Got Raw Milk? Why I Ignored the OB's Advice on Dairy
The AAP has issued a new policy statement for pregnant women and children. I'm not drinking this Kool-Aid. (I'm still drinking raw milk instead.)
On Monday this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics jumped on the anti-raw-milk bandwagon and said it encourages pregnant women and children to only consume pasteurized milk and cheeses, and supports efforts toward a nationwide ban on raw milk’s sale. That’s some uncomfortably strong “encouragement” from the AAP… And I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid (I’m still drinking raw milk instead).
According to officials in Minnesota, where raw milk is illegal, it has “long been identified as a source of food-borne-illness outbreaks, but it is also responsible for uncounted sporadic illnesses.” This is the prevailing opinion among health and government officials. I’ve known this since my first pregnancy, when I got the five-second dietary restriction talk from my OB and followed the guidelines to a tee. Since then, however, I’ve become a big fan of raw milk; I feed it to my 3-year-old, drank it throughout my second pregnancy this past summer and have homemade raw milk infant formula stashed in our freezer as backup in the (unlikely) event that we ever come up short on breast milk for my baby.
Despite the AAPs new stance on the issue, mine is not a case of parental negligence. I research my decisions exhaustively and feel secure in my choices around raw dairy. In fact, I initially learned about raw milk and its benefits through seeking solutions for my widely food-allergic older child. Raw milk proponents believe it’s beneficial for people with food allergies, asthma and countless other conditions. At the very least, it’s more easily digestible than pasteurized milk. In the case of my kiddo, pasteurized milk used to give him instant hives. Raw milk never has. We’ve all been drinking it liberally since I found a farm to buy it from here in Texas (we have to buy it on the farm in order for the transaction to be legal), and saw first-hand how it helped my son thrive.
Pasteurization was introduced in the 1920s, when a bunch of city-dwelling babies became sick with bacterial illnesses caused by milk produced in unsanitary “swill dairies,” and procured from notoriously shady milk sellers (You can read up on this kind of amazing historical tidbit here). That’s all well and good, but it’s not the 1920s anymore, and I’m buying my milk—along with lots of other moms—directly from a farmer with a real farm and an impeccable reputation (Also very happy, humanely raised, grass-fed cows).
A milk farmer quoted in the LA Times noted that the study that prompted the statement about raw milk’s risks in Minnesota was conducted in a state without any legal means for selling raw milk; its sale in those circumstances is therefore unregulated, which elevates its risks. When raw milk’s sale is legal, he said, it’s also safer, because farmers must adhere to standardized health codes and sanitation practices. Making it illegal makes it more dangerous.
The authors of the AAP’s policy statement on raw milk say evidence of its benefits is lacking, and that its health risks outweigh any potential rewards. The Weston A. Price Foundation, however, recommends pregnant and nursing mothers drink at least 32 ounces of organic whole milk, “preferably raw,” each day. And while Western doctors may be raw milk-phobic, Ayurvedic practitioners have recognized raw milk’s healing qualities for thousands of years.
Opinions, therefore, are decidedly mixed, and I encourage consumers to always form their own. I personally believe raw milk to be a far superior food to pasteurized; the whole point of the pasteurization process is to change the milk significantly enough to kill off harmful bacteria. Unfortunately, this means a lot of the good—live enzymes and helpful bacteria—goes out with the bad.
Ultimately, whether you choose to drink raw milk or not, this issue is really about whether you can make that choice. It’s also an issue of outdated information (and, many people argue, industry competition). OBs warn against unpasteurized dairy, even though it’s not even among the top five foods most likely to be contaminated with listeria; you’re taking more of a risk eating a salad at the Olive Garden than you are eating unpasteurized cheese. And I think it’s weird that the AAP—which recently slackened its stance on circumcision, an unnecessary procedure that causes acute complications in 1 of every 500 infants who undergo it—has taken up the cause to ban raw milk. If parents can choose whether to circumcise their babies, risks and all, shouldn’t we be able to choose what to feed ourselves, and our kids? Shouldn’t we have access to whole, real foods produced in accordance with reliable safety standards? Isn’t it bizarre that, in most states, it’s far easier to obtain firearms than unpasteurized milk? (Guess which one kills more children).
What do you think? Is the AAPs policy statement warranted? Should raw milk be illegal? Did you break any of the standard food rules during pregnancy? Share your thoughts!
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