Pediatric Nurses: Just Say "No" to Raw Milk

One of the essential roles of pediatric nurses is educating parents about health issues that threaten the safety and well-being of children. Nursing news sources on the internet and other nursing organizations are a major source for this kind of knowledge. Citing a December 2013 policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a Nurse.com report reiterates the dangers of consuming raw milk.

Raw Versus Pasteurized Milk

Milk stores poorly; thus, whether in liquid form or as butter, yogurt or cheese, for much of its history, the consumption of milk was limited to the people closest to its source. Thanks to refrigeration, fast transportation and an increase in demand, raw milk is finding its way to tables nationwide. This means more pregnant women and children will be consuming what they believe is a healthy alternative to pasteurized milk. Yet, according to the AAP and other organizations, it also raises the number of them exposed to the risks raw milk poses.

Some claim that pasteurized milk, heated to kill pathogens, is not as healthy as raw milk and that growth hormones used to increase production are also unhealthy. According to the AAP however, scientific research supports neither claim.

Raw milk, on the other hand, is harmful in three known ways. Cows that consume the weed snakeroot produce milk tainted with a dangerous toxin called tremetol. Once called "milk sickness," it killed thousands of early American pioneers, including Abraham Lincoln's mother.

Most of the world's population cannot tolerate the lactose sugar found in milk — raw or pasteurized. It causes gastrointestinal irritation varying in severity from person to person. Typically not life threatening, its discomforts can nevertheless be severe, including stomach pain, excessive gas, diarrhea and vomiting.

Unlike pasteurized milk, the raw form is exposed to a variety of pathogens that, when ingested, can cause violent illnesses and possibly death, especially among young children. According to the report, raw milk is sometimes tainted with bacteria such as Salmonella and E. Coli.

Pediatric Nurses Recommend…

If you or your children consume raw milk products, here are a few tips most pediatric nurses would offer:

  • Before acting on any information affecting the health and safety of your children, consider the source. The AAP, Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration rely on peer-reviewed scientific research. Many raw milk advocacy organizations make the same claim, but a closer look does not hold up to academic scrutiny.
  • Children and pregnant women should not drink raw milk.
  • Milk is good for you. According to one of the AAP policy statement's authors, Mary Glod, MD, "Pasteurized milk and milk products are extraordinarily healthy. ... We are fortunate to have pasteurized products easily available for our entire population."
  • Since research reveals raw milk as more pathogenic than pasteurized, why not drink the latter? There is no extant research that supports the claim that raw milk is better and safer than pasteurized milk.

An allergic reaction to milk is specific to both the raw and pasteurized version, and should not be confused with lactose intolerance.

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

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Charles R. Hooper, MSW

About Charles R. Hooper, MSW

With over 20 years experience as a medical social worker and a master's degree in social work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I have been honored to dedicate most of my professional life to service in health care. I have worked in multiple medical/nursing settings, including cardiology, orthopedics, neurology, trauma care and others. I also founded the medical social work program at a regional trauma center and a very busy emergency department. View all posts by Charles R. Hooper, MSW →