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More Milk Questions

More Milk Questions

Just when I think I know everything, I am always pleasantly surprised. But did you ever think there would be boy milk and girl milk???? It is pretty amazing that a mother’s milk changes from morning to night, from one day to the next, from the equator to the North Pole, and that it tastes different based upon what mom eats. Now we learn that animal moms may customize their milk depending upon the gender of their baby!

This raises another question that I would love for someone to answer. If infant mammals are all designed to drink their mother’s milk (which is, after all, why they are called mammals), and they all wean themselves from their mother’s milk when still young, are adult mammals (meaning us) meant to drink milk?

Dairy products (usually made from cow’s milk) are found in our grocery stores and in most homes across Nebraska. As a breastfeeding center, MilkWorks is aware that some babies appear to take issue with some of the proteins that their mothers consume - in particular, those in cow’s milk. All too often when a mother stops drinking cow’s milk because of her baby, the mother will tell me how much better SHE feels.

At the same time, we have many mothers ask us how much cow’s milk their baby must drink once weaned from the breast. What if their baby refuses to drink cow’s milk? Must cow’s milk be part of their toddler’s diet?

A knowledgeable dietician shared with me that humans have been drinking cow’s milk since the domestication of cows, some 8,000 years ago. Our ancestors chose cow’s milk because it tastes good and provides excellent nourishment. In today’s world, milk is often an inexpensive, nutrient dense food.

Parents often question whether their fussy baby is responding to lactose (a carbohydrate) in their mother’s milk. Babies are apparently born with plenty of lactase, the enzyme that digests lactose in milk. Around age five, humans are thought to decrease the amount of lactase they produce, perhaps to coincide with being weaned? Yet some adults consume milk products with no difficulty.

One theory is that a genetic mutation thousands of years ago allowed a certain group of Europeans to continue to produce lactase as adults. As a result, when faced with a scarcity of fresh drinking water or food, these adults could now rely upon milk from their herd of cows. They were more likely to survive, thus continuing the genetic mutation. Today if you scan a wide variety of articles posted on line, you will find anecdotal evidence for not drinking milk and for enjoying milk. It appears as though some human adults do not handle milk well, while others thrive on it.

Public health experts are steering people away from soda pop because of its high sugar content and are telling us that water is the best fluid for children and adults. Do we recommend cow’s milk for a toddler because of the need for fluid? Or the need for nutrients?

Recommendations that children consume skim milk (versus whole milk) are now being questioned as lacking research.

Skim milk is low in fat, which may leave kids hungry for other high fat foods, and may rival the forbidden soda pop for a high carbohydrate count. The higher fat content of whole milk may leave kids more satisfied and less likely to eat other foods to satisfy their hunger, thus overall reducing their caloric intake. Yet recommendations from the American Heart Association recommend fat free or low fat cow’s milk for heart health.

Humans can get the nutrients they obtain from milk through other sources: green leafy vegetables (calcium) and natural sunlight (vitamin D). Yet in a day and age where many children live on processed foods and would not know a stalk of chard or kale if their life depended upon it (I still have to read the signs in the grocery store to know which I am buying), milk may be an easy, quick, inexpensive fix for nutrition.

Guess this means I Got More Milk questions. Whether we are talking about infants and breastfeeding, or whether all adults are designed to drink milk, the important thing is that we are examining research and thinking about the role of food in our health and our well-being. I look forward to many more questions .... and many more answers.