Breast Milk: Vegan or Not Vegan?

Is breast milk vegan?

I don’t have a picture of me breastfeeding my baby boy, so enjoy this collage of happy Darrol Henry photos instead!

Parents-to-be hear constantly that “breast is best,” but do vegan parents have to skip breastfeeding to align with their beliefs? Is breast milk vegan?

The short answer to this question is YES. Want the long answer? Read on!

When I was pregnant people asked me frequently about breastfeeding. Is breast milk vegan? It comes from an animal, so obviously not, right? I can see where that logic comes from, but it’s not really that simple. Or, I guess, it’s simple but not in that way.

Breast milk is vegan, because you’re not exploiting an animal to get it. A new human mother offers her breast milk willingly to her human baby.

To understand why breast milk is vegan, I think we need to look at why cow’s milk is not vegan.

Unlike the human nursing her baby, a cow doesn’t get a choice about whether she wants to express her milk constantly and give it to humans to drink. Instead, female cows are inseminated, and their babies are taken away shortly after birth. Instead of giving her milk to her calf, we take that milk away and bottle it to pour over our cereal and use in our baking.

The difference is all about choice. When a human mother chooses to nurse, that milk is vegan.

What about banked milk?

If you’re not familiar with milk banks, they are a pretty awesome resource for mothers who aren’t able to breast feed but still want breast milk for their babies. In a milk bank, lactating mothers can donate their pumped breast milk for other mothers in need.

Banked milk is not cheap, which is why when I was unable to breastfeed I opted for baby formula. It was all about cost and had nothing to do with my veganism.

Banked milk is vegan for the same reason that nursing is vegan: a woman donating to a milk bank does so willingly.

Veganism isn’t about purity, it’s about compassion. If the milk comes from a willing donor, it’s vegan. If a cow could walk up to me on the street and offer me milk of her own accord, that would be vegan too. But I might be too busy running away as quickly as possible to take her up on it.

Human breast milk would not be vegan if it were taken from the mother against her will. So, if you forcibly impregnated me, took my baby, then bottled my milk to sell at the grocery store, it would not be vegan.

One book that really helped me navigate subjects like this during my own pregnancy was Vegan Pregnancy Survival Guide by Sayward Rebhal. The book gives you solid, common-sense answers to questions you’ll get when you’re vegan and pregnant like, “Is breast milk vegan?” She also offers plain ol’ pregnancy advice, and I found the whole guide a big comfort when I was expecting. Recommended!

I originally published this article at Eat Drink Better. Republished here with permission.

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