Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding: How Similar are They?

Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding (for Parents)

Breastfeeding vs Formula comparison is for those parents who want what is best for their babies.

What are the Nutritional Differences Between Breast Milk & Formula

Breastfeeding or formula feeding your baby once they are born is a choice, and a decision every new parent, especially a mother, should make. The idea of choosing between breast milk and formula nutritional milk has not been easy considering that some believe that breast milk is nutritious and healthier than formula nutritional milk. Others believe otherwise.

The decision to breastfeed or Formula feeding depends on certain factors such as lack of knowledge regarding their nutritional content (most importantly), mother’s lifestyle, comfort level, specific medical situations, and some cultural beliefs.

Therefore this article is of great importance as it reveals the entire nutritional content and health implications of them both on your baby.

What is Breast Milk?

Breast milk is the liquid milk gotten from the breast of a (mammary glands) of a female human (woman) used to feed her young child. It is the main wellspring of nutrition for newborn babies before they become capable of eating and digesting other food substances. It is also called the mother’s milk. It is produced by the influence of the hormones oxytocin and prolactin after giving birth.

Breast milk contains 7.5g of carbohydrates, 2.201g of Proteins, 0.16g of minerals per 100 milliliters (ml). It also contains vitamins, complex lipids, and other bioactive components.

What is Formula Nutritional Milk?

The FFDCA here in the United States, the formula milk represents a unique dietary infant food that comes formulated in a manner that makes it quite suitable to serve as a substitute (wholly or partially) for the human breast milk.

Formula nutritional milk, also called infant milk, baby milk, formula, or baby formula, is a food produced, designed, and sold for feeding babies that are a year old and below, usually for cup feeding ( mixed with water) or bottle feeding or liquid (with or without the addition of water).

Baby formulas are designed to be composed roughly of a woman’s breast milk. However, the most commonly used formula is made from purified milk whey of cow, casein as a protein source, lactose as a carbohydrate source, vegetable oil blend as a source of fat, mineral-Vitamin mix, and other ingredients such as emulsifiers and diluents depending on the manufacturer’s choice.

Comparison Between Breast Milk & Formula Nutritional Milk

This comparison is based on the nutritional content and value of both breast milk and formula nutritional milk. They both contain certain vital and important nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and other essential elements for the nourishment of the child’s baby but at different proportions leading to a balance or deficiency in the child’s immune system.


Carbohydrate is an important energy source, especially for infants as it makes for 35-42% of their intake daily. Breast milk and formula milk have almost the same amount of carbohydrates, but breast milk contains more than 200 complex sugars called oligosaccharides.

These oligosaccharides help populate the baby’s gut with beneficial bacteria essential for a healthy digestive system and more important functions. Lactose is the main constituent of carbohydrates in breast milk. Formula milk is mostly cow milk-based and, in most cases, uses lactose as the main energy source.

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Lactose is a great energy source that also aids in mineral absorption (minerals such as iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium). Based on carbohydrate content, human milk is better than infant formulas.


Breast milk and formula milk have a similar amount of protein content; although that of the formula is slightly higher than that of breast milk, breast milk is of greater quality. This is because the amino acid ratio in a mother’s milk is a better match for the baby’s needs. There are more than 20 amino acids, and some of them are called nucleotides.

Nucleotides are involved in critical metabolic processes such as enzymatic reactions and energy metabolism. It is also the major component that builds the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid), which are necessary for regular and usual body functioning.

Breast milk also contains Immune supporting proteins (immunoglobulins) such as IgA and IgG. These proteins are antibodies that support and activate the baby’s immune system, protect and develop the brain neurons, and protect the baby against diseases. Immunoglobulins are also known as antibodies, fight against diseases and illnesses. Because of antibodies, breast milk can be considered as first vaccine for babies.

The main antibody in human milk is called Secretory Immunoglobulin A. It coats the baby’s intestines and lungs and prevents germs from penetrating into the bloodstream. These mentioned breast milk properties protect against illnesses such as common cold, ear infections, vomiting, diarrhea, and other potentially dangerous infections. These proteins are not found in formula milk. Milk is made up of curds and whey. Breast milk has more whey than curds, while formula milk has more curds than whey.

The formula milk is mainly made from cow milk, which contains casein proteins. These casein proteins form a mass of rubbery curd in the infant’s stomach, making it very difficult to digest, unlike breast milk. This results in constipation, stomach upset, frequent stooling, gas, and other consequences. Also, cow’s milk formula is hard on the baby’s kidney and gives a low nucleotide level.


These are essential organic macronutrients or molecules, which an organism requires in small quantities for its proper functioning and metabolism. Vitamins are essential for healthy bones, skin, and eyes, and are necessary to curb diseases such as scurvy and rickets.

The vitamin present in both formula and breast milk includes Vitamin Vitamin K, Vitamin E, Vitamin D, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin B1 (thiamin), Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), niacin (Vitamin B3), Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), pyridoxine (B6), cobalamin (B12).

The formula contains more vitamins than breast milk. Most of the vitamins in formula milk are synthetic and cannot be absorbed by the body compared to those found in breast milk, which is natural and easily absorbed by the body.

For instance, Vitamin K, which is present in both formula for and breast milk, is in the K1 version in formula and K2 version in breast milk. The K1 version needs to be converted to the K2 version before it can be absorbed and used by the body, but the conversion process has proven to be inefficient. Therefore the K2 version is biologically valuable and to the body system. Breast milk practically contains all the necessary and Important vitamins for aiding your baby’s health as they grow.

Fatty Acids

Breast milk includes more amount of fatty acids than formula and therefore contains more calories and more essential fatty acids, which are also easily digestible. Breast milk is also composed of Omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EHA, which are needed for the baby’s brain development.

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This is a necessary material for the manufacture of nerve tissue in a growing baby’s brain. The manufacture of myelin that forms the fatty sheath surrounding the nerve fibers becomes possible as a result of the essential elements cholesterol provides. This myelin is required for the body’s proper functioning, as it aids in transmitting nerve impulses—body or from one part of the brain to another.

Breast milk contains a high level of cholesterol, and if the breastfeeding mother’s diet does not provide sufficient fats for her baby, her breast is still able to make them whenever they are needed.

The formula contains no cholesterol, which predisposes the child’s heart to Central nervous system diseases and heart diseases when they become adults.


Formulas contain high mineral content slightly higher than that of breast milk. These minerals are not bioavailable, unlike those found in breast milk that is always bio-available. Strong bones and teeth result from various minerals, and they promote proper muscle and nerve function and produce red blood cells.

These minerals include elements such as Iron, Zinc, Chloride, calcium, selenium, magnesium, sodium.

Calorie Content and Water

The amount of calories present in breast milk is slightly higher than that of formula. Also, knowing that the human body needs water to function to maintain hydration, breast milk contains 90% water, which helps regulate the baby’s temperature and lubricating joints.

The formula does not contain water; although some are made with water, the water content cannot be compared to that of breast milk.

Bioactive Components (Enzymes and Hormones)

Enzymes break down fats, carbohydrates, or proteins, a process that aids digestion and also provides immune support. Breast milk contains enzymes while formulas do not. Hormones affect and control growth and development, blood pressure regulation, metabolism, stress and pain responses, etc. These are also found in breast milk and none in formulas.

Health Implications of Breast milk vs. Formula Nutrition Milk

Breast Milk

  • It contains antibodies that protect against bacterial and viral infections such as ear infections, respiratory tract infections, bacterial meningitis, urinary tract diseases.
  • Breast milk decreases the danger of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
  • Breast milk digests quickly and therefore reduces the risk of baby diarrhea, inflammation, a stomach infection, etc.
  • Breast milk improves baby brain development because of its numerous nutritional content.
  • It reduces the danger of outbreaks of health issues such as obesity, heart diseases, high blood pressure, cancers in the future.
  • There is a reduced risk of developing some medical issues, including breast cancer, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, ovarian cancer, hypertension, and postpartum depression.

Formula Nutritional Milk

  • The formula does not contain antibodies that prevent or fight against illness. However, there are certain chemicals they contain that can replace antibodies, but the body cannot easily absorb these chemicals.
  • The formula has higher concentrations of both minerals and vitamins, and this makes it challenging to digest, thereby leading to constipation, gas, stomach upset, frequent stooling, etc.
  • There is a higher risk of SIDS amongst formula-fed babies.
  • Low brain development resulting in poor IQ amongst formula-fed babies.

New parents or old parents should know the nutritional content and health implications of both formula and breast milk so that they would be able to make decisions on which one to feed their babies. Milk is made up of whey (liquid) and curds (solids). Breast milk has more whey than curds, which are softer and more easily digested, while formula milk has more curds than whey.

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