Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Your Assumptions About Infant Formula Are Probably Wrong

The ugly truth about formula

When it comes to breastfeeding, celebrities seem to be setting a remarkable example. Angela Jolie appeared on the cover of W magazine breastfeeding one of her twins. Does she know something you don't?

In continuation of the previous blog, here are vital questions and answers that every parent should consider about infant nutrition. These questions come from a survey readers were invited to complete, and are the most frequent misconceptions that readers had.

1. Isn't formula just about as good as breast milk?

No. As hard as they've tried, formula companies cannot make a formula that comes remotely close to mothers' milk.1

  • Breastmilk has thousands of ingredients whereas formula has less than 3 dozen.2
  • Human breastmilk contains all of the vitamins and minerals that babies needs to grow.3
  • A mother's milk changes properties throughout the feeding, the day, and the year depending on the specific infant's needs.4,5 Formula is the same hour after hour, day after day, for every infant.

2. Don't the added vitamins in formula protect my baby from disease?

No. Formula has a few vitamins but lacks the hundreds of antibodies,6 enzymes6 and hormones7 that breastmilk provides.

  • Breastfed babies also gain nearly all of the immunological benefits that their mothers have spent years developing.6
  • In addition to these benefits, infants who are breastfed are at lower risk of ear infections,8 respiratory problems,9 allergies,10 and dental problems,11 to name a few.

3. Isn't formula just as safe as breastmilk?

No. Infant formula is NOT sterile and is NOT strictly monitored by the government for toxins, purity, and safety.12 Since formula is classified as a food by the Food and Drug Administration, it is NOT subject to the rigorous standards that are applied to drugs.12,13 Chemicals used in rocket fuel production have even been found in some infant formulas.14 Because powdered formulas are easily contaminated, they are considered non-sterile by most health agencies.12, 15

4. Isn't formula as good as breastmilk for keeping my baby well?

No. In the first year of life, infants are most vulnerable to infection from viruses and bacteria.16 Formula is NOT strictly regulated and can be contaminated with pathogens.12,13 Formula can also be harmful if it is not prepared properly (see next blog post)

5. Doesn't formula make babies sleep better?

No. Infant formula does make babies sleep longer and deeper, but this does not mean that they are sleeping "better." In fact, infants are designed to sleep lightly and to wake frequently for feedings.17,18 Formula-fed babies are at greater risk of malnourishment and miss the regular wash of agents that help their brains grow well.17-21 Formula fed babies are more likely to die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and are less able to regulate their metabolism because formula knocks them out cold.17-21

Note: Co-authored with Stephanie Sieswerda and Elizabeth Ledden

Previous post: It's breastfeeding week, why should you care?

Next post: Myths about infant formula.


Post #1 discusses why you should care about breastfeeding, no matter who you are.

Post #2 discusses assumptions about infant formula that are wrong.

Post #3 discusses myths about infant formula.

Post #4 discusses the TREMENDOUS benefits of breastfeeding.

Post #5 addresses myths about breastfeeding.

**Check out our YouTube video on breastfeeding vs. formula.**

Post #6 discusses real truths about breastfeeding.

Post #7 provides links to resources for breastfeeding.

Post #8 summarizes the prior posts' main messages in blunt terms.

Post #9 responds to critics of #8.


1) Berry, N. & Gribble, K. (2008). Breast is no longer best: Promoting normal infant feeding. Maternal and Child Nutrition, 4, 74-9.

2) Food and Drug Administration (2003). Infant formula: Frequently asked questions. U.S Food and Drug Administration. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. January 9.

3) James, D.C. & Lessen, R. (2009). Position of the American Dietetic Association: promoting and supporting breastfeeding. J Am Diet Assoc, 109(11), 1926-42.

4) Hale, T.W. & Hartmann, P.E. (eds.) Textbook of Human Lactation. Amarillo, TX: Hale Publishing.

5) Lawrence, R.A. & Lawrence, R.M. (2005). Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession, 6th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby.

6) Hanson, L.A. & Winberg, J. (1972). Breast milk and defense against infection in the newborn. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 47, 845-8.

7) Uauy R. & Uauy, R. (1999). Breast is best: human milk is the optimal food for brain development. Am J Clin Nutr, 70, 433-4.

8) Duncan, B., Ey, J., Holberg, C.J., Wright, A.L., Martinez, F.D., & Taussig, L.M. (1993). Exclusive breast-feeding for at least 4 months protects against otitis media. Pediatrics, 91, 867-72.

9) Chaulada, P.C. Arbes Jr., S.J., Dunson, D., & Zeldin, D.C. (2003). Breast-feeding and the prevalence of asthma and wheeze in children: analyses from the Third National Health and Nutrition Survey, 1988-1994. J Allergy Clin Immunol, 111, 328-36.

10) Friedman, N. & Zeiger, R. (2005). The role of breast-feeding in the development of allergies and asthma. J Allergy Clin Immunol, 115(6), 1238-48.

11) Vazquez-Nava, F., Quezada-Castillo, J., Oviedo-Trevino, S., Saldivar-Gonzalez, A.H., Sanchez-Nuncio, H.R., Beltran-Guzman, F.J., & Vazquez-Rodriguez, E.M. (2006). Association between allergic rhinitis, bottle-feeding, non-nutritive sucking habits, and malocclusion in the primary dentition. Arch Dis Child, 91(10), 836-40.

12) Infant Formula Act of 1980 as amended in 1986. Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act § 412, 21 U.S.C. § 350a (1980).

13) Baker, R. D. (2002). Infant Formula Safety. Pediatrics, 110(4), 833-835. doi: 10.1542/peds.110.4.833

14) Schier, J.G., Wolkin, A.F., Valentin-Blasini, L., Belson, M.G., Kieszak, S.M., Rubin, C.S., & Blount, B.C. (2010). Perchlorate exposure from infant formula and comparisons with the perchlorate reference dose. Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, 20, 281-7.

15) Stuebe, A. (2009). The Risks of Not Breastfeeding for Mothers and Infants. Reviews in Obstetrics & Gynecology, 2(4), 222-231.

16) Newburg, D. (2000). Oligosaccharides in human milk and bacterial colonization. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition, 30, S8-S17.

17) Mosko, S., Richard, C., McKenna, J., & Drummond, S. (1997). Infant arousals during mother-infant bed sharing: implications for infant sleep and sudden infant death syndrome research. Pediatrics, 100, 841-9.

18) McKenna, J.J. & McDade, T. (2005). Why babies should never sleep alone: A review of the co-sleeping controversy in relation to SIDS, bedsharing and breast feeding. Paediatr Respir Rev, 6(2), 134-52.

19) Kahn, A., Groswasser, J., Franco, P., Scaillet, S., Sawaguchi, T., Kelmanson, I., de Broca, A., Dan, B., & Servais, L. (2000). Factors influencing the determination of arousal thresholds in infants- A review. Sleep Medicine, 1(4), 273-8.

20) Lehtonen, J., Kononen, M., Purhonen, M., Partanen, J., Saarikoski, S., & Launiala, K. (1998). The effect of nursing on the brain activity of the newborn. The Journal of Pediatrics, 132(4), 646-51.

21) Dettwyler, K.A. & Fishman, C. (1992). Infant feeding practices and growth. Annual Review of Anthropology, 21, 171-204.