Skip to main content

Too Old for Breast Milk?

Too Old for Breast Milk?

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.