Photo credit: Public domain
I understand why the concept of vegans breastfeeding could be confusing to some people. After all, if there’s one thing that they know about vegans, it’s that they don’t drink the milk of (non-human) animals. So if vegans are against drinking the milk of animals, they think it should be obvious that breastfeeding would also be a no go.
Here’s the thing, the choice to eschew milk from cows, sheep, and goats is not arbitrary. I didn’t one day just randomly decide after years of ingesting tall glasses of cows’ milk, melted grilled cheese sandwiches, and wedges of brie that I suddenly wanted to drop them just for the sake of doing it. In fact, just as so many people are quick to tell the vegans in their lives, “I just couldn’t live without cheese,” most of us were once there too. So if a person is going to stop doing something they most likely enjoyed, there have to be some good reasons for it.
Is breastfeeding vegan? The short answer is yes.
In fact, as counterintuitive as it may seem at first blush, vegans are pro-milk. Vegans think that a mother’s milk is the perfect food… for her baby. Humans’ milk is the perfect food for human babies. Goats’ milk is the perfect food for goats. Sheep’s milk is the perfect food for lambs. When you want to raise a strong, full-grown cow, cows’ milk is the way to go. Then after the baby has reached the age of weaning and is able to get her/his nutrients from food instead of milk, they move on to that instead. (Where do adult cows get calcium? Grass.)
Once humans are weaned, they don’t need to go to their mother’s breast for sustenance any longer, because they can find it in whole foods. You don’t see adults sipping on humans’ milk after they’re full-grown just as you don’t see cows sipping on cows’ milk when they’re adults. (Where can humans get calcium? We can get our nutrients from the earth like cows do and eat things like dark leafy greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, tahini, almond butter, Great Northern beans, chia seeds…)
Back when I first went vegan, a friend of mine was telling me about her own experience with dairy cows. She’d gone on a trip to meet her future in-laws who had a small dairy farm. One of the cows had just recently given birth to a calf. From the dining room table, my friend could hear her bellowing outside. The cow wouldn’t stop. My friend didn’t know why the cow was so upset, and the answer was that her baby had been taken from her. As is common with dairy cows, calves are generally taken away from their mothers within a day or two. (If the calf is a girl, she’ll become a dairy cow too. If the calf is a boy, he’ll become veal or beef.)
The sad truth is the dairy industry is built on impregnating cows so that they will lactate, and then their offspring are taken away from them, so that humans, who are long past the age of weaning, can drink the milk that was made to grow a small calf into a full-grown cow, a lamb into a full-grown sheep, or a kid into a full-grown goat. Cows have been known to bellow for days for their calves after being separated.
The bonds of motherhood and desires to protect our young are not things that only humans own. That need to take care of those we love, especially our own offspring, is not something that is solely the domain of human beings. To drink a cow’s milk would be to take something that isn’t mine. It wasn’t meant for me. But breastfeeding my own child if I were to have one? Definitely vegan.