What if Cow’s Milk Triggers Type 1 Diabetes?: Another Reason to Breastfeed


I find it remarkable that my body can’t make insulin, but it has no problem manufacturing something edible: milk.

I have become a milk machine to my little Maya. Providing her with nourishment is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. But. It’s really hard! Who knew?

Breastfeeding and Diabetes: My Two PumpsBreastfeeding cumulatively takes up several hours of my day. And I can’t be away from Maya for more than three hours at a time because babies eat often. Sometimes I plan ahead and pump milk into a bottle with a breast pump. (Yes, I use another pump besides my insulin pump.) Then Daddy or Grandma or Auntie Meliss can feed Maya. That takes care of her hunger, but I’m still in trouble. If I go too long without nursing Maya, I become engorged. (Sorry, Gentleman, for the lady talk.) I’d have to take my breast pump with me everywhere I go. And honestly, carrying one pump around is enough.

Despite the challenges of breastfeeding, I’ve lasted four months, and I don’t plan to stop any time soon. I realize that I may have diabetes to thank.

I always wanted to breastfeed because I knew it was the best thing for baby. But also, somewhere along the way, I had heard that one cause of type 1 diabetes could be early consumption of cow’s milk. (Many infant formulas are cow’s milk based.)

I never took the research seriously. In fact, I thought it sounded funny. I put it in a pile with all the other unproven causes-of-type 1 diabetes, like:

Early exposure to cereal, and

The Coxsackie virus (caused by fraternizing with caterpillars. I heard the caterpillar part from a reliable source on the playground.)

Whether it be science or playground shenanigans, once I became pregnant, I remembered these theories. What if there was an iota of truth to them?  What if cow’s milk triggers type 1 diabetes?  It wouldn’t be so funny. I want to give my daughter the best chance in the world to never ever ever get diabetes. One day she’ll want to pick up a green caterpillar, and I’ll get all frantic and whisk her away. For now, keeping cow’s milk away from Maya seems very doable.  

Diabetes has helped me to breastfeed in other ways too. It took me years to stop worrying about what others might think when I prick my finger in public. I still worry sometimes. But I’ve become more comfortable. If I need to breastfeed in public, I just throw my nursing cover over my shoulders and get to business. Surprisingly, most people don’t even notice. Recently, a guy wandered over to me while nursing and he asked if I had change of a $5. I told him my hands were tied.

Breastfeeding also burns calories; this helps keep my blood sugars down. I’ve had to lower my basal rates in the same way I would if I were to take a leisurely stroll for several hours. So now you know that if you want to have good blood sugar control, just have a baby and feed her breastmilk!

I always say that diabetes has taught me discipline. It’s time consuming, monotonous, and inconvenient. Yet people with diabetes do it every day. We have to. Breastfeeding is more pleasant than diabetes, but it also takes discipline. If I weren’t doing it, I’d have a lot more free time to do things for myself, like take a shower. But – I’ve made breastfeeding a priority. And I’m okay with the sacrifices. It’s getting easier every day. I’m finding a rhythm, just like I know how. 

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7 years ago

It is irresponsible to create a “what if” article like this. If cows milk went away type 1 diabetes isn’t going anywhere and will continue to be diagnosed. Link here, link there. Correlation doesn’t equal causation. For credibility my kid is type 1.

8 years ago

My 15 month old daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes just last week. I am convinced that she got it from cows milk. It is my mission now to learn all I can about this and do whatever I can to get the message out there to prevent other children from getting it. I need other parents/anyone to be on my side in this research and keep in touch with me. It’s so important. Her doctors won’t even entertain the idea that cows milk could have caused it. I have so many facts and statistics to share. I would… Read more »

9 years ago

I am so glad to see someone writing about this!  I have often thought about putting my thoughts into an article.  I was formula fed as a baby and was very allergic to the milk based formula.  I was switched to a goat’s milk based one, but my parents were told I would outgrow the allergy so they never denied me dairy.  I never liked drinking milk growing up (loved my cheese and ice cream though!) but in university I drank milk because it was easy and most cafeteria food was horrible.  I was diagnosed a few years later and… Read more »

Jennifer Jacobs
9 years ago

The studies I’ve read about are referring to consuming cow’s milk-based formula during early infancy. But these are just studies. No one knows what triggers type 1 in every individual.

Celia Hedges
Celia Hedges
9 years ago

Could drinking cow’s milk cause Type 1 diabetes in a young adult?  My daughter was diagnosed at age 29.  She LOVES milk.

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