or suitable, for humans than cow’s milk. The unacceptable aspect may be the notion of a child, who can walk and talk, feeding at the breast. So what happens to this "debate" if the physical act of breastfeeding is not involved and we are only talking about the feeding of human milk to a toddler? I recently discovered the answer when a mother emailed MilkWorks with this exact dilemma.

Dear MilkWorks,

I have a 2 year old daughter, and have been breastfeeding her since she was born. She recently weaned and is no longer feeding at the breast, but I have a freezer full of frozen breast milk and I would like to continue to feed my daughter this milk instead of cow’s milk. We are actually mixing it with whole milk and would like to do so until the breast milk is gone. Our pediatrician fully supports our decision to continue using breast milk. The problem is that our daycare provider recently became licensed by the state, and participates in the Nebraska Food Program.Upon receiving her license, she informed me that because our daughter is over the age of two, the state requires a form signed by our daughter’s physician, along with a diagnosis, that allows her to have both the breast milk and the whole milk.If we do not provide this form, she will not be able to give our daughter the breast milk/whole milk mixture. Help!

My question is whether parents should be allowed to choose what type of milk their child drinks in daycare? It can hardly be disputed that breast milk is the safest, most nutritional fluid that you can feed your child. So why does this two-year-old need a diagnosis to consume breast milk instead of cow's milk?

The answer lies with the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. This act was designed to reduce childhood obesity and improve childhood nutrition. The law mandates that institutions that participate in the Food Program serve milk that is consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines recommend that children over the age of 2 consume low fat (1%) or fat free (skim) milk. The Guidelines further state that whole milk and reduced-fat (2%) milk "may not be served to participants over two years of age." Federal law dictates that if your child cannot consume the recommended milk (i.e., 1% or skim) due to "medical or other special dietary needs," you can use a substitute. The substitute must, however, be nutritionally equivalent to cow's milk, approved by the childcare provider, and requested by a written statement signed by a doctor or parent identifying the "medical or special dietary need" of the child.

If you notice, the act does not make reference to the most nutritionally sound fluid that a child can receive, which just happens to be human milk. Other than cow’s milk being fortified with vitamin d, which is generally recommended for children who live in northern climates, could this be one more way that we subtly discourage, or fail to support, breastfeeding mothers? Or make human milk appear inferior to cow’s milk?

Luckily the mom who wrote MilkWorks was willing to take the time and find out why she was not able to provide the frozen breastmilk for her child. She also took the time to obtain the waiver form and take it to her physician, who was willing to come up with a diagnosis. The form was then submitted to the state for approval. Another mom, busy with work and taking care of her family, may have given up and disposed of her frozen breast milk.

Can you think of any reason why a parent should be prevented from making this decision?

Take another look at that Time magazine cover photo and let me know if your perceptions have changed. What is the real issue here? Is it the milk?  Or the delivery system? Or both?

You can read more about Adam on his Sustainable Attorney blog.



0 #4 Katherine 2013-08-19 22:17
"You don't see mandates that cows have to drink sheep milk" ~ Celeste
My husband took a tour of a dairy farm with the Midwest Dairy Association. He was told that cows produce up to 6 gallons a day while calves only drink about a quart or two, "So you see its in the best interest of both that we take the calves away and feed them formula".
Any nursing mother knows that the more you pump the more you get and mother's milk is ALWAYS best.
Celebrating 3 years as a nursing mother to my 2 boys
0 #3 Julie 2012-11-06 15:27
This controversy tells me more about the inherent fear our culture perpetuates regarding any bodily function, not just breastfeeding. Take our obsession with masking the smell of sweat/B.O.- the pure, honest-to-goodness aroma that arises from a body that has toiled in some way, the type of activity that human body was made for. It's weird that displaying one's gargantuan fake boobs is socially acceptable, but somehow breastfeeding is just too embarrassing for its implications. Scarey!
0 #2 Celeste 2012-11-05 20:06
I think it is stupid that our civilized society and our government has deemed cow's milk healthier for humans than breastmilk! You don't see mandates that cows have to drink sheep milk or that dogs drink cats milk so why is it mandated that our children be required to drink milk from another species??? I am expecting baby #2 at the end of January and i will nurse as long as i can. I will also be pumping and if we have frozen milk left over when he decides to stop nursing at the breast, i will still offer it in a cup until it is gone.
0 #1 Chanté 2012-11-05 18:37
While the government's actions seem to come from good intentions, it's discouraging to see the real-life limitations of these bureaucratic requirements. How frustrating that the government has defined "healthy" into such narrow parameters. Mother's milk and other whole foods (many of which include fat) are so important to healthy childhood development. I think that it's totally within the parents' rights to breastfeed their children until they feel they're ready to stop. I acknowledge that complications arise as soon as you start including outside organizations (ie babysitters, schools, etc). However, I believe that at the very least the babysitter and the parents should have more freedom to discuss and decide on the matter themselves.

Regarding Time Magazine's cover photo: that's a big 3-year-old! :)

Thanks for your write-up, Adam.

Just for Brand New Parents