The Downside to Feeding Your Child Cow's Milk

By Linda Folden Palmer, D.C.
Excerpted with permission.
To read more from Palmer, please visit her website and see her latest book, The Baby Bond: The New Science Behind What's Really Important When Caring for Your Baby.

cow milk is designed perfectly for baby cows ~ not baby humans

Today, many of the problems parents have with their babies are linked to new parenting and feeding techniques that have been implemented during the recent century. Colic, for instance, is far more common in the U.S. than in many other places around the world. Two chief causes for its rise are the stress suffered by babies being regularly separated from their mothers, and the common difficulties babies have tolerating the large cow's milk proteins in infant formulas and breastfeeding mothers' diets. Cow's milk is a foreign substance that has pervaded every corner of our diets—starting with artificial infant feeds, but finding its way into mother's breastmilk through the foods she eats as well. As it turns out, health problems such as childhood diabetes, obesity, bowel disease, osteoporosis, heart disease, cataracts, colic, ear infections, hyperactivity, and cancer, on the rise in both children and adults, are strongly linked to infant feeding choices.

While there are literally thousands of research studies, each revealing at least one of milk's hazards, the dairy industry goes to great lengths to stifle any damaging rumors. Blanket statements, such as, "There is simply no scientific research to back up these claims," are easily made. With a long and successful history of dairy promotion, these are readily accepted by the public. More people need to go to the real research and learn the truth for themselves. They should be very suspicious of these foreign foods being pushed on their children. They should question motives as well as possible outcomes. Although some of the dangers of cow's milk consumption relate more to adults than to children, parents' actions form the basis for lifelong dairy-consuming habits in their children.

The harmful components of cow's milk include all the major parts of it, as well as some more minor elements. Lactose is a sugar meant for babies, but it's generally harmful to adults. The proteins in cow's milk are different from human milk proteins and cause problems of digestion, intolerance, impaired absorption of other nutrients, and autoimmune reactions. Few of the proteins meant for baby cows are found naturally in human mother's milk, and none are found in any natural adult human food.

Even the high protein content in cow's milk creates problems. Human babies need the saturated fats and cholesterol in mother's milk. Bovine milk fat is not appropriately composed for human babies and is only deleterious to the health of children and adults. Cow hormones are not meant for humans, and older children and adults are not meant to consume hormones. And, cows have been selectively bred over time to create high levels of these hormones—those being the cows that grow the fastest and produce the greatest amount of milk. Cows also concentrate pesticides and pollutants into their milk fat, from their high dietary food and water requirements. The high amount of drugs now given to cows adds to this chemical soup. But we need milk to build strong bones, don't we? Actually, heavy milk consumption leads to increased osteoporosis.

The highly promoted idea that milk builds strong bones refers to the prevention of osteoporosis—this is the reason for strengthening bones. Decades of effort to demonstrate that high calcium diets chiefly derived from dairy products build strong bones have failed to prove any such correlation. In fact, the opposite seems to be true. (1) It appears that high calcium intake before puberty, and especially in young childhood, may have some slight positive effect on bones, but this diet is not the answer. A balanced intake of all the bone minerals, along with adequate vitamin A, C, and D, is what is truly needed. A balanced intake of minerals cannot occur when the diet emphasizes dairy. Dairy's high calcium causes relative deficiencies in magnesium and other bone-building minerals, and its high phosphorus and animal protein reduces calcium availability. Physical activity has the greatest benefit—the body efficiently uses what is available to build strong bones when it senses the need. Human milk and vegetable sources are superior to dairy for calcium and other nutrients in many ways. There are fewer nutritional or other health advantages to giving cow's milk to children than is generally believed, while there are certainly many risks.

Almost every day another health research finding is made about whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, fish, or some other food, other than milk that is, and its connection to a reduced risk of heart disease, breast cancer, stroke, diabetes, or other disease. This is because cow's milk and its derivatives today make up one-third of the adult diet, and half to two-thirds of caloric intake in children, thus replacing so much other important, nutritious food needed in the diet. This leads to insufficient intake of important vitamins, several minerals, and healthy fiber and vegetable oils. Cancer-preventing antioxidants in foods are missing in this milk diet as well. While one form of antioxidant vitamin A is added to milk (but not all dairy products), it is likely counteracted by the pesticide and drug residues. The full complement of vitamin A and associated enzymes, found in vegetables and other foods, are required for cancer prevention. Many, many more kinds of antioxidants are found in vegetables, legumes, fruits, and grains.

No other animal in the animal kingdom drinks milk beyond childhood. No other animal suffers from osteoporosis, except the occasional pet raised on human meals.

If there remains a desire to provide cow's milk to a child who has no diarrhea, rashes, or other intolerance reactions, organic (organic—not raw) non-fat milk would be the best choice. In raw (unpasteurized) cow's milk there can be many potentially dangerous microorganisms, in addition to the leukemia virus. In organic milk there are fewer antibiotic residues, no added hormones, and cows are given better feeds. Non-fat means less chemical residue and no artery-damaging saturated fat. Children can obtain fat in the form of non-hydrogenated (especially monosaturated) vegetable oils, be it in potato chips or cashews. Goat's milk is considered by many to be superior in many ways, and today low-fat versions are available. Much less documented information is available about goat's milk, but it appears that the proteins are less problematic for digestion, although allergic intolerance to these can also occur. Lactose and hormones would remain an issue although, to date, goats apparently are not injected with extra growth hormone.

Although it was apparent from day one that formula was a health risk for infants, back when it was first promoted, cow's milk for older children appeared to be a nutritional manna. And with one or two glasses a day from a healthy, range-fed animal, it likely nearly was. Since this time, however, the quality of dairy has drastically reduced while its consumption has exploded... with a little advertising help. The evidence suggesting that the early faith in milk was misplaced has been building up for decades. The dairy industry has had to take increasingly extreme efforts to keep this information out of public awareness.

I have only touched on the tip of the existing evidence against the health claims of the milk industry promoters. Since our childhood, the dairy industry has worked hard to have dairy products enshrined in a food group of their own. Even though they were given their own space in the new Eating Right food pyramid, they found themselves placed in a small upper portion and have lobbied to have the pyramid withdrawn. (2) Many nutrition experts such as Harvard's Dr. Walter Willett (3) suggest they should not be a featured group in the pyramid at all.

The dairy industry has also successfully convinced many vegetarians that milk from cows, especially cheese, is a vegetarian food. Since few substantiated health claims can be made anymore, the milk industry's most recent promotion has been to simply show their product on the upper lip of celebrities of all kinds, even those who are dairy-allergic (Bill Clinton), and even on those who are too young to be consuming whole milk (the Rugrats). Before this promo, it was simply "Got milk?" While an ever-growing preponderance of scientific information points to the dangers of cow's milk, favorable public and even mainstream medical opinion about dairy products has been very successfully maintained.

Knowing and avoiding the potentially harmful effects that high dairy consumption and milk-sensitivity reactions can have on your child is just as important and loving as nursing, close bonding, and informed health care decisions. What we feed our children matters; how we parent them matters. These measures will lead to the best health, comfort and happiness available to a child. Parents have the power to create and enjoy healthier, happier children with brighter futures.


1)  L. H. Kushi et al., "Health Implications of Mediterranean Diets in Light of Contemporary Knowledge. 1. Plant Foods and Dairy Products," Am J Clin Nutr 61, suppl 6 (Jun 1995): 1407 S—1415S.

2) M. Nestle, "Food Lobbies, the Food Pyramid, and U.S. Nutrition Policy," Int J Health Serv 23, no. 3 (1993): 483-96.

3) W. C. Willett, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, in the Boston Globe, June 8, 1999.

Related Reading: 

The Baby Bond [book]

The Baby Bond [website]

The China Study [book]

The Deadly Influence of Formula in America

Don't Drink Your Milk [book]

Dr. Sears on Cow's Milk 

Is Cow's Milk Necessary for Toddlers?

Should Children Drink Cow's Milk?

Whitewash: The Disturbing Truth about Cow's Milk and Your Health [book]



  1. I do not agree that cows milk is necesarrily the problem. I believe that pasteurized processed cows milk is the problem. People have been drinking naturally raised RAW cows milk for millenia and it has only become a problem within the last hundred years. What changed? Pasteurization, Homogenization, rbST, feeding cows grain and stale gummy bears etc.

    Milk in its pure natural form is a great food.

    There is also a variance in the genetic makeup of the casien protien in cow's milk that people are allergic to. Our modern dairy industry has bred so intensively for the traits they desire, like high production, for instance... that they unknowingly bred out most of the cows that have milk people can digest.

    This is known as A1 milk, because of the position of the DNA sequence.
    Milk that is A2 is not allergenic the way A1 milk is. Goat milk and Human milk is A2.
    We think the problem is the size of the protien or fat molecule, but is that really the case?

    I personally know of someone who is deathly allergic to milk, he has to carry an inhaler in case he is exposed to dairy products.
    He was persuaded to try some A2 milk. He is in his 50's and his whole family has watched him have life threatening anaphylactic reactions to milk over and over, so they all watched in amazement while he drank a glass of A2 milk and had no problem.

    A week later he tried some milk from another cow that is A1/A2, and immediately began to react.

    Both cows were from the same small organic all natural raw dairy, (no antibiotics, hormones and only a tiny bit of grain).

    I have a son that has dairy allergies that did fine on raw milk, even before I got rid of my A1 cows.

    My point is this: The milk available commercially at this point in time is NOT the same stuff that was available to our ancestors.
    It has actually changed composition, is completely adulterated... and any evaluation of milk as a food should take this into consideration.

    If you look back on the history of Salt, you will find that it was once used as currency because people can't live without it. Now we have a product on our grocery store shelves that is dirt cheap and has less nutritional value than dirt. We are told to avoid salt.
    Well, guess what? it's not that our bodies no longer need salt, it's just that the salt available to us is processed... refined and sterilized, devoid of the trace minerals that are necesarry to our good health.
    You can see this story repeated over and over in other foods.
    I have personally witnessed the difference in salt - switching from refined salt to a good unrefined salt has prevented me from having feet so swollen they would be puffed up too big to fit into any shoe & jiggle when I walked!..during my pregnancies.
    (excessive water retention)

  2. To Anonymous cow's milk isn't necessary for the human diet. So you can go on and on about different genetic makesup and raw vs not-raw. But what is honestly important is that its NOT necessary. Americans have been brainwashed into thinking it is.

  3. I agree milk is unnecessary but disagree with the saturated fat ideas. Saturated fats are not the enemy.

  4. Than you for posting this Anonymous! I completely agree with you, i use to be lactose-intolerant, because of years of pasteurized, feed-lot cow's milk. I now only drink raw cow's milk and have to problem digesting the milk. Thanks again for taking the time to post this!!!

  5. Normally I'm on board with Peaceful Parenting and am impressed with your research and sources. Not this time. I should note that its also the diary industry who is giving a bad name to Raw Milk and spreading the misinformation you repeated. I don't personally drink milk or give much to my kids but when we do its Raw and I've noticed a difference. I personally know several people who's health has improved with Raw milk as opposed to pasteurized. And that's just the anecdotal evidence-there's also loads of scientific evidence to support that Raw Milk is better. The Weston A. Price Foundation is a good place to start for more information. And I certainly don't condone non-fat anything for kids or adults. Also do some deeper digging into the research on the health of saturated fats. Human Mama milk is the best of course and that's pretty much all my toddlers want and I'm happy to oblige until they no longer want it.

  6. I agree with you Anonymous, too! I have been feeding my 15-month old son raw milk to supplement my breast milk instead of formula. He is one thriving, happy, healthy baby with no ill effects. I believe it's pasteurized, homogenized milk that is the culprit.

    Katie, milk may be unnecessary in your opinion, but my only other alternative was formula, which is crap. There are lots of natural foods that are "unnecessary" but it doesn't mean we can benefit from it. It's even in the Bible.

  7. Anonymous #1:

    Thank you for the additional information and clarification. I found it very useful.

  8. Katie, most foods, taken individually, are unnecessary for the human diet, so you can say that about most anything with a few exceptions. Few foods offer a vital nutrient that can't be gotten anywhere else. I believe the first poster's point simply was, all milk is not equal, there are differences that will make a difference to those who consume it. If there are forms of milk that are better tolerated and are healthier, would that be such a bad thing?

  9. I'd implore those of you who believe that 'raw milk' is great (while processed cow's milk is not) to actually read a lot of the research out there on the way cow's milk acts in the human body (whether processed or raw). It isn't just the manufacturing of cow's milk that makes it incompatible with the human body - it is also the way that casein acts as a neurochemical in the human brain, and the way that it responds in the gut of the human body (impacting the immune system).

    The book above, "The China Study," is written by a top scientist in the field of human health and nutrition who grew up on a dairy farm in rural U.S. His life's research led him to findings that take into account the raw milk he grew up on (and that which contributed to his father's death).

    Weston Price is great - but don't stop at just one source. Look into everything. From all sides, all angels, including the latest research from around the world.

    Regular consumption of cow's milk simply isn't good for the human race. As tragic (??) as that may be.

  10. Dr. Hale's research states that casein reaches milk at the same rate as it is dispersed in the blood stream. Casein acts as a powerful neurochemical in the brain (no matter if raw or processed) and the proteins (again, no matter if raw or processed) simply cannot be digested by human babies. We shouldn't be so fast to jump on a popular bandwagon without looking at ALL aspects of health as it relates to cow's milk and the human baby, human brain, immune system, and digestion.

  11.'s heroin. I'm allergic and still dabble in it. But this was horrid so will eliminate with more heart.

  12. I hear ya... Even though it often causes a backlash of vigorous email from raw-milk advocates, the fact is that casein exists in all cow's milk - raw or not - and it does not act in a 'friendly' way in the human body or brain. I love cow's milk... I've been addicted to it (literally) more than once. But it isn't good for me (raw or processed) and it certainly isn't good for our babies. I understand and appreciate Weston Price and the wonderful wisdom there - but when it comes to cow's milk, there is more to the story that people should be open (and unafraid) to fully research.

  13. How long do you estimate it takes for casein to be present in your milk?

  14. My daughter would react within 15 minutes to a half hour after I consumed dairy.

  15. The majority of other countries with much lower rates of osteoporosis get the majority of their calcium, magnesium and other vitamins and minerals from their WATER! Unfortunately for us in the US the minerals have all been filtered out and chemicals for purification added in. You can find a natural spring with pure fresh water close to home here:

  16. All you need to know is the simple fact that cows do not produce milk for humans. They produce milk for their baby calves. Just like women produce milk for their babies.

    Would you drink the breast milk of your dog or your cat? Or how about a horse? No, you probably would not. What makes a cow any different?

  17. Anon ~ LOVE the way you put it. So basic, so simple, so true. Human milk is for human babies. Cow's milk is for cow babies. Period.

    These three books on the subject are well researched and fascinating:

    The China Study


    Don't Drink Your Milk

  18. So what do you do when your child is weaning himself? Give him water? Almond milk? rice milk?

  19. I don't agree with all of this, although I agree that we do not need to drink milk from a cow. I would never recommend low fat and saturated fats are not the enemy here. My kids drink water, and occasionally almond milk. They get their calcium and magnesium from leafy greens. They eat a ton of fruits, veggies, and pasteured (not to be confused with pasteurized) meats.

  20. I was so on board with stuff! Until I saw you encourage vegetable oils. Vegetable oils are a new addition in the daily diet. They are harmful and toxic. Advocating for a low-fat diet is never the answer. Humans (especially children) need the saturated fats that come from natural animal products. We prefer ours to be meat related (lard, tallow, etc) but we occasionally get raw butter and milk from grass-fed dairy cows. You didn't mention anything about how cows aren't meant to eat grains or soy beans. The feed is the most dangerous thing to them. They eat food they aren't meant to so their immune system is compromised. They then need antibiotics ti remain healthy. I don't think dairy is needed (there are plenty other sources for any good in dairy) but it isn't evil. Low-fat diets are horrible.

  21. "Children can obtain fat in the form of non-hydrogenated (especially monosaturated) vegetable oils, be it in potato chips or cashews."

    Potato chips? Really??? My children don't drink milk, but I would give them that LONG before giving them chips. Normally, I love your blog, but this is just bad.

    1. Not sure why the author chose to mention potato chips, unless it was to give an example of the fact that even children with not-so-healthy diets are not in need of cow's milk. Will have to ask her. :)

      (And no, we do not advocate feeding processed chips to kids).



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