- What is in breast milk?
- What is in formula milk?
- What makes breast milk special?
- Breast milk vs. formula milk
- The composition of breast milk and formula milk
Once the baby is born, they need nutritious food to grow and meet the developmental milestones. Nature has devised a mother’s body to produce the perfect food to fulfill the baby’s requirements during the initial months.
Nutritional experts around the world recommend breast milk as the best food source for babies. But some mothers may not be able to nurse their babies due to unavoidable reasons. In such cases, formula milk is an alternative.
What is in breast milk?
Breast milk is a wholesome food for babies up to six months. It consists of the nutrients that a baby needs for their growth and development.
Breast milk is produced in three stages (1).
- Colostrum: The first milk produced after the baby is born.
- Transitional: Produced after about four days of colostrum, it is a mix of colostrum and mature milk, and lasts up to two weeks.
- Mature milk: This protein and fat-rich milk follows the transitional milk and lasts until you wean. It is again of two types, foremilk, which occurs at the beginning of the feeding, and hindmilk that comes at the end of the feeding.
What Makes Breast Milk Special?
Colostrum is special. Often referred to as ‘liquid gold’ Colostrum is the thick yellow milk produced halfway through the pregnancy till 3-4 days after the baby is born. This milk is packed with concentrated nutrients.
Here is why colostrum is important for a baby:
- It is high in protein and low in fat, making it easy for the baby’s immature digestive system to process.
- Is rich in antibodies, white blood cells and a variety of immune and growth factors (2). All these help your baby to develop strong immunity.
- When the high levels of secretory immunoglobulin A (SigA) present in colostrum strengthen the stomach wall of your baby, the GI tract is protected from bacteria and viruses (3).
- Colostrum acts as a natural laxative and helps the baby to pass the meconium (dark green poop accumulated before the baby is born).
- Colostrum comes in small portions, just how much the baby’s immature kidneys can handle.
In addition to colostrum, breast milk is also special because it comes naturally from the mother. If she takes proper dietary care, then the baby can get all the nutrients they need in their initial months.
What is in formula milk?
Formula milk is a factory-manufactured powder for babies, whose mothers cannot breastfeed for various reasons. The modern-day manufacturers have been trying to keep the formulation as near as possible to breast milk.
Next, let’s see the components of breast milk and formula milk to help you understand how different or similar both are.
The Composition of Breast Milk and Formula Milk
|Nutrients||Breast milk per 100ml(4)||Formula milk per 100ml (maximum)(5)|
|Energy||67 kcal||70 kcal|
|Vitamin C||3.8mcg||20,100mcg (20.1mg)|
Note: The numbers are only an approximation, and may vary from mother to mother (breast milk) brand-to-brand (formula).
Breastmilk vs. Formula milk
- Mother’s milk is not standard. For example, the composition of breast milk of a mother who has a premature baby is different from that of a full-term baby (6).
- It is rich in fat, carbohydrates, proteins, minerals, and vitamins. It also has hormones, enzymes, growth factors, immunoglobulins, and essential fatty acids.
- Breast milk is live and goes through many alterations. Its components change to have more fat and protein content for the baby’s growth.
- Processed from either cow or soy milk, the formula is altered to make it suitable for babies of different ages but cannot be personalized.
- Although efforts have been made to bring formula close to mother’s milk, factors such as oligosaccharides, immunoglobulins, etc., could not be replicated.
- To match the number of amino acids found in breast milk, the protein concentration in formula milk is increased. But these proteins, when broken down, form fats, which could cause obesity in infants (7).
2. The quantity of milk:
- The volume is also adjusted as per the baby’s intake – the more the intake, the higher the production.
- The flow is regulated as per the baby’s requirement. When the baby’s tummy is full, they stop suckling, and the milk flow stops. This avoids over-consumption.
- Babies tend to drink more milk during growth spurts, and breast milk can adjust the volume as well as contents by itself.
- Also, when the baby starts feeding on solids, the breast milk production automatically decreases as they can now sustain without mother’s milk.
- The mother has to keep a note of the quantity of milk the baby drinks every day and stick to that volume.
- Unlike breast milk, bottle milk does not stop when the baby stops suckling; hence the baby might continue to feed even after the tummy is full.
- The parent has to observe if the baby is going through the growth phase and increase or decrease the volume of milk accordingly.
3. The immunity factor
- Breastfed babies are likely to have stronger immunity.
- If the mother falls ill, the antibodies produced in her body travel to the child protecting the latter from the infection.
- Formula-fed babies would not have this advantage.
4. Physiological benefits:
- Studies show that breastfed children tend to have a higher level of intelligence and improved eyesight. Scientists have also observed that nutrients such as DHA and omega 3 fatty acids present in breast milk help in healthy neuronal growth, repair and myelination (8).
- Due to latching, breastfed babies tend to have better teeth and jaw development and speech patterns (9).
- Although formula milk consists of nutrients such as DHA and Omega -3 it is still unknown whether they have the same effect on intelligence as breast milk does.
5. Long–term health benefits:
This milk is not just for the initial growth of the baby, but also for their long-term health (10), (11), (12). Breastfed babies are less susceptible to diarrhea, gastroenteritis, ear infections, cold, flu, type-3 diabetes, osteoporosis, asthma, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), GI tract infections, etc.
- Infant formula does not provide specific protection against such diseases.
6. Safe food at optimal temperature:
- As breast milk comes directly from the mother’s body, there is less or no contamination. Also, the temperature of the milk is ideal for the baby.
- As this is human-made, there can be instances of contamination. Also, if the baby’s feeding bottle is not cleaned properly, it could attract bacteria.
- The temperatures of the feed might also vary.
7. Acquaintance with various tastes and digestion:
- The flavor of breast milk changes as per the dietary changes of the mother. This way, the baby becomes familiar with various flavors, thus making them ready to accept a variety of foods later.
- Breast milk is easily digestible, so the babies will have healthy bowel movements.
- The formula will taste the same throughout. It takes more time than breast milk to digest.
8. Ease of feeding:
- Initially, the baby might not latch on properly. Breastfeeding could be painful as the breasts get sore or engorged, the baby might bite (during teething), and the milk might leak.
- The mother has to wake up several times in the night to breastfeed the baby.
- Formula feeding is easier than breastfeeding, and you can feed your baby anywhere.
9. Economic viability:
- You do not have to shop for expensive infant formulas and health supplements. Also, you need not buy the feeding equipment.
- If the mother is unable to breastfeed the baby, then formula milk is the best alternative even if it is expensive.
10. Emotional bonding:
- Breastfeeding develops a bond between the baby and the mother. During the act, skin-to-skin contact triggers hormones such as oxytocin in both the mother and the baby (13).
- This hormone has anti-depressing properties, which protect the mother from postpartum depression and the baby has fewer chances of depression and bipolar disorders later in life.
- You will have some alone time with your baby, which helps the baby to recognize your touch, smell and voice.
- Mothers who cannot breastfeed their babies need not worry about bonding. Although the hormonal activity cannot be replicated, you can always hold your baby, talk and sing to them, make eye contact and try to develop the bond while bottle-feeding them.
- Your partner will also have a chance to participate in feeding and experience the feelings.
11. Benefits for the mother:
- The whole process of breast milk production and feeding burns calories, helping the mother lose the pregnancy weight.
- The hormone oxytocin helps in bringing the uterus to the original size and reduces post-delivery bleeding.
- Breastfeeding decreases the risk of osteoporosis, breast and ovarian cancers in women.
- It is a boon for mothers who cannot breastfeed.
- The mother need not restrict her diet out of fear that it may affect the baby.
The decision to breastfeed or formula feed the baby is yours. But remember breast milk is specifically designed for your baby, whereas formula milk is for mothers who cannot breastfeed their babies.
Mothers are also going for a mix of both. So experiment and find a way that is best for you and your baby. But before taking up such experiments, do consult a lactation expert.
What is your take on breast milk vs. formula milk? Let us know in the comments section below.
2. Meena L Godhia and Neesah Patel; Colostrum – its Composition, Benefits as a Nutraceutical; Food and nutrition journal (2013)
3. Olivia Ballard and Ardythe L. Morrow; Human Milk Composition: Nutrients and Bioactive Factors; National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (2014)
4. Breast milk composition; Infant Nutrition Council, Australia and New Zealand
5. Dr Helen Crawley and Susan Westland; Infant formula – An overview; First Steps Nutrition Trust (2018)
6. Cindy C and Jeanette Zaichkin; The Benefits of Breastfeeding Milk for Your Preterm Baby (Preemie); Newborn Intensive Care: What Every Parent Needs to Know (book)
7. Camilia R. Martin, Pei-Ra Ling and George L. Blackburn; Review of Infant Feeding: Key Features of Breast Milk and Infant Formula; National Library of MedicineNational Institutes of Health (2016)
8. Sean C.L. Deoni, et al; Breastfeeding and early white matter development: A cross-sectional study; National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (2013)
9. Better speech patterns; Influence of Infant’s Anatomy and Physiology Associated with Breastfeeding; Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC.
10. Oddy WH;Breastfeeding protects against illness and infection in infants and children: a review of the evidence; National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (2001)
11. Undurti N Das;Breastfeeding prevents type 2 diabetes mellitus: but, how and why; The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2007)
12. Bernshaw NJ ; Does breastfeeding protect against sudden infant death syndrome?; National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (1991)
13. Jianghong Liu, Patrick Leung, and Amy Yang ; Breastfeeding and Active Bonding Protects against Children’s Internalizing Behavior Problems; National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (2013)