Parents may want to think twice before purchasing raw milk, especially if it’s being fed to their kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has published a new policy statement warning against the consumption of unpasteurized milk for pregnant women, newborns, and young children — groups susceptible to infections with pathogens ingested in raw milk or milk products.

"The risks involved with infections attributable to consumption of raw milk and milk products are particularly high among pregnant women and their fetuses, as well as young children," said the AAP.

“For example, consumption of raw milk or milk products has been associated with a fivefold increase in toxoplasmosis among pregnant women; listeriosis associated with high rates of stillbirths, preterm delivery, and neonatal infections, such as sepsis and meningitis; and E. coli 0157-associated diarrheal disease and hemolytic-uremic syndrome, primarily among young children.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports between 1998 and 2011, there have been a total of 148 outbreaks due to raw milk or raw milk products consumption. Prior to the pasteurization of milk in the U.S. in the 1920s, raw milk would make people routinely sick. Now, pasteurized milk is heated to at least 161 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 15 seconds to kill harmful germs and bacteria, and then it is rapidly cooled.

Raw milk from cows, sheep, or goats can harbor microorganisms that cause tuberculosis, diphtheria, listeriosis, and E. coli outbreaks, which are responsible for causing numerous foodborne illnesses. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says some people continue to believe that pasteurization harms milk and that raw milk is a safe and healthier alternative because it kills dangerous pathogens by itself. However, the agency says it’s a myth since pasteurization does not reduce the milk’s nutritional value and does indeed kill harmful bacteria.

Published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, researchers in Minnesota unveiled 21 people got food poisoning in five outbreaks linked to raw dairy products, with a 530 additional individual cases reported to the state, in a study. The lab revealed these cases of food poisoning were caused by the Cryptosporidium parasite, and Campylobacter, E. coli or Salmonella bacteria in which people had reported consuming raw milk. The majority of these outbreaks primarily occur in states like Minnesota where the sale of raw milk has been approved. Those who consume unpasteurized milk are found to be up to 13 times more likely to be hospitalized for dairy-related illness compared to people who drink pasteurized milk.

Advocates for raw milk consumption, such as Sally Fallon Morell, founder of the Campaign for Real Milk, believe raw milk can help kids combat asthma, allergies, and even eczema. Raw milk contains more than 60 digestive enzymes, growth factors, and immunoglobulins, or antibodies that help improve the body’s immune system. When milk is pasteurized, the fats are oxidized and the proteins are denatured with most enzymes completely destroyed. It is not uncommon for people who make the switch from drinking pasteurized to raw milk to see an improvement in troubling health issues from allergies to digestive problems to eczema, Dr. Joseph Mercola, physician and surgeon, said. However, the AAP and FDA assure the public the nutritional value of milk is not altered by pasteurization contrary to popular belief.

The AAP’s new policy statement reflects their 2008 statement that recommended only appropriately prepared breast milk or infant formula for children below the age of six months and pasteurized milk or juice for children who are ready for other food. Children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune system were among the group of people asked to avoid raw milk.

Now the AAP’s statement notes “[v]irtually all national and international advisory and regulatory committees related to food safety have strongly endorsed the principles of consuming only pasteurized milk and milk products." The statement authors believe that although the FDA has banned the interstate sale of raw milk products since 1987, they encourage the FDA and other national and international associations in promoting the consumption of only pasteurized milk and milk products for pregnant women, infants, and children.

Currently, 30 states allow the sale of raw milk products, some of which allow the sale of raw milk in grocery stores. The AAP strongly sides with a nationwide ban on the sale of raw or unpasteurized milk and milk products which would include the sale of certain raw milk cheeses, such as fresh cheeses, soft cheeses, and soft-ripened cheeses.

To learn more about the dangers of raw milk consumption, click here.

AAP. Consumption of Raw or Unpasteurized Milk and Milk Products by Pregnant Women and Children. Pediatrics. 2013.