Poster above was developed as a student project for the Breastfeeding Course For Health Care Providers, Douglas College, Canada

Have you ever wondered what the ingredients are in breastmilk?  Have you ever looked at the back of a formula can to have a look at the ingredients?  Each year “new” things are being discovered in breastmilk.  This poster is an excellent resource for mums to see just what the big deal is about breastfeeding!  Not only does breastmilk have HEAPS more ingredients, they are constantly changing to meet the needs of babies and toddlers.  Your milk actually changes if you and/or your baby have been exposed to something to protect your baby or toddler. How cool is that?!

I would also like to stress how the all of these awesome things in your milk do not magically disappear when your child reaches toddlerhood! The amount of times I have heard people state that toddlers “do not need breastmilk after the age of ___  (you fill in the blank, everyone has a different opinion!) and this is simply not the case.  A few thoughts come to mind…

1.  The ingredients in breastmilk do not suddenly disappear after your baby reaches a certain age! It continues to give your toddler MANY vitamins, minerals, enzymes, electrolytes, antibacterial properties, antimicrobial properties, antifungal properties etc. etc. etc. which are present the ENTIRE time you breastfeed your child.  They do not suddenly vanish into thin air!  A research study released in May, 2017 found that the bacteria found in mother’s milk and areolar skin seed the infant gut and profoundly influence the development of infant microbiome. These differences were present even after the babies started eating solids. You can view this study here. 

2. Breastmilk is a living tissue within the body (similar to blood) which changes as the needs of your baby and toddler change.  Riordan & Wambach (2012) state, “Human milk is similar to unstructured living tissue, such as blood, and is capable or transporting nutrients, affecting biochemical systems, enhancing immunity, and destroying pathogens ”  They they go on to say, “Breastmilk, like all other animal milks, is species-specific.  It has been adapted throughout human existence to meet nutritional and anti-infective requirements of the human infant to ensure optimal growth, development, and survival” (p. 97). 

3. Cow’s milk and cow’s milk formula are made for just that…a baby cow!! It is species specific for a growing calf.  Formula can be life saving in certain situations BUT there is absolutely no research (and common sense will tell you) to support the idea that a toddler should be switched to a milk which is for a different species instead of continuing to receive it’s mother’s milk.  Unless, of course, there is a specific medical reason as to why the mother should not be breastfeeding her child.

4.  It is not just about nutrition! For other mums like myself out there who have had the experience of being able to breastfeed your three year old who has a stomach bug or fever and will eat nothing but breastmilk…it is a HUGE relief.  There is no need for electrolyte drinks from the pharmacy, no need to try to get food into them if they do not want it as they are getting everything they need from breastmilk while they are sick and unable to keep food down or do not have an appetite.  It brings comfort, nutrition and familiarity to the toddler.

Please do not read this and think, “…but I had to feed my baby formula! Don’t judge me!”  There are cases and situations where a mum cannot access donor milk, does not have enough milk herself due to health issues or is simply not able to do what is required to achieve a sufficient supply… and they are all doing the best they can. I am writing this to show all of the mums out there the differences between the two. It is not possible to make an informed choice if you do not have all of the information. 

An important aspect of formula and the way it is marketed is by making a big deal out of the, “added ingredients” trying to make it appear better than it actually is.  A study has been done recently which shows that the addition of the synthetic forms of AHA and DHA (so not natural as in breastmilk but made in a lab) when used as supplements do not improve infants’ development!  Here is a portion of what a great ARTICLE mentions about the review of available research and literature by the WHO and Cochran Review:

 “ARA (promoted as enhancing “visual acuity”) and DHA (touted for advancing “neurological development”) have been added to infant formula since 1997. Both these long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids are found in human breast milk and, in this form, contribute to eye and neurological development. But over the past five years, WHO and the Cochran Collaboration, a London-based research organisation, have published policy statements and studies concluding that ARA and DHA, when used as additives, do not improve infants’ development.”

It goes on to say:

“According to the US Food and Drug Administration, the scientific evidence ismixed’ over the benefits of adding ARA and DHA to baby formula, with no currently available published studies on the long-term impact. ‘Scientists can’t make the same form of ARA and DHA that human breast milk contains,’ said Elizabeth Myler, a spokeswoman for the US-based NGO that promotes breastfeeding, La Leche League International. ‘Instead, they extract it from fermented algae and fungus using a toxic chemical called hexane.’ “

This means that even though this addition has been made to these formulas, babies are not having any improvements compared to artificially fed babies without ADA and DHA added!  I tell ya, marketing execs are a smart bunch and know how to make a serious amount of money with campaigns such as this…

As a reminder:


The World Health Organisation recommends the following for babies if their mother cannot breastfeed. The order is in preference from most preferred to least preferred; expressed breastmilk from the infant’s own mother , donated breastmilk from a healthy wet-nurse or human milk bank, formula.  

Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, World Health Organization

Here is a list of ingredients from a can of formula that I found in my local grocery store. The first three ingredients are lactose from cow’s milk, vegetable oils and “enzymatically hydrolysed whey protein (milk)” also from a cow…

Lactose (milk), vegetable oils, enzymatically hydrolysed whey protein (milk), minerals (calcium phosphate, magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, potassium phosphate, sodium chloride, ferrous sulphate, zinc sulphate, copper sulphate, calcium carbonate, manganese sulphate, sodium selenate, potassium iodide), maltodextrin, omega LCPUFAs (DHA from fish oil, AA), vitamins

[sodium ascorbate (vit C), dl-alpha-tocopheryl acetate (vit E), retinyl acetate (vit A), niacinamide (niacin), calcium pantothenate, cholecalciferol (vit D3), thiamine mononitrate (vit B1), riboflavin (vit B2), pyridoxine hydrochloride (vit B6), phylloquinone (vit K1), folic acid, cyanocobalamin (vit B12), biotin], L-phenylalanine, L-histidine, L-tyrosine, choline bitartrate, acidity regulator (citric acid), taurine, inositol, nucleotides (cytidine 5′-monophosphate, uridine 5′-monophosphate, adenosine 5′-monophosphate, guanosine 5′-monophosphate), L-carnitine, culture (bifidus), antioxidant (ascorbyl palmitate).
Starter infant formula. The enzymatically hydrolysed protein source is from cow’s milk.

Riordan, J & Wamback 2012, Breastfeeding and human lactation, 4th ed, Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Sudbury, Massachusetts.