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    Best Milk For Your Baby: Comparing Breast Milk With Formula And Cow Milk

    Parents always want the best for their baby. And doctors advise breast milk as the best and complete food for a baby. But some parents may have reasons to choose other options – formula, cow milk or even goat’s milk. Which one is better? Here is an unbiased, in-depth, scientific comparison of breast milk with formula milk and cow milk to help you choose the best milk for your baby.

    breast milk vs formula and cow milk

    1. Nutrition

    Breast Milk

    Pros:

    • Millions of years of perfection.
    • Changes its nutrition according to your baby’s need.
    • Contains Bifidobacteria and oligosaccharides. Bifidobacteria are good bacteria. Oligosaccharides and Bifidobacteria make a protective coating in your baby’s gut. This coating keep harmful bacteria away and helps in digestion.
    • Easiest to digest.

    Cons:

    • Breast milk of mothers having low vitamin D lacks enough vitamin D for the baby. Doctors give vitamin D drops to all breastfed babies till one year of age.
    • Breast milk is low in vitamin K. And newborn baby cannot fully absorb vitamin K from milk. This is why doctors give vitamin K shot to every baby at birth.

    Formula Milk

    Pros:

    • Formula makers try to achieve the nutrition similar to breast milk.
    • Contains proteins, fat, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins in a ratio similar to breast milk.
    • Contains whey/casein protein ratio similar to breast milk easy to digest.
    • Contains recommended vitamin D for the baby.
    • Contains mineral ratio similar to breast milk which goes easy on baby’s kidneys.
    • Few formula makers add synthetic oligosaccharides to help nourish good bacteria in the baby’s gut. But does it benefits baby’s digestion or is just a marketing gimmick? There is no scientific evidence, so we can’t say for sure.

    Cons:

    • Formula milk does not have good bacteria to make protective coating in baby’s gut. This affects digestion – baby cannot digest all sugars in formula which causes gas and colic belly pain.

    Cow Milk

    Pros:

    • Fills the belly of your baby.

    Cons:

    • Too much casein protein. Baby can’t digest it.
    • Too much salt. Cow milk has 3 times the salt breast milk has. Baby’s kidneys have to make more urine to wash it. This makes baby lose more water which increases the risk of dehydration and kidney failure.
    • Too much calcium and phosphorus. Too much phosphorus is bad and body removes it. This phosphorus combines with calcium and washes body’s calcium with it. So, the baby gets low on calcium which harms bones and may trigger seizures in the baby.
    • Iron deficiency anemia. Cow milk has one fourth the amount of iron breast milk has. High levels of calcium and casein also prevents iron absorption from gut. Iron helps make blood. Less iron means less blood in your baby.
    breast milk vs formula vs cow milk
    Nutrition comparison between breast milk, formula and animal milk

    2. Added Benefits

    Breast Milk

    • Breast milk is more than just nutrition. Breastfeeding has bonus benefits for baby and mother.
    • Breast milk contains Bifidobacteria, oligosaccharides and immunity boosters which protects your baby from respiratory, gut and ear infections.
    • Breast milk protects your baby from gut, skin and respiratory allergies.
    • Breast milk boosts baby’s intelligence.
    • Breastfeeding protects mothers from breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
    • Breastfeeding protects mothers from diabetes, arthritis, hypertension and heart diseases.

    But wait! There’s more. Learn more about bonus benefits of breastfeeding.

    Formula Milk and Cow Milk

    None.

    3. Risks Of Infection, Allergy and Malnutrition

    Breast Milk

    None.

    Formula Milk

    • No Bifidobacteria or oligosaccharides. So, no protective gut layer. This causes repeated respiratory and gut infections.
    • Infection with Cronobacter sakazakii and Salmonella enterica.
    • Risk of infection with Escherichia coli, Serratia spp., Acinetobacter spp. and Staphylococcus aureus. Infection with Clostridium botulinum has also been reported.
    • Risk of infections if water used to prepare formula is not boiled properly.
    • Formula milk is made from cow milk which causes allergies in 5 out of 100 babies.
    risks of formula milk
    Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization report of Enterobacter sakazakii (now Cronobacter sakazakii) and Salmonella enterica in powdered infant formula. See full report here.

    Cow Milk

    • Repeated respiratory, gut and ear infections.
    • Risk of serious infection from Bacillus cereus, Brucella, Campylobacter, E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus and Yersinia.
    • Is fresh raw milk better than boiled cow milk? Some parents give fresh raw cow milk believing that it is more nutritious, but that’s not true. Raw cow milk does not have better nutrition than boiled milk. Also, it carries high risk of infecting your baby with Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria and Campylobacter.

    FDA Warning about risks of Fresh Raw Cow Milk

    • Cow milk causes allergy in 10 out of 100 babies. Your baby can get recurrent vomiting, loose stools, bloody diarrhea, rashes, ear infections, respiratory infections, colic belly pain.
    • 10 out 100 babies less than 1 year age and on cow milk lose some blood in stools which is not visible to eyes. This causes anemia in infants.
    • Risks of malnourishment. Poor digestion, recurrent infections, blood loss and anemia, frequent vomiting and dehydration causes malnourishment in babies being fed cow milk.

    Know more about Cow Milk Allergy and its symptoms from scientific guidelines

    4. Preparation, Storage And Feeding

    Breast Milk

    When mother is at home. Breastfeeding is simple, easy and comfortable. Breastfeed anytime, anywhere!

    When mother is at her job. She can express her breast milk and store in a refrigerator. Caretaker can feed this milk with a suthi spoon at home.

    Know how to express breast milk for your baby.

    Here’s how to store expressed breast milk.

    Learn how to feed expressed breast milk to your baby.

    Formula Milk

    • Boil water. Add one scoopful of powder in 30 ml of boiled water and mix it well. Let it cool to normal temperature (35 °C).
    • Feed this milk to your baby with a suthi spoon soon after preparing.
    • Do not store it. Discard any leftover milk.
    • Wash utensils immediately after feeding and boil them for 15 minutes.

    Cow Milk

    • Boil it and let it cool to normal temperature (35 °C).
    • Feed this milk with a suthi spoon.
    • Do not add water or sugar to this milk. Discard leftover milk.
    • Wash utensils immediately after feeding and boil them for 15 minutes.

    5. Cost

    Breast Milk

    None.

    Formula Milk

    • Costs you money. Formula alone will cost you INR 35,000 for the first 6 months and INR 30,000 over next 1 year.
    • Costs you sleep every time you wake up to prepare formula – boil water, mix formula and let it cool, feed your baby, wash and boil utensils – every 2-3 hourly!
    • Costs your baby’s health.

    Cow Milk

    • Costs health of your baby. Repeated infections, allergy, anemia, malnourishment.
    • Costs you money. Cow milk will cost you INR 7,000 for the first 6 months and INR 6,000 over next 1 year.
    • Costs you sleep. Every time you wake up to boil cow milk, let it cool, feed your baby, wash and boil utensils. Every single time!

    That’s all. We hope this comparison helped you choose the best milk for your baby. Now let’s discuss what else affects the health of your baby.

    Can I feed my baby with bottle?


    Bottle is bad! Avoid it.
    – Bottle nurtures harmful bacteria and causes recurrent diarrhea, ear and respiratory infections to your baby.
    – Bottle interferes with your baby’s sucking. This is called nipple confusion and it harms breastfeeding and breast milk production.
    – Giving one or two bottle feeds per day still exposes your baby to infections – specially if you are giving formula or cow milk.

    Can I give goat milk to my baby?


    Short answer is No!
    – Goat milk is not good for your baby.
    – Goat milk is not better than cow milk or formula milk.
    – Goat milk does not help if your baby have cow milk allergy.
    Here’s why goat milk is bad for your baby.
    Too salty. Goat milk has 3 times salt compared to breast milk. Baby’s body cannot tolerate this much salt and wash this extra salt by making more urine. This makes baby lose more water risking dehydration and kidney failure.
    Too much protein. Goat milk has 3 times protein compared to breast milk. This protein is casein and baby cannot digest casein.
    Too little folic acid. Folic acid is used to make blood and goat milk has one-tenth the amount breast milk has. Babies fed goat milk gets difficult-to-treat anemia soon.
    Infections. Q fever, toxoplasmosis and brucellosis, hemolytic uremic syndrome with raw goat milk.

    Making a smart choice – That’s what separates good parents from great parents. Learn the facts before believing what your neighbors say. And choose what’s best for your baby.
    If you want to know more, check the links and ask us – post your question in the comment section below. We would love to answer all your questions and include them in this article.

    Further Reading

    1. Review of Infant Feeding: Key Features of Breast Milk and Infant Formula.
    2. Whole cow’s milk in infancy.
    3. Fresh Goat’s Milk for Infants: Myths and Realities.

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