Supporting Breastfeeding

La Leche League Canada

When Cows Make Breastmilk!

on August 12, 2013

When cows make breastmilk may seem like it belongs in the same category of sayings as “when pigs fly” but it is a step closer to reality due to the work of some Chinese scientists. When this news was released in 2011 I read it, laughed and moved on, but the idea of “humanized cow’s milk” keeps coming back to my mind. The scientists (or their funders) obviously see some economic advantages to making cows produce milk that is closer to human milk in its components but I continue to think about what would still be missing from that “humanized cow’s milk” that science can’t reproduce.calf-cow-feeding-in-green-field2

If we look at breastmilk solely as a food source (because that is what the scientists do), then we can see that they have proven that they can increase the content of lysozyme in the milk of these genetically modified cows to more closely mimic human milk and they can alter the fat and protein content of the milk through processing so it is more suitable for the brain building that human babies need rather than the brawn building that is the norm for cattle. These scientists say the humanized cow’s milk they have created is 80% identical to human milk: so what about the other 20%? Isn’t 100% identical a lot better than 80%?561101_372237702820782_182295207_n

Still looking strictly at breastmilk only as food, the scientists haven’t shown that they can make a mass produced milk product that can adjust its own fat content from the beginning of a feeding to the end of the feeding or within the feedings during a 24 hour period to adjust to the needs of the individual baby. They also have no way to create a mass produced milk product which will provide antibodies to human diseases that a mother has been exposed to in her lifetime and to which she and her baby are exposed to on a day-to-day basis in their own environment. Anything that is mass produced cannot have the variable qualities that make breastmilk individually tailored for each baby at each feeding.DSC_4607

If we go beyond breastmilk as a food source, and look at breastfeeding and all that it includes beyond simple nutrition, it is obvious that no genetic alterations to the milk of cows will be able to reproduce the benefits of receiving breastmilk from the mother’s breast. The closeness and cuddling that happen during breastfeeding are easy to see but not always given the importance they deserve in building a long term relationship between mother and baby. To be totally connected to another person at a hormonal and physical level in a way that is beneficial to both people doesn’t happen in any other relationship we will ever have. Less obvious benefits to receiving breastmilk at the breast are things like the specialized muscle development in the mouth and throat that does not occur with bottle feeding. Breastfeeding will therefore positively affect the child’s eventual speech patterns and influence how the child’s mouth shape forms, which may decrease the potential for future orthodontic bills. I could go on listing benefits for many more pages but I won’t due to space limitations.532595_372237782820774_489725267_n

The more I think about this experimental work the more I go back to my first reaction. Since the first commercially available artificial baby milks were produced, there have been those who have sought to find a way to create better reproductions of breastmilk and thus far they are still a long way from making the “real thing”. I just wish we could see all of that money and effort being put towards ensuring that every mother has what she needs in her life support her so she is able to provide human breastmilk for her human baby. It’s the real thing!


If you need more information or have a breastfeeding problem or concern, you are strongly encouraged to talk directly to a La Leche League Leader.  In Canada, Leaders can be located by clicking  or  Internationally



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