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Nutrition Content: Infant Formula vs. Breast Milk

written by: AlyssaAst • edited by: Rhonda Callow • updated: 11/4/2010

There's a long ongoing debate whether breast milk or infant formula is better for a baby’s health. The FDA has strict requirements on the nutrition content of infant formulas to try and replicate the nutrients of breast milk. Although formula is very similar to breast milk, it's still not identical.

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    Formula vs. Breast Milk

    Although the nutritional content of infant formula and breast milk are almost identical, there still remains much debate about which is better for babies. Many choose to feed with breast milk because it is free and widely available, while many prefer formula for its convenience.

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    Nutritional Content of Breast Milk

    Breast milk is considered to be the best nourishment for babies because it is completely natural and produced specifically for babies. Breast milk contains proteins, carbohydrates, and calcium, which are vital for proper development. Many fatty acids are in breast milk for brain development. Lactose, water, and amino acids are found naturally in breast milk. Although formula is very similar to breast milk, there are over 100 more natural ingredients in breast milk than in infant formula. Breast milk is often easier for babies to digest as well.

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    Benefits of Breast Milk

    Breast milk not only has many nutritional benefits, but health benefits as well. Breast milk contains antibodies from the mother. This helps fight infections and protects the baby from bacteria, fungi, and viruses. 80 percent of the cells in breast milk kill bacteria. Milk from a mother contains numerous infection fighting white blood cells. Formula is not able to offer the same protection. Breast milk is a much cheaper option to feed a baby with, rather than purchasing formula. Breast milk is always available and there is never the risk of running out of it.

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    Nutritional Content of Infant Formula

    Infant formula is designed to match the ingredients found in breast milk, but an exact replica is not yet possible. The FDA requires all infant formula to comply with all nutritional requirements. The FDA requires all iron fortified formulas to have at least 12 milligrams of iron per liter and 2 milligrams of iron per liter for low iron formulas. DHA and ARA are added to formulas to increase proper brain and eye development. A large difference between breast milk and baby formula is that formula contain saturated fats, such as oils and corn syrup. Babies fed infant formula are often fatter than babies fed with breast milk. Most infant formulas are cow milk based. This can cause an increased risk for lactose intolerance in babies.

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    Benefits of Infant Formula

    Although the nutritional content of infant formula varies from breast milk, many mothers choose to use it because of the convenience, especially for working mothers or mothers of multiple children. Infant formulas are available as powders, liquid concentrates, and ready to feed mixes.

    The FDA is very strict about what goes into infant formulas. The laws and regulations regarding infant formula can be viewed at www.fda.gov.

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    References:

    “Breast vs. Bottle for Feeding your Baby" By John M. Goldenring, MD January 24, 2007

    webmd.com

    “FDA 101: Infant Formula" www.fda.gov

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