I’ve heard some interesting things about milk over the years. I am going to share with you three myths about milk that I heard when I was a kid and I still hear from my patients’ parents.
Myth #1: Don’t give milk to a child with a fever, the milk will curdle (or some other variation).
Truth: As long as your child is not vomiting, milk is a perfectly acceptable fluid to give your febrile child. In fact it is superior to plain water if your child is refusing to eat, which is very typical of a child with a fever. Fevers take away appetites. So if your child is not eating while he is sick, at least he can drink some nutrition. Milk has energy and nutrition, which help fight infection (germs). Take milk, add a banana and a little honey (if your child is older than one year), and maybe some peanut butter for protein, pour it into a blender, and make a nourishing milk shake for your febrile child. Children with fevers need extra hydration. Even febrile infants need formula or breast milk, NOT plain water. The milk will not curdle or upset them in any way. If, on the other hand, your child is vomiting, I advise sticking to clear fluids until his stomach settles.
Myth #2: Don’t give children milk when they have a cold because the milk will give them more mucus.
Truth: There is NOTHING mucus-inducing about milk. Milk will not make your child’s nose run thicker or make his chest more congested. Let your runny-nosed child have his milk! Yet my own mother cringes when I give any of my children milk when they have colds. Never mind my medical degree; my mom is simply passing on the wisdom (?) of her mother which is that you should not give your child milk with a cold. Then again, my grandmother also believed that your body only digests vitamin C in the morning which is why you have to drink your orange juice at breakfast time. But that’s a myth I’ll tackle in the future.
Myth #3: You can’t over-dose a child on milk.
Truth: Actually, while milk is healthy and provides necessary calcium and vitamin D, too much milk can be a bad thing. To get enough calcium from milk, your child’s body needs somewhere between 16 to 24 ounces of milk per day. Of course, if your child eats cheese, yogurt, and other calcium-containing foods, she does not need this much milk. The recommended daily intake of Vitamin D was increased recently to 400 IU (International Units). This amount translates into 32 ounces of milk daily. But, we pediatricians know that over 24 ounces of milk daily leads to iron deficiency anemia because calcium competes with iron absorption from foods. You’re better off giving an over-the-counter vitamin such as Tri-Vi-Sol or letting older children chew a multivitamin that contains 400 IU of vitamin D. In addition to iron deficiency anemia, drinking excessive amounts of milk is bad for teeth (all milk contains sugar). Extra milk can also lead to obesity from increased calories. Ironically, too much can also lead to poor weight gain in children who are picky eaters. The milk will fill them up, leaving them without an appetite for food.
In summary, you can safely continue serving your children milk in sickness and in health, in moderation, every day. Now, all this talk about milk really puts me in the mood to bake cookies…
Julie Kardos, MD