Formula vs breastmilk – which is better?

Formula vs Breastmilk

Whether you decide to breast feed your baby breast milk or use formula milk from day one, it’s absolutely your choice and you should feel comfortable about your decision either way – both have plenty of nutritious goodness needed by your baby.

Experts agree, breastmilk is better than formula.  Although formula is a great substitute for natural mothers breast milk,  formula doesn’t have the same antibodies found in breast milk. There are substances in formula to help protect babies from illness but they aren’t as easily absorbed by a baby as breast milk and don’t have the same level of overall protection.

Read below as we unpack the differences between breastmilk and formula milk further for you.

Under the microscope

The two images below show breastmilk versus formula milk under the microscope. In the breastmilk, you’ll instantly notice how much brighter and vivid and pronounced the molecules of water, fat and white blood cells are.

Comparing that to the image on the left of formula, which is much more faded and far fewer molecules, it becomes instantly clear that formula doesn’t quite compare to the high impact natural goodness that is found in breastmilk.

Formula under the microscope
Formula under the microscope
Difference between formula vs breastmilk - microscope
Breastmilk under the microscope

What are the benefits of breast milk and breastfeeding?

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) says breastfeeding can “help protect infant and mother against some short- and long-term illnesses and diseases”. Another obvious benefit of breast milk and breastfeeding is the fact that it encourages skin-to-skin contact and physical closeness, which is important if you want your baby to bond with you and feel secure. The eye contact and general closeness that occurs in the process of breastfeeding are also comforting and calming to both you and your baby.

In addition to that, breast milk is the ideal source of nutrients for babies. It is a tailor-made, almost perfect concoction of vitamins, fat, and proteins, which are all essential nutrients that play an important role in the growth of your baby. Plus, it comes in a very easy-to-digest form, so it is much kinder to the baby’s tummy than alternatives like formula. Breast milk also contains antibodies. These antibodies are very important because they help the baby’s body fight off bacteria and viruses.

Breastfeeding is also very important in the control and management of the baby’s weight gain. Because they are getting only what they need without being overfed, breastfed babies are less at risk of becoming overweight. It also lowers the risk of obesity, diabetes, and some forms of cancer later in life.

Breastfeeding has also been linked to fewer cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. Breastfed babies also have the advantage of having generally higher IQs than their peers in later childhood.

Breastfeeding also has many other benefits. For instance, breastfed babies are at a significantly lower risk of having asthma and allergies. If they are breastfed exclusively for at least 6 months, they get fewer ear infections, bouts of diarrhea, and respiratory illnesses. This means, in general, when you breastfeed your little one, you can expect fewer trips to the doctor.

For the mother, breast milk and breastfeeding also comes with some benefits. It helps you lose pregnancy weight faster by burning more calories. The process of breast milk production also leads to the release of the hormone oxytocin, which is important in getting your uterus to return to its pre-pregnancy size and lowering uterine bleeding. Plus, it also lowers your risk of getting certain diseases, such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and osteoporosis.

When you breastfeed, you will realize that it is significantly more economical than formula feeding because it saves you a lot of time and money. Plus, you also get more time to bond with your little one, which is always a good thing.

Ingredients – Formula VS Breastmilk

Human milk is amazing. It is a baby’s first meal and contains all the essential, nourishing ingredients they need. As well as water, both breastmilk and formula milk contain all three primary macronutrients: fat, carbohydrate and protein. Breastmilk also contains Antibodies which are special proteins the immune system produces to help protect the body against bacteria and viruses.

The number and type of antibodies passed to the infant depend on the mother’s immunity. Its composition also varies between term and preterm infants.

Besides these antibodies, other ingredients found in breast milk that formula milk lacks are Enzymes, Growth Factors, Anti-Allergies, Anti-Parasites, Anti-Viruses, and Hormones.

But if you are looking for a good natural substitute for breast milk that doesn’t contain any genetically modified ingredients then read our full review of Similac pro-total comfort which is a formula we recommend, and that other moms have seen good results with.

Breast milk is a natural laxative

Breastmilk acts as a natural laxative. The laxative properties of breastmilk are due to two main factors: the presence of lactose and the presence of whey protein. Lactose is a sugar that is broken down into glucose and galactose in the small intestine.

Glucose and galactose stimulate the secretion of gastric juice, which contains digestive enzymes that break down food. Whey protein is also a stimulant of gastric juice secretion.

So, the combined effect of lactose and whey protein in breastmilk results in an increased secretion of gastric juice, which leads to increased intestinal motility and more frequent bowel movements.


The first substance made by breastfeeding mothers is called colostrum. It is the thick sticky yellowish milk that first comes out when breastfeeding for the first few days right after giving birth.

Colostrum is like super-charged breastmilk and gives your baby that kickstart and protection they need in the beginning.  It’s made in small amounts and is a rich source of immune protective factors (eg. secretory IgA, lactoferrin, white blood cells) and developmental factors including growth.

Ingredients Comparison Chart

So what is in the formula? Infant formulas on the other hand mostly contain purified cow’s milk whey and casein as a protein source, a mix of vegetable oils as a fat source, lactose as a carbohydrate source, a vitamin-mineral mix, and other manufacturer-specific ingredients depending on the formula brand.

Growth Factors

What is the closest formula to breast milk?

best baby formula

Enfamil Enspire is one of the best formula milk and is Enfamil’s closest formula to breast milk. It provides complete nutrition for babies and includes MFGM and Lactoferrin which are also found in breastmilk.

Our favorite picks for the closest formula milk to breastmilk:

  • Enfamil Enspire Infant Formula.
  • Plum Organics Infant Formula.
  • Similac Pro-Advance Infant Formula.
  • Gerber Good Start Gentle Powder.
  • Enfamil PREMIUM Newborn Non-GMO Infant Formula.
  • Earth’s Best Organic Infant Powder Formula.

What is the best formula milk for babies?

The best formula depends on what you’re looking for. Below is the formula milk that works the best for different things.

TypeHighlightWinning Formula
Best OverallBest formula for overall ingredients neededSimilac Advance Infant Formula with Iron
Best OrganicAll non-GMO and rated “best in purity” by the Clean Label Project.Baby’s Only Organic LactoRelief Toddler
Best for GasThis formula has broken down milk proteins making it easier for babies to digestEnfamil PREMIUM Non-GMO Gentlease Infant
Best for Breastfed BabiesMade for combination feeding with “comfort proteins” that mimics those in breastmilk.Gerber Good Start Gentle
Best for ConstipationDesigned to soften stools and give essential nutrients like choline and DHA.Enfamil Reguline Infant Formula
Best for RefluxHelps against acid reflux by using a thicker formula.Enfamil A.R. Infant Formula for Spit-Up
Best for Milk AllergiesContains predigested milk protein that’s more tolerable to children with allergies.Similac Alimentum Infant Formula at Amazon
Best formula milk for babies

When you not producing enough breastmilk

The more you’re breastfeeding, the more milk you’ll make. But if you get off on a shaky start, either because you and your infant were separated initially for longer than usual or your baby didn’t latch properly – getting a good breast milk supply going can sometimes be difficult.

And even then sometimes it’s just not enough for your baby to fill them. This often happens with moms who’ve had more than one child, had their breasts reduced via surgery, or maybe gave birth later in life.

Can you mix formula and breastmilk together?

There could be a number of reasons that you might want to mix formula with breastmilk to feed your infant. Perhaps you’re not able to breastfeed for long enough time for your baby to feed enough, or possibly you’re not able to pump enough breastmilk and you need to top it up with formula. Whatever the reason it’s completely ok to mix breastmilk and formula together.

Some women might even have sore nipples and might decide to only use a breast pump. If you need to supplement your infant’s diet with pumped breast milk and formula, they can safely be mixed together in the same bottle.

A mix of formula milk and breast milk can help both mom and baby persevere with breastfeeding.

Another great option is to alternate between breastmilk and formula, supplementing breastfeeding with formula feeding when your natural milk supply is low or you’re unable to breastfeed as often. Many babies are able to successfully go back and forth between breast and bottle without any issues.

How long do babies stay on formula?

You should try aim to feed your baby formula for the first 12-14 months. After that, you can give your baby full cream cow’s milk. It’s also better to stop using a bottle if you’re able but we understand it’s not always easy, especially if you’re trying to stop feeding them a bottle at night.

Another option is to switch your baby to toddler powder milk for older kids, but it’s not really necessary and full cream cow’s milk is perfectly fine after 12 months.

Disadvantages of formula milk

Some studies show that mothers that breastfeed are less likely to develop breast cancer, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis. Breast milk has more nutrients than formula milk and helps promote brain growth and development. It also helps improve your baby’s immunity.

Other health benefits for babies that breastfeed includes a lowered risk of getting diabetes, ear infections, asthma, eczema, obesity, and respiratory tract infections. Breastfeeding also lowers an infant’s risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and childhood leukemia (a cancer of the blood).

Wrapping up – Difference between Formula and Breastmilk

So, what’s the verdict? Breast milk is better than formula. The biggest difference is that formula is manufactured and breastmilk is natural. The antibodies and other substances in breast milk help protect babies from illness and disease in a way that formula can’t quite match.

If you can, breastfeeding is definitely the way to go. But if for some reason you can’t or choose not to nurse your baby, don’t worry – infant formula is a great substitute that will still provide many of the benefits of breast milk.

Additionally, fathers (and others) can be more involved in feedings if the baby is on formula, and some experts argue that bottle-feeding may help babies sleep through the night sooner than those who are exclusively breastfed.

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