What is the Difference Between Breast Milk and Formula?

Expectant moms all over the country ask this age-old question, what’s the difference between breast milk and formula? Both are designed to provide nourishment to a newborn child and help the little one become a healthy toddler. Both are gentle on baby’s digestive system and contain fats, proteins, and other building blocks for brain function and an overall healthy baby.

But what are their similarities and differences? Well, unfortunately, there are more differences than similarities.

Let’s start with the obvious. Formula is costly, and breast milk is free. Most formulas cost, on average, about $40 per container, which is about $1500 to $2500 annually depending on the kind and brand you buy.

Feedings can be easier on moms when infants are fed formula because anyone can feed the baby a bottle and mom isn’t tied down with the nursing baby. However, nursing moms can opt to use a breast pump and give the baby a bottle as well. This way other family members and caretakers can help with caring for the newborn.

One of the most significant differences between breast milk and formula is that breast milk can change according to your baby’s needs. For example, as your baby’s needs change, your breast milk becomes thicker and more satisfying for your little one. Another example is when your child is sick, your breast milk adjusts to your baby’s nutritional needs for that moment. According to an article on the website HealthyWay.com (https://www.healthyway.com/content/this-is-the-real-difference-between-breast-milk-and-formula/), a video showed a significant amount of white blood cells in your breast milk that your child receives when they are sick. The video shows the fat cells as well. The other video is of formula and shows significantly less fat cells than the breast milk. Formula cannot produce white blood cells of course, but this is why breast milk helps boost your infant’s immune system; it naturally provides these white blood cells that defend the body from sickness.

Both formula and breast milk have lasting effects on children that lead into adulthood. For example, it is believed that children that are fed formula are more prone to develop leukemia, obesity, asthma, and both types of diabetes. This information is courtesy of NCBI Resources website (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2812877/). On the other hand, breast milk reduces these risks.

Dr. Sears has an excellent chart that compares breast milk to formula. Did you know that breast milk has enzymes in it to help your baby’s digestion? According to his list, formula kills the digestive enzymes, and the vitamins and minerals in formula are not easily absorbed into your newborn’s body. Another significant difference between formula and breast milk that breast milk contains essential fats, particularly fatty acids, such as Omega-3’s that are building blocks for brain function. Unfortunately, formula does not have these fatty acids, nor does it have cholesterol as breast milk does. For the complete comparative list regarding the differences between breast milk and formula, please visit Dr. Sears website (https://www.askdrsears.com/topics/feeding-eating/breastfeeding/why-breast-is-best/comparison-human-milk-and-formula).

Some may say that there is not a big difference between breast milk and formula. But, clearly, there are differences. Each family is different and has their unique set of circumstances. This information is to inform you so that you can make the best decision for your family.