Breast Milk vs Formula.....The Ingredients Speak For Themselves

What’s In Breast Milk and What’s In Formula?

By Kelly Winder in Baby. Last updated on February 15, 2016

Ever been curious as to what’s found in breast milk and what ingredients can be found in formula?

Developed by the Douglas College for the Breastfeeding Course for Health Care Providers, this eye opening comparison of breast milk ingredients and formula ingredients is astounding.

Please understand that this article has not been published so formula feeding mothers can feel guilty.

Nor has it been posted for anyone to feel superior.

BellyBelly often acknowledges that there are plenty of valid reasons why parents formula feed their babies and we support them.

We also understand that some things can be hard to hear when we’ve not come to peace with them.

This article contains important information that we need to know — it’s science, biology and healthcare all in one. It’s even more important to hear for those who have a choice and are researching what to feed their baby.

With information comes education, and with both of those things, it gives you power and options. BellyBelly is dubbed “The Thinking Woman’s Website” because it’s written especially for parents who want to know more than marketing hype when making choices and decisions — just as I did as a young mother. So if you feel you may be offended, please do not read any further.


Formula Ingredients



  • Lactose
  • Corn maltodextrin


  • Partially hydrolyzed reduced minerals whey protein concentrate (from cow’s milk)


  • Palm olein
  • Soybean oil
  • Coconut oil
  • High oleic safflower oil (or sunflower oil)
  • M. alpina oil (Fungal DHA)
  • C.cohnii oil (Algal ARA)


  • Potassium citrate
  • Potassium phosphate
  • Calcium chloride
  • Tricalcium phosphate
  • Sodium citrate
  • Magnesium chloride
  • Ferrous sulphate
  • Zinc sulphate
  • Sodium chloride
  • Copper sulphate
  • Potassium iodide
  • Manganese sulphate
  • Sodium selenate


  • Sodium ascorbate
  • Inositol
  • Choline bitartrate
  • Alpha-Tocopheryl acetate
  • Niacinamide
  • Calcium pantothenate
  • Riboflavin
  • Vitamin A acetate
  • Pyridoxine hydrochloride
  • Thiamine mononitrate
  • Folic acid
  • Phylloquinone
  • Biotin
  • Vitamin D3
  • Vitamin B12


  • Trypsin

Amino acid

  • Taurine
  • L-Carnitine (a combination of two different amino acids)


  • Cytidine 5-monophosphate
  • Disodium uridine 5-monophosphate
  • Adenosine 5-monophosphate
  • Disodium guanosine 5-monophosphate

Soy Lecithin (an emulsifier)

When choosing formula for your baby, make sure you read the labels and choose a lower protein formula. A recent study has found that many formulas are being made on the higher acceptable limits of protein, which may be an explanation of the link between formula and childhood obesity.


What’s In Breast Milk?

Here is a summary of what ingredients can be found in breast milk.


Breast Milk Ingredients


Carbohydrates (energy source)

  • Lactose
  • Oligosaccharides (see below)

Carboxylic acid

  • Alpha hydroxy acid
  • Lactic acid

Proteins (building muscles and bones)

  • Whey protein
  • Alpha-lactalbumin
  • HAMLET (Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumour cells): AMAZING!!!
  • Lactoferrin: AMAZING!!!!
  • Many antimicrobial factors (see below)
  • Casein
  • Serum albumin

Non-protein nitrogens

  • Creatine
  • Creatinine
  • Urea
  • Uric acid
  • Peptides (see below)

Amino Acids (the building blocks of proteins)

  • Alanine
  • Arginine
  • Aspartate
  • Clycine
  • Cystine
  • Glutamate
  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lycine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Proline
  • Serine
  • Taurine
  • Theronine
  • Tryptophan
  • Tyrosine
  • Valine
  • Carnitine (amino acid compound necessary to make use of fatty acids as an energy source)

Nucleotides (chemical compounds that are the structural units of RNA and DNA)

  • 5’-Adenosine monophosphate (5”-AMP)
  • 3’:5’-Cyclic adenosine monophosphate (3’:5’-cyclic AMP)
  • 5’-Cytidine monophosphate (5’-CMP)
  • Cytidine diphosphate choline (CDP choline)
  • Guanosine diphosphate (UDP)
  • Guanosine diphosphate – mannose
  • 3’- Uridine monophosphate (3’-UMP)
  • 5’-Uridine monophosphate (5’-UMP)
  • Uridine diphosphate (UDP)
  • Uridine diphosphate hexose (UDPH)
  • Uridine diphosphate-N-acetyl-hexosamine (UDPAH)
  • Uridine diphosphoglucuronic acid (UDPGA)
  • Several more novel nucleotides of the UDP type


  • Triglycerides
  • Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (important for brain development)
  • Arachidonic acid (AHA) (important for brain development)
  • Linoleic acid
  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • Conjugated linoleic acid (Rumenic acid)

Free Fatty Acids

Monounsaturated fatty acids

  • Oleic acid
  • Palmitoleic acid
  • Heptadecenoic acid

Saturated fatty acids

  • Stearic
  • Palmitic acid
  • Lauric acid
  • Myristic acid


  • Phosphatidylcholine
  • Phosphatidylethanolamine
  • Phosphatidylinositol
  • Lysophosphatidylcholine
  • Lysophosphatidylethanolamine
  • Plasmalogens


  • Sphingomyelin
  • Gangliosides
  • GM1
  • GM2
  • GM3
  • Glucosylceramide
  • Glycosphingolipids
  • Galactosylceramide
  • Lactosylceramide
  • Globotriaosylceramide (GB3)
  • Globoside (GB4)


  • Squalene
  • Lanosterol
  • Dimethylsterol
  • Methosterol
  • Lathosterol
  • Desmosterol
  • Triacylglycerol
  • Cholesterol
  • 7-dehydrocholesterol
  • Stigma-and campesterol
  • 7-ketocholesterol
  • Sitosterol
  • β-lathosterol
  • Vitamin D metabolites
  • Steroid hormones


  • Vitamin A
  • Beta carotene
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B8 (Inositol)
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • a-Tocopherol
  • Vitamin K
  • Thiamine
  • Riboflavin
  • Niacin
  • Folic acid
  • Pantothenic acid
  • Biotin
  • Minerals
  • Calcium
  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Chloride
  • Phosphorus
  • Magnesium
  • Copper
  • Manganese
  • Iodine
  • Selenium
  • Choline
  • Sulpher
  • Chromium
  • Cobalt
  • Fluorine
  • Nickel


  • Molybdenum (essential element in many enzymes)

Growth Factors (aid in the maturation of the intestinal lining)


  • interleukin-1β (IL-1β)
  • IL-2
  • IL-4
  • IL-6
  • IL-8
  • IL-10
  • Granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF)
  • Macrophage-colony stimulating factor (M-CSF)
  • Platelet derived growth factors (PDGF)
  • Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)
  • Hepatocyte growth factor -α (HGF-α)
  • HGF-β
  • Tumor necrosis factor-α
  • Interferon-γ
  • Epithelial growth factor (EGF)
  • Transforming growth factor-α (TGF-α)
  • TGF β1
  • TGF-β2
  • Insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) (also known as somatomedin C)
  • Insulin-like growth factor- II
  • Nerve growth factor (NGF)
  • Erythropoietin

Peptides (combinations of amino acids)

  • HMGF I (Human growth factor)
  • Cholecystokinin (CCK)
  • β-endorphins
  • Parathyroid hormone (PTH)
  • Parathyroid hormone-related peptide (PTHrP)
  • β-defensin-1
  • Calcitonin
  • Gastrin
  • Motilin
  • Bombesin (gastric releasing peptide, also known as neuromedin B)
  • Neurotensin
  • Somatostatin

Hormones (chemical messengers that carry signals from one cell, or group of cells, to another via the blood)

  • Cortisol
  • Triiodothyronine (T3)
  • Thyroxine (T4)
  • Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) (also known as thyrotropin)
  • Thyroid releasing hormone (TRH)
  • Prolactin
  • Oxytocin
  • Insulin
  • Corticosterone
  • Thrombopoietin
  • Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH)
  • GRH
  • Leptin (aids in regulation of food intake)
  • Ghrelin (aids in regulation of food intake)
  • Adiponectin
  • Feedback inhibitor of lactation (FIL)
  • Eicosanoids
  • Prostaglandins (enzymatically derived from fatty acids)
  • PG-E1
  • PG-E2
  • PG-F2
  • Leukotrienes
  • Thromboxanes
  • Prostacyclins

Enzymes (catalysts that support chemical reactions in the body)

  • Amylase
  • Arysulfatase
  • Catalase
  • Histaminase
  • Lipase
  • Lysozyme
  • PAF-acetylhydrolase
  • Phosphatase
  • Xanthine oxidase

Antiproteases (thought to bind themselves to macromolecules such as enzymes and as a result prevent allergic and anaphylactic reactions)

  • a-1-antitrypsin
  • a-1-antichymotrypsin

Antimicrobial factors (used by the immune system to identify and neutralize foreign objects, such as bacteria and viruses)

  • Leukocytes (white blood cells)
  • Phagocytes
  • Basophils
  • Neutrophils
  • Eoisinophils
  • Macrophages
  • Lymphocytes
  • B lymphocytes (also known as B cells)
  • T lymphocytes (also known as C cells)
  • sIgA (Secretory immunoglobulin A) (the most important antiinfective factor)
  • IgA2
  • IgG
  • IgD
  • IgM
  • IgE
  • Complement C1
  • Complement C2
  • Complement C3
  • Complement C4
  • Complement C5
  • Complement C6
  • Complement C7
  • Complement C8
  • Complement C9
  • Glycoproteins
  • Mucins (attaches to bacteria and viruses to prevent them from clinging to mucousal tissues)
  • Lactadherin
  • Alpha-lactoglobulin
  • Alpha-2 macroglobulin
  • Lewis antigens
  • Ribonuclease
  • Haemagglutinin inhibitors
  • Bifidus Factor (increases growth of Lactobacillus bifidus – which is a good bacteria)
  • Lactoferrin (binds to iron which prevents harmful bacteria from using the iron to grow)
  • Lactoperoxidase
  • B12 binding protein (deprives microorganisms of vitamin B12)
  • Fibronectin (makes phagocytes more aggressive, minimizes inflammation, and repairs damage caused by inflammation)
  • Oligosaccharides (more than 200 different kinds!)


Summing It All Up

That’s quite a lot to digest — pardon the pun! So to make sense of it all, I asked BellyBelly’s International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), Renee Kam, what she believes to be the most important ingredients in breast milk. We all know that breast milk is known for it’s protective and immune supporting properties — Renee reinforced this with her response. She says:

“Breastmilk contains the right balance of probiotics and prebiotics that human babies need to colonise their bowels with a healthy bacteria. Perhaps the most important anti-infective factor in breastmilk is an antibody called secretory IgA (sIgA). SIgA helps protect a baby from pathogens he is most likely to come across in the environment he lives in (we called this ‘targeted protection’). Breastfed babies may have asymptomatic infections (that don’t show any signs of inflammation) because of the anti-inflammatory factors in breastmilk, which can turn acute-inflammatory cells (e.g. neutrophils) off.”

The fats in breast milk are very important too.

“Of the fats in breastmilk, 88% are made from long-chain fatty acids. It’s these long-chain fatty acids (e.g. omega 3 fatty acids, especially DHA) that are constituents of brain and nerve tissue, and are needed in early life for mental and visual development.”

Finally, the self adjusting properties of breast milk are important too — a mother’s breast milk is custom made for her baby, based on the baby’s age and needs at the time. Renee says:

“The breastmilk a mother makes for her baby is different on day one, to day seven, to day 30, and so on. For example, the breastmilk made by a mother of a premature baby has different concentrations of various substances to suit her baby’s special needs. And, when weaning, a mother’s breastmilk increases the concentration of immune protective factors to give her baby a final dose of immune protection before weaning is complete.”




Posted on April 3, 2016 .