Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0
Cow's Milk: Pros and Cons
In October 1992, a well-known pediatrician recommended that
children over 2 years old and adults not drink cow's milk.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical
Association both strongly disagree with this extreme
statement. Here are the reasons the benefits of drinking
cow's milk outweigh the risks.
THE BENEFITS OF COW'S MILK
Dairy products are an inexpensive source of protein. They
are a convenient source of calcium. In addition, they often
taste good. These benefits of milk haven't changed.
THE RISKS OF COW'S MILK
- Bleeding from the intestines during infancy
The intestines of some babies may bleed if they drink
cow's milk during their first year of life. This slow
leakage of blood from the lining of the intestine can
cause iron deficiency anemia. For this reason,
pediatricians no longer recommend giving cow's milk to
children during their first year of life.
- Food allergies
About 1% of children are allergic to the protein in
cow's milk. When they eat or drink milk products, they
may develop hives, diarrhea, wheezing, or other allergic
symptoms. These children need to avoid cow's milk
- Lactose intolerance
Lactose is the sugar found in milk. Some children and
many adults have a condition called lactose intolerance
and have bloating and diarrhea when they eat or drink
milk products. You can prevent these symptoms by adding
lactase drops to the milk. (Lactase is an enzyme that
helps people digest the sugar in milk.)
- Heart disease
Children with strong family risk factors for early heart
attacks should avoid cow's milk products because of the
high amounts of cholesterol and saturated fat in milk.
You can reduce this risk by giving your child skim milk
or 1% milk.
One study has suggested that a reaction to the protein
in cow's milk could trigger the onset of diabetes
mellitus. A later study showed no correlation. This
theory is not a reason to give up milk.
PRECAUTIONS FOR CHILDREN WHO AVOID MILK
Children and adults who need to avoid drinking milk or
eating food made from milk must supplement their diets with
calcium. Children who don't get enough calcium every day
may develop rickets, which leads to soft bones and short
stature. Also, these children do not store enough calcium
to prevent osteoporosis during late adulthood.
Some vegetables such as broccoli and kale contain relatively
high amounts of calcium. However, it would be extremely
difficult to eat enough broccoli and kale each day to get
enough calcium. Therefore, children who are not eating or
drinking milk products should take calcium supplements.
They are available without prescription in liquid, chewable,
and tablet forms. Calcium-fortified orange juice is also
available and contains as much calcium per ounce as milk
- During the first year of life children should either be
breast-fed or be given iron-fortified formula.
- Give whole cow's milk to children 12 to 24 months old.
- After 2 years of age children should drink low-fat milk.
If they are overweight, they can drink skim milk.
Consuming milk products in moderation is not harmful.