Difference between a Cow’s Milk and Human Breast Milk

Newborns and infants need sufficient nutrition to be sued for their growth and development. To meet energy needs, prevent the use of body stores and to provide for growth the infant must consume adequate calories. Nutrients needed by neonates such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fat are contained in breast or formula milk. Full-term neonates digest simple carbohydrates and protein well. Fats are less digested because of the lack of pancreatic enzyme in the newborn. Aside from nutrients and calories, newborns also need larger amount of fluid. Water is unnecessary to be given as breast milk or formula already supplies the infant’s fluids needs.

Daily Calorie and Fluid Needs of the Newborn

(Source: Saunders’ Foundations of Maternal-Newborn Nursing by Murray and McKinney)


  • 110-120 kcal/kg (50-55 kcal/lb)


  • 40 to 60 ml/kg (18-27 ml/lb) for the first two days of life
  • 100 to 150 ml/kg (45-68 ml/lb) by the end of the first week

Breast Milk

Breast milk offers many advantages compared to that of formula. Not only that nutrients are proportioned appropriately in breast milk to meet the neonate’s changing needs but it also provides protection against infection. Composition of breast milk changes in three phases which are the following:

  • Colostrum – secreted during the first week of lactation. It is a yellowish and thick substance. This type of breast milk contains higher protein, fat-soluble vitamins and minerals than the mature milk. However, it contains lower calories, fat and lactose. It is also rich in immunoglobulin that helps in the protection of the GI tract from infection.
  • Transitional Milk – contains lesser immunoglobulin and proteins. Lactose, fat and calories are increased in this type of breast milk.
  • Mature milk – replaces transitional milk after 2 weeks of lactation. Contains 20 kcal/oz and nutrients essential for infant’s growth and development.

Cow’s Milk

Modified cow’s milk is the source of most commercial formulas. It is specifically formulated for infants. The protein component is reduced to decrease the renal solute load. Vegetable fat replaces the saturated fat of an unmodified cow’s milk. To simulate the contents of breast milk, vitamins and other nutrients are added to the preparation.

Content Breast Milk Cow’s Milk

  • Casein
  • Whey
High ratio of whey to casein (that makes it more easily digested) Contains high casein (not easily digested)

  • Lactose
6.8 g/dl 4.9 g/dl
Vitamin C 43 mg 11 mg
Iron 0.5 mg 0.5 mg

(High casein and low Vitamin C concentration of cow’s milk level interferes with iron absorption.)

Vitamin D 22 iu 14 iu

Daisy Jane Antipuesto RN MN

Currently a Nursing Local Board Examination Reviewer. Subjects handled are Pediatric, Obstetric and Psychiatric Nursing. Previous work experiences include: Clinical instructor/lecturer, clinical coordinator (Level II), caregiver instructor/lecturer, NC2 examination reviewer and staff/clinic nurse. Areas of specialization: Emergency room, Orthopedic Ward and Delivery Room. Also an IELTS passer.

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