Mother’s milk versus cow’s milk – Which provides better nutrition to the infant?

mothers milk versus cow milk
Breast milk can take care of all the nutritional and fluid requirements of the infant from birth to 6 months. It can satisfy half or more of a child’s energy needs between the ages of 6 and 12 months, and one-third of energy needs between 12 and 24 months. Breast milk is also a critical source of energy and nutrients during illness.

One often does a comparison between mother’s milk & cow milk. Here is a snapshot of what are the major differences between mother’s milk & cow’s milk

Human milk Cow’s milk
Contains more lactalbumin and less casein which is easier to digest. Contains more of protein casein which is not easily digested by infants
It contains beneficial long chain fatty acids. It contains short chain fatty acids which are not broken down easily and lead to stomach problems.
Antibodies from human milk give rise to healthy microflora in the gut. Indigestible components of cow’s milk give rise to food allergies in infants.
It contains appropriate amounts of calcium, sodium, potassium and phosphorous. Cow’s milk contains larger amounts of these nutrients which may not be tolerated by the infant.
Contains vitamin C. Does not provide vitamin C.

4 nutritional risks associated with feeding cow’s milk in first year of life


The use of whole cow’s milk can be associated with loss of blood from the gastrointestinal tract, in both early and late infancy. Although normal infants lose measurable amounts of blood in the feces at all times, feeding with whole cow’s milk leads to increased enteric blood loss in a large proportion of normal infants.


Cow’s milk allergy affects 0.3% to 7.5% of infants . Early exposure to cow’s milk proteins increases the risk of developing allergy to milk proteins. With increasing maturation,the intestinal epithelium becomes less permeable to macromolecules and there is less tendency toward allergic reactions.

If the lactating mother notices that consumption of whole cow’s milk seems to cause an allergic reaction in her infant, it is reasonable to eliminate whole cow’s milk from her diet.


An association between early exposure to cow’s milk proteins and risk for type 1 diabetes mellitus has been reported in many studies. Exposure to cow’s milk proteins elicits antibody formation to insulin in some children

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that in families with a strong history of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, breastfeeding and avoidance of commercially available cow’s milk and products containing intact cow’s milk proteins during the first year of life are strongly encouraged


Protein provides approximately 7% of the calories in human milk and 20% of the calories in whole cow’s milk . The high casein content of whole cow’s milk is undesirable because casein forms a tough, hard to digest curd that is difficult for young infants to digest

Whole cow’s milk also has low contents of zinc, niacin, vitamin C and vitamin E . Whole cow’s milk contains approximately three times as much sodium and potassium, four times as much calcium and six times as much phosphorus as does human milk


A higher intake of protein, sodium, potassium, chloride and phosphorus associated with the use of whole cow’s milk inappropriately increases the renal solute load

There is nothing better than mother’s milk for an infant during first few months of its life. Any substitute – be it milk substitute or cow’s milk, comes with its own set of drawbacks.

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