Marketing Away Real Milk

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”.

*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.

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.”

New breast feeding logo
New breast feeding logo

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3 thoughts on “Marketing Away Real Milk”

  1. Deb,
    WOW! You are incredible. Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to reach out to women and their families with important info such as this. I will send this website out to all of my patients! You truly are a remarkable woman and advocate for babies! Love, Dr. Jane

  2. That is a great point. Why is “regular” milk the milk from another mammal as opposed to the milk we ourselves create?

    I was annoyed at my pediatrician’s office yesterday when the literature they gave us (for his 1 yr visit) spoke only of switching to “milk” instead of doing the toddler formulas. I thought “hello, no mention of continuing to breastfeed?” Do they assume that no mother is still breastfeeding at 1 yr old? I’ve been working and pumping for the last year, and I still managed to keep going. It’s not that weird.

    This did make me realize that I should really start shopping for a new pediatrician.

  3. We use the intuitive patting above the breast for milk, and call it ‘milk’ or ‘mummy’s milk’. Milk in the fridge is called ‘cows milk’ just for that reason – that it isn’t ‘real’ milk for our species at all!

    I didn’t use a sign for cow’s milk as he didn’t have it until I was preggers with my new baby, when he was nearing three!

    I know another sign for milk is squeezing the hand as if milking a cow! NO WAY was that going to be our breastmilk sign!

    My 10 month old clearly signals for milk with our sign.


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