One of the most amazing miracles of human life is a baby’s growth from inception to birth. A close second is how the body creates everything the baby needs after birth – milk.
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Often, when a new mother begins her nursing journey, there is a cultural belief and perception that drinking cow’s milk increases breast milk supply. You’ll hear things like “drink two cups of milk a day” or “drink more milk so you can make more milk.” Some people even encourage you to eat as much ice cream as you want because that’s dairy and you’re nursing. Somehow, nursing becomes an excuse to eat whatever you want. I don’t object to this, but we know that’s not the best route to take!
I, too, was given this advice when I gave birth. At the same time, I was also told by pediatricians and baby experts that dairy should be the first thing to eliminate from a diet when a child is gassy or otherwise uncomfortable. These strikingly different perspectives provoked me to learn more about the science behind cow’s milk and milk production in a nursing mother.
So is it true that cow’s milk increases breast milk? Or is it a myth? And why do health experts tell us to eliminate dairy when a baby is excessively fussy?
This post answers the question: Does cow’s milk increase breast milk supply?
I’ll discuss this topic in the following order:
- The process of milk production in a nursing mother’s body
- What breast milk is made up of
- Does drinking cow’s milk increase breast milk?
- Why do health experts recommend eliminating dairy in some cases?
Let’s get right to it.
The process of milk production in a nursing mother’s body:
The hormones estrogen and progesterone are responsible for breast milk production. In simplest terms, estrogen and progesterone levels drop when the baby is born while prolactin increases. This hormonal shift cues the body to begin breast milk production and those milk-producing hormones help it continue to produce milk.
What is breast milk made of?
Since we are discussing whether cow’s milk is beneficial to produce more breast milk, it’s worth exploring what makes up breast milk. It is a perfect combination of water, carbohydrates, fat, protein, vitamins and minerals, and amino acids. Not only that, but breast milk also contains antibodies and enzymes with white blood cells. This combination helps boost the newborn baby’s immune system. Research has shown that breast milk comprises around 200 known beneficial components that promote the baby’s healthy growth. These are derived by the synthesis in the lactocyte (the cells that make and store milk), dietary, and maternal stores. All these sources are essential, but the most important one is the mother’s diet.
Does cow’s milk increase breast milk?
Now that we know how breast milk is made and what it comprises, let’s get back to the cultural tradition. Many of our elders advise nursing mothers to drink cow’s milk daily to increase milk supply for the nursing baby. Is there any scientific evidence behind this thought process? The surprising answer to that is yes and no. Allow me to explain.
A lactating mother with a well-balanced diet requires approximately 2.25 to 3.1 liters of fluids daily to improve breast milk quantity and quality. That means around 10-13 cups of liquids every day. You can achieve this by drinking water, low-sugar juices, or milk. So it’s not the cow’s milk that increases milk supply, but rather its liquid composition.
Why do health experts recommend eliminating dairy in some cases?
Some of us, including babies, have difficulty breaking down casein, the protein found in milk, and might be allergic to cow’s milk. If that’s your baby, don’t worry; they will likely grow out of it.
Also, cow’s milk does have calcium, which is helpful to both the mother and the baby. Calcium is important for building and maintaining strong bones. That said, milk is not the only source of calcium you receive in a day. Many table foods are full of it, and if you’re still taking your prenatal vitamins, they typically contain calcium as well. As a result, overconsumption of calcium-rich foods (including milk) could cause gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and nausea, which can be passed to your nursing baby.
Because of the above combination, health experts often advise you to eliminate dairy for at least 7 – 10 days to see if dairy products might be the culprit.
Putting it all together:
It isn’t cow’s milk specifically that increases breast milk supply; it is the amount of liquid you consume in a day. However, our elders aren’t wrong to say cow’s milk does benefit a nursing mother. It is a great liquid to keep you hydrated and provide calcium to you and your baby. If you do choose to drink milk, it’s important to keep an eye on your calcium intake to ensure you are not overconsuming and experiencing side effects that can be passed to your baby.
Breastfeeding can often be a complicated journey full of contradictory advice from well-meaning friends, family members, and healthcare providers. Next time you or someone you know is wondering about the effect of cow’s milk on breast milk supply, you’ll be able to provide solid, science-based advice.
This post is all about the effect of cow’s milk on breast milk supply
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