When I got pregnant in February, I was a regular consumer of raw milk and cream and raw milk cheese. I was sure to keep eating aged raw milk cheese, because (like the US government, with which I do sometimes agree on nutrition and food safety) I’m confident that in aged cheeses the beneficial bacteria crowd out any pathogenic ones that might be lurking from an unhealthy cow or unhygienic cheesemaker.
But I wasn’t sure whether I would carry on drinking fresh raw milk in my new role as baby factory. One risk of raw milk is listeria. Listeria is ubiquitous in soil the world over; it only enters milk after milk leaves the cow. In a healthy person with robust immunity like me, a bacteria like listeria (or other pathogens in any living food) might cause a bout of stomach trouble. Not pleasant, but not deadly either. Listeriosis in pregnant women is more serious; it can cause miscarriages.
So I planned to check with my best sources on the safety of raw milk for pregnant women and unborn babies before I ordered another gallon of full-fat, grass-fed local Jersey milk. It was near the top of my to-do list.
But not right at the top. As it happened, I was in London visiting my farmers’ markets only three days after I found out, on Valentine’s Day, that I was pregnant. Sunday found me at our Blackheath Farmers’ Market during the lunch hour, heading straight to my friend Julia’s with no time to stop to eat. A car picnic was called for, so I bought a cup of steaming hot local mushroom soup (I simply cannot stay warm in moist English winters) and some raw milk. After I drank them down, I remembered that I was pregnant and had intended to do a little more homework on raw milk before tucking in.
Never mind! In general, I trust the traditional food chain more than the industrial food chain, and I certainly trust the farmers who sell raw milk at my London markets and here at home. After all, they drink their own raw milk. Still, when I didn’t get sick, I was (privately) somewhat relieved, and when I got back to NYC I did ask around. Happily my expert advice circle was unanimous: they enthusiastically recommended clean raw milk for me.
Of course there are no absolute guarantees in health, diet, or food safety. You must decide for yourself (and your baby, or anyone else you feed) what to eat, based on the facts and your own tolerance for risk. For me, it’s worth drinking clean raw milk from a source I trust—even—no, especially—while I’m pregnant. It’s a great source of the fat-soluble vitamins A and D (all the baby’s parts need these vitamins to form perfectly), a good source of iron and vitamin B12, and a markedly superior source of calcium.
That’s why I drink raw milk. It’s up to you.
To review US law, raw milk cannot be transported across state lines for sale to consumers in the US. (Raw milk regularly rumbles across state lines in milk tankers, but it is destined for pasteurization.) States regulate raw milk sales and the law varies widely. In about two-thirds of the states, you can legally buy raw milk one way or the other: in shops in California and Connecticut, directly from licensed dairies at the farm gate in New York, in other states sold only as ‘pet food.’
The law about raw milk cheese concerns aging: cheese made from raw milk must be aged for at least 60 days. That means young or soft cheeses made from raw milk—American or imported—are not legal.