Breast Milk vs. Formula – A Side By Side Nutritional Comparison of Fats and Proteins

I promised last week that I would go over the nutritional composition of formula vs. breast milk and take a closer look at the risks and benefits with exclusive formula feeding. I’d intended to make this a two part post, but it looks like my nutritional composition comparisons are going to require more than two to fully cover the topic and give it justice!
I stated in The History of Infant Formula (click here to read), that I keep getting asked by various people – both genuine inquiries and incredulous outbursts – wondering why I am going to such great lengths to procure breast milk for my daughter since I cannot produce my own. “Why not just feed her formula?” “What do you have against formula?” “Are breastfeeding moms making you feel like a bad mother if you don’t give your baby breast milk?”
So last week I went over the history of infant formula, this week I’m going to go over the fats and proteins found in formula and breast milk. In the weeks to come I’m going to go over carbohydrates, bacteria, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and hormones and end with a list of health risks and benefits that come with breast milk and formula feeding. So stick around for the full series of posts!

Disclaimer, Please Read Before Commenting!

I’ve never really prefaced any of my articles with this disclaimer, but I think it’s about time I do.
Some of you momma’s out there have taken some of my articles veeeeery personally recently. And I’ve got some unhappy comments, and even unhappier private e-mails from moms disliking my interest in topics ranging from breast feeding to genital integrity. So here is my disclaimer:
When it comes to breast feeding articles the mindset seems to be that if ANYTHING is cited that shows breastfeeding in a positive light, or hints at formula feeding being inferior, then I am therefore “judging” or “being mean” to mothers who choose (or chose) to formula feed their babies. It doesn’t matter if the articles I post are research heavy or facts-based. If I quote a statistic that makes them wince, I’m being mean.
So to clarify: The differences between breast feeding and formula feeding are well documented and researched. I am a research junkie and a truth fanatic. I post here not to “convert” anyone to a breast feeding lifestyle, but to share the information that I have acquired through countless hours of searching, reading and cross referencing. If breast feeding is shown as superior in my articles, it is only because that is where the science leads.
Am I judging anyone? No! I’m only stating facts.
Am I trying to sway anyone’s opinion on the issue? No, I’m just trying to share information I find relevant and fascinating.
Am I trying to make anyone feel guilty? No, if guilt is induced, that’s someone’s personal issue, and you need to deal with it yourself and not take it out on me.
So please don’t feel attacked. And please don’t attack me if you are feeling insecure about your personal choices as a mother.
I have had a pantry full of baby formula since before Tessa was born, all ready for her to gobble up if I ever ran out of breast milk to feed her. I am so lucky and blessed to be living in a day and an age where I can give my daughter something that will substitute mother’s milk without fear of her dying or becoming severely malnourished.
But breast milk will always be my first choice for Tessa. Even when I have to go to great lengths to achieve it. My little girl is worth it. Formula is a blessing, but it will only ever be used in our home the way it was invented to be used – as an emergency food when all else fails. (Click here to read my article on The History of Infant Formula.)
The science is just too loud for me to ever choose otherwise. So if your opinions or thoughts differ from mine, please.. don’t shoot the messenger. I’m just an information sharing junkie. I’m not your enemy. Savvy?


Breast Milk vs. Formula

Babies NEED the live food of human breast milk. Breast milk contains living cells, hormones, active enzymes, antibodies and at least 400 other unique components. It is a dynamic substance that provides active immunity and protection from disease every time a baby eats. Compared to this miraculous substance, the artificial milk sold as infant formula is literally little more than junk food.
Infant formula is the only manufactured food that humans are encouraged to consume exclusively for a period of months, even though we know that no human body can be expected to stay healthy and thrive on a steady diet of extremely processed food.
Because it is not nutritionally complete, and because it does not contain the immune-boosting properties of breast milk, it has been well established that the health effects of sucking down formula day after day early in life can be devastating in both the short and the long term. Here’s a closer look at the two food sources side by side:

Comparing Fats


Why It’s Important: DHA and ARA are vital nutrients for growth, development, memory function and maintenance of brain and eye tissue. The brain grows 175% in the first year of life, and DHA and ARA are essential for timely growth and function.
How Breast Milk Measures Up: Breast milk is naturally rich in DHA and ARA. Autopsy analysis of brain tissue from breastfed and formula fed infants shows that the brains of breastfed babies have a higher concentration of DHA and ARA, and DHA levels are highest in babies who are breast fed the longest.
How Formula Measures Up: Beginning in 2002, some producers began supplementing their formulas with synthetic forms of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA), the long-chain fatty acids naturally present in breast milk. Evidence is now showing that the synthetic versions are detrimental to the health of children.
Martek Biosciences Corporation, the company who produces synthetic DHA/ARA, extracts the oils from laboratory grown fermented algae and fungus using hexane, a demonstrated neurotoxic chemical. Identified as a hazardous air pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency, hexane resides in the same category as other serious toxins that are linked to causing cancer and other serious health problems.
Synthetic DHA and ARA has been implicated in causing severe reactions in some babies, including breathing problems, gastrointestinal upset, and other illnesses.


Why It’s Important: Cholesterol provides basic components for manufacturing nerve tissue in the growing brain. Cholesterol provides the right substances for manufacturing myelin, the fatty sheath that surrounds nerve fibers. Myelin acts as insulation, making it possible for nerves to carry information from one part of the brain or body to another.
How Breast Milk Measures Up: Breast milk contains an abundance of natural cholesterol. So important is brain building cholesterol, that if a mother’s diet doesn’t provide enough natural fats for her milk, the breasts can make them on the spot.
How Formula Measures Up: Formula contains no cholesterol. The absence of cholesterol may predispose a child to adult heart and CNS diseases.


Why It’s Important: Lipases are enzymes that help keep milk fat emulsified with the whey portion of the milk, and also keeps the fat globules small so that they are easily digestible. Lipase also helps to break down fats in milk, so that fat soluble nutrients (vitamins A & D, for example) and free fatty acids (which help to protect baby from illness) are easily available to baby. Pancreatic digestive functions, especially for fats and carbohydrates, are not well developed at birth, making lipase essential in a newborns diet.
How Breast Milk Measures Up: Breast milk naturally contains lipase. Additionally, human milk provides a unique bile salt dependent lipase that is designed to compensate for low endogenous pancreatic lipase in newborns.
How Formula Measures Up: Forumla’s contain no lipase, making the fats found in formula only partially digested and absorbed, stressing the digestive functions in the young body. Fat in all artificial baby milks comes from vegetable oils, which are harder for baby to digest. Leftover, unabsorbed fat is what accounts for unpleasant smelling stools in formula fed babies.

Comparing Proteins

Whey and Casein

Why It’s Important: Milk is made up of casein and whey. The curd portion is made up of the casein proteins, the liquid is the whey. The balance of these proteins allows for quick and easy digestion. These proteins also have great infection protection properties.
How Breast Milk Measures Up: Human milk has more whey than curd, and the curds that are formed are softer and more quickly digested. Breastfed babies get hungry sooner than babies who are formula fed because human milk proteins are digested so efficiently. It doesn’t take as much energy to digest human milk as it does to digest formula. Frequent feedings also ensure that human babies get lots of attention from their mothers.
How Formula Measures Up: Formula is largely made up of cow’s milk, which is mostly casein protein and forms a rubbery, hard-to-digest curd in babies’ tummies. Because of this, formula is much more difficult for the baby to digest, and results in more “waste” or fecal matter. This contributes to gas, constipation and other digestive issues.
Some formula’s attempt to tweak the ratio of casein to whey (for instance, Similac is 80% whey and 20% casein while Enfamil is 60% whey and 40% casein) but the genetic makeup of cows whey / casein is far harder on infant tummies, bowels and kidneys, regardless of the ratio.


Why It’s Important: Lactoferrin is essential for intestinal health – it inhibits the growth of iron dependent bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract and promotes good intestinal flora. It is also essential for the development of the immune system and facilitates the uptake of nucleotides into the cells of the body of the growing baby.
How Breast Milk Measures Up: Lactoferrin is abundant in breast milk. The highest concentrations occur in colostrum milk, which is the milk produced in the first few days of life.
How Formula Measures Up: Most formula contains no lactoferrin. Some formula’s provide cows milk lactoferrin, but bovine lactoferrin amounts to only a small quantity of what is available in human milk (roughly 1/30th the amount found in breast milk.) The absence of lactoferrin results in a weakened immune system and unhealthy gut flora.

Immunoglobulin A

Why It’s Important: Immunoglobulin A (IgA, also referred to as sIgA) is an antibody that plays a critical role in mucosal immunity. These antibodies work in concert with other defense proteins like lactoferrin to protect the infant from viruses and bacteria, specifically environmental antigens that the baby, mom, and family are exposed to.  It also helps to protect against E. Coli, allergies and asthma.  Other immunoglobulins, including IgD, IgM, IgE, and IgG, also help protect against bacterial and viral infections.
How Breast Milk Measures Up: Breast milk naturally contains the full range of immunoglobulins that protect against infection. Levels are highest in milk in the first year of nursing.
How Formula Measures Up: Formula does not contain immunoglobulins. To mimic the effect, prebiotics are added to formula, which are carbohydrates that resist digestion by human enzymes. The intentional stress pushed upon the tiny stomach then stimulate the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. It provides a fraction of the benefits of natural IgA found in human milk, while stressing the gastrointestinal tract to do so.

Be sure to sign up to my newsletter to catch next week’s side by side comparison of carbohydrates and bacteria in breast milk and formula!

Gingi Freeman

Gingi is a photographer, cosplayer, amateur chef, crazy cat lady, anime otaku, bookworm, generic geek, world traveler, conservative Christian, homeschooler, devoted military wife and stay at home new mother of two little girls. Gingi blogs about anything and everything that is relevant to being a supermom, stay at home wife, homeschooler and geek girl! You can contact her at or via the contact form on her website at

10 thoughts on “Breast Milk vs. Formula – A Side By Side Nutritional Comparison of Fats and Proteins

  • 30 March, 2014 at 5:28 am

    Awesomeness!!! Again, learned a lot. Do you think listing your sources would help with people feeling judged by you personally? Maybe if they saw where you were getting your info and were able to read it from other people too they would feel more informed and less confrontational.

    • 30 March, 2014 at 12:59 pm

      I always save my resources in a Word document to provide for those who request. When I work on my blog posts, since I’m a slooooow writer, and even slower researcher, I tend to take half a day hammering an article out. (In this case, two and a half days, lol)… and embedding links takes up half my morning, plus since I upgraded to this new blog template, for some reason links don’t show up as highlit, so unless you mouse over them they are hidden. (Which is why I’ve started saying “click here to read” on my post instead of just linking like I used to.) So the time consuming factor plus the hidden links that will get missed anyway has led me to just save my resources in a document to email or quote when requested. Maybe I should make the resources documents as a clickable link?? That’s a good idea! Oooo! Yeah! That!! THANKS!!! <---- (ideas!)

  • 30 March, 2014 at 8:04 am

    Do they make a goat milk based formula? Wouldn’t goat’s milk be easier for babies to digest? What about soy based formulas? I know we had to change formulas for Jeremy because of a milk allergy (or sensitivity). I can’t even remember exactly what they gave us back then. As soon as that first year passed, I switched to goat’s milk. It wasn’t as easy to get back there either. That’s another reason they had us start babies on baby food so early, to make up for the lack of nutritional value of the formula.

    • 30 March, 2014 at 1:04 pm

      From what I understand babies stomachs have to grow for a bit before being able to fully digest goats milk, so it’s not ideal for infants or newborns. Also, I recently read this comment on Baby Belly: “Soy formulas are of particular concern due to the very high levels of plant-derived estrogens they contain. In fact, concentrations of estrogens detected in the blood of infants receiving soy formula can be 13,000 to 22,000 times greater than the concentrations of natural estrogens. Estrogen in doses above those normally found in the body can cause cancer.”

  • 4 April, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    You’ve got guts- I must say. : )

    I too value the truth, but I find that others would rather stick their heads in the sand. The guilt you are inducing is simply through the truth they don’t want to hear. I’ve been in this position countless times, and honestly: you tackle some tough topics!

    Breastfeeding is a topic I would like to wage a movement on, because honestly, it’s a health epidemic! But. . .it is SO hard to deal with other women sometimes.

    I appreciated your side-by-side comparison of formula vs. breast milk. When I originally started doing research and realized that formula is nothing more than processed food (which didn’t occur to me earlier- those formula companies do a great job with their marketing b.s.), it made perfect sense to me. I really don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier.

    When we have a little one, I hope to go to great lengths to make breast milk happen for them. : )

  • 3 June, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    Very informative. My first two were formula fed after a failed attempt at breastfeeding g the first. I was forced to give a bottle in the hospital since he wouldn’t latch on several hours after birth. Thankfully I received much more support in the hospital after babies 3 & 4 were born. Breastfeeding is demanding and very time consuming, but my children are well worth the benefits. After reading this I want to make sure I start pumping to store more to avoid having to give formula in cases of emergency.

  • 20 November, 2015 at 6:29 am

    Hi there,

    Would you be able to send me the sources you used for this article? Im currently writing a paper on the benefits of breast milk vs formula and would love to explore some of these facts.

    Thanks in advance

  • 12 August, 2016 at 7:36 pm

    Hi There, just wondering where I can find the other blogs that follow on from this?

    • 28 August, 2016 at 11:17 pm

      I am looking for the other posts that follow this as well. Super interesting, thanks for your diligent research!

  • 18 September, 2016 at 7:33 pm

    Did you ever finish writing these? It’s so well written and very informative. It gives food for thought for those considering the use of formula alone or alongside breastfeeding.

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