Why is it that some vegans don't use dairy products, but still breast-feed their babies? Isn't this same idea of a mother cow breastfeeding their babies?

Is it about animal cruelty, animal product (but human product is fine), or is there some other explanation?

  • 2
    The answer should be clear: breast milk is not a dairy product. Neither do vegans fight to prevent cows from feeding their milk to calves.
    – jrw32982
    Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 15:55

8 Answers 8


Consent is one issue, Mothers have a choice, animals don't, we can't ask them whether they want to participate.

Milk production involves female cows and to get them you need male cows. Male cows are either eaten or destroyed which many vegetarians and vegans find problematic.


Vegans do not have a problem with 'a mother cow breastfeeding their babies'. Vegans have a problem with humans consuming a cow's breastmilk. It is natural for a woman to breastfeed a child. It is not natural, biologically speaking, for a human to drink another animal's breast milk. It is also a matter of consent.

There is a lot of death and cruelty involved in the dairy industry: cows are artificially inseminated over and over again to bear calves who if female are subjected to the same terrible fate, or if male, are slaughtered. There is no death involved or cruelty in breastfeeding a baby.

  • 5
    It's natural for humans to hunt, kill and eat animals. That doesn't mean it's ethical.
    – Turion
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 21:21
  • @Turion can you cite some sort of research or anything to support your claim?
    – Steve
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 3:02
  • 15
    @Turion Agreed, the "it's natural and therefore it's right" argument is really quite terrible. "Natural" (whatever that means) is not synonymous with moral/ethical. The same argument can be used to justify or defend all manner of terrible things that occur in the wild: rape, torture, starvation, etc. Our ethics should be based upon suffering, well-being, and similar metrics - not whether it happens in the wild.
    – user116
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 6:03
  • @Steve I think it is widely accepted and commonly known that humans have hunted and scavenged in the stone ages, and their predecessors before them. So it's only reasonable to expect that humans have adapted to eat meat and kill for it a least occasionally.
    – Turion
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 8:22
  • @Turion it is semantics, but people will do many things to survive that might not be regarded as 'natural'
    – Steve
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 11:54

It's not the act of drinking milk that is unethical - it's the act of consuming a product that was not produced in an ethical manner.

Vegan mothers don't take milk from lactating cows just like they don't forcibly take milk from other lactating humans.

Vegans abstain from consuming animal products because the production of those animal products involves suffering on the part of the animals that produced them. The whole idea of veganism is to minimise (as much as is reasonable) the suffering caused by our lifestyle choices.

I grew up on a goat dairy, which is almost operationally identical to a cow dairy. Taking milk from cows involves (amongst other things):

  • Dehorning the cow. A red hot iron (much like the old car cigarette lighters, but larger) is pushed into the skull where the horns usually grow.
  • Removing the calf from the mother. This involves emotional stress on the part of the calf and the mother which may last weeks, very much like human grieving (we grieve with the same mammalian lower-brain structures).
  • Killing the calf if it is a male (and sometimes if it is a female). Sometimes they are killed immediately, other times they're grown a bit.
  • Growing the females to supplement the diary herd.
  • Artificially selecting cows which produce abnormally large amounts of milk. The massive amounts of milk that they produce is unhealthy and renders the cow's body susceptible to disease (and thus antibiotics are essential to keeping them alive).

So now that you understand the reason vegans don't drink milk from farmed animals, I hope it's obvious why vegans are okay with breastfeeding their children: It doesn't cause other animals to suffer.


Besides the information within the provided answers, there are also other forces in the big picture:

  • Instinct, the breastfeeding instinct exists in virtually all babies and this a powerful reason for the mother. More details can be found in this article:

  • Health benefits - there are many health benefits associated with breastfeeding, as indicated in this article

For the baby

Breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for infants. It has a nearly perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat -- everything your baby needs to grow. And it's all provided in a form more easily digested than infant formula. Breast milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria. Breastfeeding lowers your baby's risk of having asthma or allergies. Plus, babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea. They also have fewer hospitalizations and trips to the doctor.

For the mother

Breastfeeding burns extra calories, so it can help you lose pregnancy weight faster. It releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps your uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and may reduce uterine bleeding after birth. Breastfeeding also lowers your risk of breast and ovarian cancer. It may lower your risk of osteoporosis, too.

So, it can be much harder to consider giving up breastfeeding.

  • 1
    "So, it can be much harder to consider giving up breastfeeding." I don't think these are reasons why vegans are okay with feeding their child their own milk versus cow's milk
    – user116
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 6:35
  • @JoeRocc - I have interpreted the question as the following: how can a vegan breastfeed, if human milk can also be considered an animal product and vegans do not use animal products?
    – Alexei
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 6:53

You have asked about animal cruelty, animal product or something else. I would argue that because of each one of these things:

Animal cruelty: To satisfy the demand of our booming population, milk industry is far far away from where it was just a few centuries ago. Milk, primarily intended for calves, is being harvested by machines in an infinite loop to be drunk by humans. Male cows are redundant and therefore eaten/killed. Normal bonds between calves and cows are destroyed for the sake of production. Not speaking of less than ideal living conditions in many cases. As any other animal we use, cows are being exploited terribly and, literally, treated as pieces of dead meat, not living beings.

Animal product: As such, milk from cows (or any other animal, for that matter), is not made for us. It has its own primary recipients and there are some clues about them being rather underfed. When left to fed as they please, calves drank two to three times the amount that is recommended (and widely administered to them) by industry. We are actually stealing it and other than the taste and our convenience, there is no real reason for us to do so. We do not need it to survive and I believe that our consumption of it is not seen as perverse only because of how deeply ingrained it is in our culture.

Something else: Here I would mention ecological impact of dairy industry for which rain forests and other biotops are being destroyed, mainly for producing food for cows. For various reasons, the water cost per litre of milk can be as high as 1,200 litres of water. With the population of about 1.3 billion, large quantity of which is bred for the dairy industry, the combined biomass of cattle is roughly 520 million tonnes (this is rather conservative estimate based on average cow size of 400kg). There is no other big animal on this planet with bigger biomass. And it is anything, but natural.

On the other hand, there is human breastfeeding. Milk which is produced precisely for humans. It has different nutritional composition compared to other milks, eg. is much lower in casein. It targets the needs of the human baby by design and the act of feeding the baby serves as one of the early life bonding moments for the mother and the child. There is also the immunological aspect of breastfeeding, because numerous studies show passive, long-term benefits with regards to immunity. This is also one of the reasons for which brestfeeding is preferred over infant milk substitutes.

To put things into perspective, there is no added animal cruelty or ecological impact of human breastfeeding. It is the most natural way of feeding human infants.

This is not about things being or not being called milk. Word milk is but a label which we use to abstract rather large group of things with similiar properties. While this labeling may add to the confusion, milk from other animals and human milk are inherently different. There is no single reason for vegans to even consider not to breastfeed because of their diet.

For the purposes of this answer, I assumed that by milk is meant the most produced type of milk which is cow's. The reasons given in the answer would stay largely the same for any type of milk though.


Regarding health: A mother's milk is ideally suited for their babies. The milk of an other species is not.

It is now universally recognized that there is no commercial formula that can equal breast milk. In addition to the appropriate amounts of carbohydrate, protein, and fat, breast milk provides vitamins, minerals, digestive enzymes, and hormones. Breast milk also contains antibodies and lymphocytes from the mother that help the baby resist infections.

All mammalian species produce milk, but the composition of milk for each species varies widely and other kinds of milk are often very different from human breast milk. As a rule, the milk of mammals that nurse frequently (including human babies) is less rich, or more watery, than the milk of mammals whose young nurse less often. Human milk is noticeably thinner and sweeter than cow's milk.

From Wikipedia

  • 1
    Hi Den :) Vegans abstain from drinking cows milk because it requires some amount of suffering to produce. It's the ethical side of things that matters here. Vegans still wouldn't drink it it if were as healthy as human milk, so long as there is suffering involved in its production
    – user116
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 6:38
  • 1
    There are more than one reason for being vegan. One is the the believe that it is more healthy. You can be vegan whit out care about animals welfare. The question is not special about ethics. There of my answers may not list all possible reasons but it add one reason which was not yet clearly stated.
    – Den
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 8:06
  • Yeah, I guess there is a big semantic element here. I think "strict vegetarian" is a better term for those not interested in ethics, since the term veganism usually encompasses abstaining from all sorts of non-health related products like leather on ethical grounds
    – user116
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 8:29
  • True point. On the other hand, one could be a vegan for environment care reasons and don't use leather or other animal product - and don't care about the ethics. But we get of topic now.
    – Den
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 20:17

These are two completely different matters and not linked in my perspective. Most of the vegans I have come across don't hate milk or oppose breast-feeding. They opt not to drink milk because of the cruelty vetted out to the cows or because they feel there is no need for it as an adult nutrition source or they are simply allergic to it. Regarding breast feeding - this is an important part of raising an offspring by providing it with vital nutrients and giving it a good chance for survival. It's an important biological need for the baby.


Breastmilk would only be considered a human product if women were forced to produce breastmilk to feed other babies or people. Breastmilk is naturally produced by most mothers. It is in every animal's nature and instinct to want to breastfeed their offspring as that is their only food source to help them grow until they can eat solid food for that type of animal.

There have been examples of humans producing breastmilk for another's child. These women are called wet nurses. It would be considered vegan if the woman giving the breastmilk consented of her own free will. It would not be vegan if she was forced to do it.

  • The once relatively common practice of employing a wet nurse isn't the only situation where breast milk from one lactating person is fed to someone else's baby - some generously donate excess breast milk for use by others who need it.
    – Zanna
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 10:07

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