Difference Between Breast Milk and Formula - Baby Growth and Development

Breast Milk Vs. Formula – Make an Informed Decision

Since time immemorial, new mothers have been at the receiving end of advice from well-wishers and other experienced mothers. One of the topics that come up is the concept of breastfeeding versus formula feeding. An ongoing debate, there are plenty of opposing views on this matter. Making an informed decision is necessary for the health and happiness of both the mother and the baby.

Breast Milk or Formula Milk – What Should I Go For?

A recent study suggests that there are not many differences between young children who were breastfed to those who were not nursed as babies. However, the following positive developments were observed in breastfed children, against those who weren’t. Be sure to continue reading for some more advantages in the article below.

  • Kids who were nursed as babies showed fewer problems with hyperactivity, by the age of three.
  • These kids also scored higher on tests of vocabulary and problem-solving.

Remember this, moms – breastfeeding is undoubtedly the best source of nutrition for your baby, although there are certain dos and don’ts you need to follow. But, there could be a situation when you have to choose to formula-feed your infant. Knowledge about the nutritional value, as well as the growth differences presented by either option, which we have discussed below, can help you make a more informed decision about the question of breastfeeding vs. formula.

Growth Difference Between Breastfed and Formula-Fed Babies

Here are the differences between the growth patterns of babies who are breastfed and their non-nursing counterparts.

1. A Few Days After Birth

Babies lose about 10% weight in the first ten days of birth. Studies have shown that when it comes to breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, infants fed on breast milk lose more weight than those who are fed formula in the initial weeks of birth. Though breast milk is more nutritious, the supply could be low right after birth. On the other hand, there’s no dearth of formulated milk, which is why babies who are formula-fed weigh more than breastfed children.

2. First 3 Months

Health experts believe that once the supply of breast milk normalises, there’s no difference between the growth of formula-fed babies and breastfed babies. Both can enjoy a good supply of nutritious milk and gain weight in a consistent manner.

3. 6 to 12 Months

Doctors recommend that babies be introduced to solid food along with continuing breast milk or formula milk once they complete the 6-month milestone. This is when many mothers begin weaning their babies off milk and add solid food to their daily diet. For infants to grow at a consistent rate, they require a fair amount of energy and proteins. Once a mom tries to wean her baby by introducing him to solid food, breastfeeding gradually decreases.

6 to 12 months

Nutrients in Breast Milk Versus Formula

While formula contains necessary vitamins and minerals, the nutritional content of breast milk is unbeatable. Here is a summary of the nutrients in either option.

1. Formula

Seeing that there is a range of formulas on the market, for example, soy formulas, hypoallergenic formulas, etc., the following list gives just the general ingredients and content of what can typically be found in formula.

  • Water.
  • Carbohydrates (sources of energy) like lactose and corn maltodextrin.
  • Protein content (which help to build bones and muscles) from partially hydrolyzed reduced minerals whey protein concentrate.
  • Fats from palm olein, soybean oil, coconut oil, etc.
  • Minerals such as potassium citrate, calcium chloride, sodium citrate, etc.
  • Vitamins such as Vitamin D3, Vitamin B12, folic acid, riboflavin, etc.
  • Enzyme – Trypsin.
  • Amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) like taurine and L-Carnitine.
  • Nucleotides, which are chemical compounds that are the structural units of RNA and DNA.
  • Soy Lecithin – an emulsifier.

2. Breast Milk

The nutritional content in breast milk is a long list that contains nutrients such as vitamins, carbohydrates, proteins, amino acids and so on, which are in formula milk, and then some more! The list extends to over 200 individual components of breast milk. Here’s a summarised list of the same:

  • Water.
  • Carbohydrates such as lactose and oligosaccharides.
  • Carboxylic acid, like alpha hydroxy acid and lactic acid.
  • Proteins such as whey protein, alpha-lactalbumin, casein, etc.
  • Non-protein nitrogens such as creatine, creatinine, urea, etc.
  • Amino acids like alanine, arginine, valine, and so on.
  • Nucleotides like uridine diphosphate, guanosine diphosphate, etc.
  • Fats such as triglycerides, long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, linoleic acids, etc.
  • Monounsaturated fatty acids, saturated fatty acids, phospholipids, sphingolipids, etc.
  • Sterols like squalene, lanosterol, vitamin D metabolites, steroid hormones, etc.
  • Vitamins A, B6, B8, B12, C, D, E, K and numerous others.
  • Hormones which are chemical messengers that carry signals to one or a group of cells to another via the blood.
  • Enzymes such as amylase, catalase, lipase and so on, which support chemical reactions in the body.
  • Antimicrobial factors, which are used by the immune system to identify and neutralise foreign objects, such as neutrophils, lymphocytes, phagocytes and so on.
  • HMO (Human milk oligosaccharides), the 3rd largest solid component in breast milk after fat and lactose, but have no nutritive function. HMOs are responsible for directly stimulating the immune system by promoting good gut bacteria, strengthening the gut barrier function and blocking pathogens. They have been shown to have anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory effects.

Breast Milk

Breast milk contains plenty of antibodies that equip babies with a better immune system. In the long run, this proves to be more beneficial for their steady growth and development. Let’s take a look at the advantages of breast milk over formula.

Advantages of Breast Milk Over Formula

There is no comparison to the goodness of mother’s milk for the baby. As mentioned above, breast milk provides natural antibodies that protect your baby from illnesses and infections. It is easily digested, and therefore, reduces the risks of bloating and gassiness in your little one. The nutrition it provides the child during the nursing phase also reduces the chances of other diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, leukaemia, asthma, etc. Mothers also benefit from nursing as it reduces the risk of diabetes, osteoporosis, heart diseases, and breast cancer.

Formula feeding, on the other hand, has its own pros and cons. It is a healthy alternative to breast milk when the nursing phase is impacted, and convenient, too, as it allows flexibility when it comes to feeding the baby. But, it may lead to some health issues, which are not commonly seen in breastfed babies. Some of the constituents in formula milk may be hard to digest and can result in diarrhoea.

Studies show that breastfeeding is more nutritious. Also, fats in mothers milk are variable; they vary even in a single feed at start and end, while they remain the same in formula milk. Very few fats are replicated in formulas, and the variety of fats in mothers milk have different functions. Fats in either milk may assist in weight gain, but only a little. The major function is brain growth and vision, which can never be replicated with precision in any formula milk. Therefore, mothers must consult their doctors and immediately seek solutions to the breastfeeding issues they are facing to be able to provide complete nourishment to their babies in their crucial growth years.

Another advantage breastfeeding has over formula-feeding is the bonding experience mothers have while nursing their babies. Formula feeding might raise several questions and emotional dissatisfaction when this bonding experience is missing. But, mothers who formula feed due to a genuine issue can utilise other methods of bonding with their babies. They may need support from family and friends, therefore being a part of a support function or peer group, or forming one can help them motivate themselves and find a way that suits them and their little ones.

Video: Formula Feeding Vs. Breastfeeding


In this video, Dyan Hes, a paediatrician, compares breastfeeding and formula feeding for babies and how mothers have to make a choice based on what they are comfortable with. Here are some more takeaways:

  • Breast milk offers protection for the baby’s immune system like no other source. Babies who are breastfed are less likely to be affected by common childhood infections such as diarrhoea, ear infections, and even asthma.
  • If you are starting your baby off with formula, discuss with your doctor first. Formulas are called “Breast Milk Substitutes” since the nutrients can be comparable, but can never replicate the advantages of breast milk.
  • Exclusively breastfed babies need either 400 or 400 to 600 IU of Vitamin D drops per day, starting from the age of two weeks.

Your paediatrician should be able to provide accurate guidance on these regards. Therefore, be sure you consult him/her before making the decision to shift to formula.

Many times, even after deciding to breastfeed their babies, mothers may face challenging situations that require them to switch between breast milk and formula. If you have reached a point in your nursing phase where you are facing similar circumstances, you’ll find the content below pretty helpful.

Switching Between Breast Milk and Formula

Switching between breast milk and formula could be a solution when your body is not producing adequate milk for your child, or when you are unable to feed or pump due to time or place constraints. Interrupted sleep due to night-time feedings can also call for the switch. In such scenarios, you’ll probably have to depend on incorporating formula in your baby’s nursing schedules.

  • If inadequate breast milk supply requires you to switch to formula at intervals, keep in mind that the baby may consume more milk than while he is breastfed. This may mean that his hunger will be satiated for longer, and the intervals between his feeding may increase. At the next feeding, though, offer your breast first. By alternating between breast milk and bottle feeding, you can work out regularity in your schedule eventually.
  • Figure out as early as possible what you prefer to feed the baby at night time. If you are in dire need of a shut-eye, formula-feed the baby right before he goes to sleep. Since he will take in more, it will help him sleep longer through the night as well. Ensure that you burp him properly as alternating between breastfeeding and bottle feeding can cause gas in your baby.
  • While introducing the baby to formula, some claim that mixing formula and breast milk can help the baby adjust to the taste of formula. However, it is best to steer clear of this idea due to two main reasons – the components of breast milk and formula milk are different and also, their shelf lives differ as well. Following this method can cause problems for your little one.

After you’ve dealt with labour and birth, your biggest concern is your newborn’s health and development. Some mothers, despite having the willingness to exclusively breastfeed the young ones, may not produce enough milk due to genetic predisposition or medical reasons. In such circumstances, added family and social pressure can bring undue mental stress and psychological effects on you. Breast milk substitutes in such cases are encouraged, and you should seek emotional support whenever required. Please discuss this with your doctor and take a call accordingly.

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