How does infant formula differ from breast milk

Learn about some of the differences between infant formula and breast milk.

The make-up of breast milk and infant formula have important differences. When prepared and used correctly, infant formula provides safe and complete nutrition for babies (up to six months of age) who are not breastfed. However, infant formula does not contain all of the beneficial ingredients that are naturally present in breast milk and are what makes it the best food for babies.

Babies are at greater risk of infection with formula if a caregiver:

  • does not clean and sterilise all feeding equipment
  • uses unsafe water
  • makes up formula incorrectly
  • stores infant formula powder and/or reconstituted formula incorrectly.

Breast milk:

  • changes its composition over time and during a single feed to meet the child’s individual appetite and thirst (and hence nutrition and fluid needs)
  • contains many beneficial antibodies, enzymes, hormones and other components that assist in baby's development and building immunity.
  • provides nutrients (eg, protein, calcium and iron) that are more easily digested than those in formula.

Where to get advice

If you have questions about feeding your baby, talk to your doctor, midwife, Well Child/Tamariki Ora nurse, lactation consultant, or dietitian.

For free information and advice 24 hours a day, ring Plunketline on 0800 93 39 22 or Healthline on 0800 611 116.

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