Infant Formula vs. Cow's Milk

Breaking Down the Facts: Infant Formula vs. Cow's Milk

Babies who are younger than one year of age drink most of their food. Breast milk is the most complete and natural baby food for young babies. When a mother is unable to provide breast milk for her baby, the choice between cow’s milk and infant formula presents itself.

Pediatricians recommend that babies under one year of age should drink formula and should not drink any cow’s milk. Have you ever wondered why? Formula is designed to be similar to breast milk. Almost all formulas on the market are made from cow’s milk which is processed in different ways during the production process to simulate the nutritional composition of breast milk. Baby formula has everything that your baby needs during the first year of life. Cow’s milk is not made for babies, at least it is not made for human babies. It has less than enough of some things and too much of others to be a complete source of nutrition for bottle-fed babies.


Babies under one year of age are not able to completely digest cow’s milk. The protein in cow’s milk is all wrong for babies. They are mostly large proteins that are hard for a baby's immature digestive system to break down. This can cause an upset stomach and constipation. In addition, these large proteins have a high potential to cause milk allergies in babies. Proteins in baby formula are smaller and can easily be digested by a baby’s sensitive digestive system.


Cow’s milk not only has the wrong kind of proteins, but also too much of them for your baby. The concentration of proteins and other nutrients can be up to 4 times higher in cow’s milk than in formula. Eliminating excess protein and nutrients can cause stress on a baby’s kidneys and digestive system, especially during times when your baby is already under stress from sickness or dehydration.

Along with the wrong kind of proteins for your baby. Cow’s milk also contains the wrong kind of fats. There are some essential fatty acids that are crucial to brain development that does not exist in cow’s milk. Vegetable oils that contain these essential fatty acids are added to formula to ensure babies are getting enough essential fatty acids for proper brain development.


Cow’s milk can also cause iron deficiencies in babies. First, cow’s milk does not contain enough iron for a baby’s nutritional needs. Second, protein in cow’s milk can irritate the lining of the digestive tract and cause bleeding resulting in loss of iron. Third, the high amount of calcium in cow’s milk binds to iron in the digestive tract blocking its absorption.

In addition to iron, cow’s milk also does not contain enough of other nutrients, like iron, vitamin D, and vitamin C, iodine, and electrolytes that your baby needs to be healthy. These nutrients are added to formulas in just the right amounts to provide excellent nutrition for your baby.


Other advantages of formulas are the addition of other important ingredients: fiber which is lacking in cow’s milk, probiotics which support healthy intestinal flora, and factors to support your baby’s immune system.


Baby formula is a superior food to cow’s milk in babies that have not celebrated their first birthdays. Pediatricians even recommend avoiding cow’s milk in these young children. An added benefit of formula is the variety of available formulas on the market that can address specific problems that your baby may be experiencing with food. There are formulas to help with problems associated with a gassy stomach, constipation, colic, and specific allergies.


Cow’s milk is very different from breast milk. As a liquid diet is the primary source of nutrition for babies, cow’s milk is not adequate to provide the many and specific nutritional requirements of young babies. Cow’s milk does not contain enough of the necessary vitamins and minerals that a young baby needs. It has high levels of large proteins that are difficult to digest, can cause constipation, and can lead to milk allergies. Cow’s milk does not contain the necessary fiber to maintain the overall health of a babies digestive system. Cow's milk cannot be tailored, as can formula, to the individual needs of babies. Formula is designed to be very similar in composition to breast milk and is, therefore, the perfect baby food when breast milk is not an option.