Marketing Away ‘Real Milk’

Welcome Carnival of Breastfeeding Readers!

This is a reposting of my very first post at Pure Mothers! I thought it was fitting for World Breastfeeding Week.

I was at a playgroup with my baby the other day when a mother brought up the topic of sign language for babies and said that her daughter was beginning to use some of the signs. I told her that I am working with our baby to learn signing as well, especially, the sign for “milk”. Another mother asked how I would know the difference if he wanted breast milk or “regular” milk; she wanted to know if there were different signs. Good question. There is only one sign for “milk” and my baby only knows about breast milk so there won’t be any confusion.* “We are not introducing “regular” milk into his diet”, I replied. Then I thought – if cow’s milk is considered “regular milk” does that make breast milk “irregular”?

How did cow’s milk become so ingrained in Americans’ minds as “regular milk” that we don’t even say, “cow” anymore, and that of all things, breast milk, the only milk meant for humans, requires a qualifier?It’s always “whole milk” or “regular milk” or just, “milk” and it’s all meant to imply milk from a cow. When referring to milk that humans consume, it seems that the norm should always mean breast milk. But the dairy board has done a great job, with some brilliant marketing convincing Americans that we need cow’s milk, regardless of the fact that it is too high in protein and sodium for humans and is designed by nature to nourish a big, dumb animal, not a small, intelligent human.  Breast milk prepares babies for life. It’s the only milk they require.

We are told by our pediatricians to wean our babies off the breast by one year and switch our babes over to “whole milk”. Where are the doctors getting their nutrition facts – the Dept of Agriculture’s food pyramid? Why should we wean after their first birthday and what logical rationale is there? For those of you who are not aware, a medical doctor’s degree requires a whopping average of 24 hours in nutrition.On the contrary, medical doctors spend years studying the diagnosis of pathology and the treatment of disease with drugs or surgery. They are not experts in nutrition or prevention. So, now that I know this, I don’t stop thinking for myself when they tell me to give my son whole milk or worse, soy milk, which is high in phytates that interfere with iron absorption and equally high in estrogenic properties!

As a reality check, I sometimes look to other countries to see what they are doing. In other countries whole milk means goat’s milk, which is actually closer in molecular structure to human milk, causes fewer allergies, and is more widely consumed around the globe than cow’s milk. Forgoing milk altogether is another rational choice. For example, ensuring your toddler eats a 3.5oz serving of each daily: kale and carrots and a trail mix of almonds, sunflower seeds, dried figs and apricots, he or she would get the same calcium as in 3 – 8 ounce glasses of milk. Leafy greens contain double the amount of calcium than the same amount of milk. There are ways to hide greens in other food if a discerning toddler objects to them. You can find help at for suggestions.

Too many children develop lactose intolerance or respiratory problems or other allergies related to cow’s milk consumption. Why start them on it when it really isn’t necessary? I am not opposed to some foods from dairy sources, specifically, raw, organic cheese and organic yogurt or kefir. They have enzymes and probiotics, respectively, that are beneficial in the diet and have higher calcium content than “cow’s milk”. I do feed these in small quantities to my baby. A 3.5 ounce serving of cheddar cheese at 750 mg comes close to meeting a 1 to 10 year old’s 800mg daily requirement. But, you won’t see my baby with the infamous milk mustache touting, “got-cow-milk”.

*My son is now 2 years 1 month old and does not drink cow’s milk. He just weaned last week and drinks rice milk, hemp milk, water, coconut water and juice.

*In ASL (American Sign Language) there is a sign for nursing baby. It consists of a rocking baby motion and then a hand gesture of expressing milk.

Check out more Carnival of Breastfeeding posts:

Taken from The World Health Organization’s (WHO) website:

“Breast milk provides optimal nutrition for a growing infant, with compositional changes that are adapted to the changing needs of the infant. Human milk contains adequate minerals and nutrients for the first six months of life. Breast milk also contains immune components, cellular elements and other host-defence factors that provide various antibacterial, antiviral and antiparasitic protection. Breast-milk components stimulate the appropriate development of the infant’s own immune system. On the basis of the current evidence, WHO’s public health recommendation is that infants should be exclusively breastfed during the first six months of life and that they should continue to receive breast milk throughout the remainder of the first year and during the second year of life (14). “Exclusive breastfeeding” means that no water or other fluids (or foods) should be administered. In almost all situations, breastfeeding remains the simplest, healthiest and least expensive method of infant feeding, which is also adapted to the nutritional needs of the infant.”

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17 thoughts on “Marketing Away ‘Real Milk’”

  1. First of all, what a gorgeous website you have!

    Thank you for talking about this whole issue of conflating “milk” with “cow’s milk” in this culture. It’s so silly. And then making us call human milk “breast milk,” which tends to embarrass (and unfortunately, sometimes gross out) people. We don’t call cow’s milk “udder milk.” It really is a pervasive, marketing-induced misconception that humans need cow’s milk to be healthy, but don’t need human milk! Bizarre.

    We made up our own sign for “nummies,” just so there wouldn’t be any confusion later on about what our son was asking for if we were in a group setting where he might be given cow’s milk instead of taken to me for nursing. It hasn’t really been a problem after all, but I do like the idea of separating them out in his mind. Now that he’s 2, we’ve started adding some raw cow’s milk and raw cheese into his and our diets, and we love it! We don’t have any intolerances that I can figure, but I’ve come to understand that raw is better, in case — and it’s sooo yummy. So, yes, as a dairy junkie, I will affirm that we don’t need cow’s milk, but if you’re going to have it, I second the recommendation to go raw!

  2. The thing about goat’s milk being more similar to human milk always makes me laugh. But why don’t those formula companies, who love babies so much, use goats milk? One guess. You got it – money.

    A lactation consultant told me horse’s milk is even more similar. Thanks for an informative article – you have made me more confident that my daughter does not need to drink cows’ milk as she grows up.

  3. In today’s news, breastfeeding is given as a reason for vitamin D deficiency in children! Stop giving those babies mother’s milk and get them on vitamin D-fortified cow’s milk! How insane is this? Don’t they know that sunshine is the best provider of vitamin D?

  4. Deb ~

    I wish I could have breastfed Denzin as long as you do Dino. My fate was different as my son just wasn’t interested in latching after the second week. God knows how hard I tried. But I’m happy you are advocating for breast milk. :-)

    Also, I wanted to comment on the sign language portion in the beginning of your blog. Not sure if I ever mentioned but Mark is deaf. He had spinal meningitis when he was months old and lost his hearing as a result. He reads lips and speaks quite remarkably. In fact, he taught Sign to high school hearing kids in San Diego prior to moving to Jersey. He’s taught me much too and we sign with Denzin all the time. Although he is not reciprocating yet, studies have shown that babies acquire Sign much easier than spoken language which aids in easier communication.

    There is a great Youtube channel you should check about lessons on signing with your baby. Laura is a remarkable mother who’s taught her daughter Fireese Sign since baby. Check out her channel here:

  5. Yes, the vitamin D deficiency angle is ridiculous. Breast milk is only deficient because mothers are deficient – especially in areas with longer winters and less sunshine. Why not supplement mothers with D ( I take a liquid D3 supplement) and recommend more sunshine for mothers instead of recommending formula that is fortified with D?! The answer is PROFIT.

  6. We also sign, for a ‘feed’ we use a tap on the chest. We have a sign for drink, but that means water. By the time they have milk, they can talk! But we are big fans of cheese and yoghurt.

  7. It’s funny how you have to read a post like this to realize how swayed we are, as a culture, by marketing (dairy industry, formula industry, etc). It IS silly that we refer to another mammal’s milk as just “milk” like it is the norm for us and our own species’ milk as “breast milk” like it is NOT the norm. Big Red Flag to all give our heads a shake and snap out of this brainwashed way of thinking!

  8. Yay for this post! I’m normally vegan, but with pregnancy I’ve been eating eggs again because I’ve been craving them (plus the added protien). Anyway, the dairy industry is awful, but breastfeeding is beautiful! I don’t understand how the American society has come to this point. Of course, as with everything it’s all about money.

  9. GREAT post! I agree w/the person who commented that it’s “all about money.” Everything in this society is. :-/

    I also really like the picture you’ve posted with this piece–how beautiful! :-)

  10. Hi! Just wanted to let you know that we loved your post over at KiwiLog and decided to feature it as part of our weekly mom blog round-up. Thanks!

  11. I believe the baby sign for “nurse” is a brush of the breast, kind of like Deb said, she taps, but the book I have says to do 2 quick brushes downward…
    My baby is only 6 months and is pretty good at just pounding on my chest when he wants to nurse- haven’t tried the ASL yet.

    My goal is to nurse for a year (actually, I say that to people, but truly my goal is to go as long as possible)- but I had not thought twice about giving cow’s milk after that… I’ll have to reconsider when/if to introduce animal milk, and if he needs that in his diet, or if he can get the same nutrition (protein and calcium) through my milk and/or some of the other sources you suggest.

    Thanks Pure Mother! Just discovered your blog today through Blacktating’s Carnival and will add you to my reader.

  12. Not sure if the sign is the same in US as in UK but the sign I was shown to teach my child for milk was a ‘milking a cow’ action. Quite frankly, it completely put be off teaching my child learn to sign. I breastfed my child but I am not a cow, and did not want my daughter to think of me as one.

  13. I truly appreciate your site! Really seems like we do a lot of the same research for a better planet and well cared for healthy children :)

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