How does cow milk differ from human milk? Read on... | Viva! - The Vegan Charity

How does cow milk differ from human milk? Read on...

1. Fats

How does cow milk differ from human milk? Fats is the first reason. Cows’ milk is lower in polyunsaturated fats than human milk. Lower levels of polyunsaturated fats show just how unnatural cows’ milk is for our babies because these are the very fats which are essential for human brain development! In humans, the brain develops rapidly during the first year of life, growing faster than the body and tripling in size by the age of one. Brains are largely composed of fat and early brain development requires a sufficient supply of polyunsaturated fats called omega-3 and omega-6 and both are present in greater amounts in human milk. Cows’ milk is higher in saturated fats than human milk. A swift increase in body size is more of an imperative for cows than rapid brain development so cows produce milk that is high in body-building saturated fats.

2. Calcium

The calcium content of cows’ milk (120mg per 100ml) is nearly four times greater than that of human milk (34mg per 100ml). There is a reason for this discrepancy – calves grow much more quickly and have a larger skeleton than human babies and therefore need much more calcium (FAO, 1997). Cows’ milk is specifically designed to meet this high demand and is another reason why whole cows’ milk is not recommended for infants under 12 months. Although human milk contains less calcium, it is more easily absorbed than that found in cows’ milk (Greer and Krebs, 2006). So, calcium is another compelling piece of the argument when you wonder: how does cow milk differ from human milk?

3. Protein

The amount of protein in milk is linked to the amount of time it takes that particular species of animal to grow in size. You’ll have guessed by now that calves need more protein for their fast growth rate than human babies! That’s why cows’ milk has twice as much protein as human breast milk. The weight gain of calves during their first year is nearly 40 times greater than that of breastfed human infants! Cows’ milk-based infant formula contains high protein and hormone levels which are linked to human babies being overweight or obese (Melnik et al, 2012). 

4. Iron

Iron levels in cow milk differ from human milk and its iron content. Cows’ milk contains very little iron, which is another reason why it is deemed to be unsuitable for infants under the age of one year. The UK’s Department of Health has advised that babies are not given cows’ milk before the age of 12 months. One day (I’m an optimist), it will be advised against at any age.