Not all milk is the same. The debate on milk can get heated at times.
Without a doubt, breast milk is the best. It is best to exclusively breastfeed your newborn until the baby is 6 months old. Doing so helps strengthen your baby's immune system and lower the risk of developing allergies. This is because newborns have very specific nutritional needs that is best served by breast milk wherever possible.
However, if you're unable to exclusively breastfeed your baby for whatever reasons, the type of formula you use matters.
Are goat and soy milk better for babies? If so, why is baby formula still overwhelmingly based on cow’s milk? Why is this so despite there being plenty of goats too?
Soy formulas are based on protein soy extracts supplemented with specific amino acids to make them as close to that of breast milk as possible. Fat content is derived from vegetable oils, while carbohydrates are provided by cornstarch and sucrose. Iron, vitamins and minerals are also added.
Of late, many women who have chosen to use formulas for their babies, have chosen soy-based. The move towards soy based milks are due to two main reasons.
First, there is a perception that soy is ‘better’ than cow’s milk, or that it may help colic, or that the baby is unsettled and possibly intolerant, or allergic to cow’s milk formula. However, in reality, the percentage of babies allergic to cow’s milk formula is about 1.8 to 3.4%. Some babies, between 0.5% and 1%, are also allergic to soy milk formula.
Second, mothers who are into soy-based diet themselves perhaps have a natural tendency to feed it in the belief that it’s “better” or “healthier”. However, as a general rule soy formulas should only be used on the advice of a healthcare professional. Also, soy formula should not be used as a method to treat colic or general fussiness unless recommended by a doctor.
The safety of soy infant formula has hotly debated because it typically contains a class of compounds called isoflavones. Isoflavones are naturally occurring compounds found primarily in beans and other legumes, including soybeans, peanuts, and chickpeas. These isoflavones are referred to as phytoestrogens because they are found in plants (phyto) and because of their ability to act like the hormone estrogen in the body.
An infant’s diet is virtually 100% milk and/or formula. So for infants that are fed only soy formula, they have much higher soy exposure levels than do toddlers or adults who consume a variety of foods and less soy as a percentage of their diets.
Also, infants go through developmental stages that are sensitive to estrogens. Therefore, infants are more likely than adults and toddlers to be vulnerable to the estrogen-like effects of the phytoestrogens in soy. In particular, the UK Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says in a report from 2011 “Soy-based formula should not be used unless prescribed by a GP”.
Raw goat milk should never be given to babies and young children. Goat milk on its own is low in folic acid and vitamins B6, B12, C and D.
In Australia, modified or fortified goat milk is now available as an infant formula for babies from birth. However, an EU directive that states: “Goat’s milk-based formula should not be given to infants under 1 year”.
Some mothers feed their infants goat milk based formula on the basis that their newborn is “allergic” to cow’s milk. However, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that there was no convincing data, either in the literature or submitted, to support the belief that the incidence of allergic reactions is lower when feeding goats’ milk based formula compared to cows’ milk based formula.
Statistically, the percentage of babies allergic to cow’s milk baby formula is about 1.8 to 3.4% and at least two-thirds of children who are sensitive to cow’s milk will also be sensitive to goat’s milk. However, case in point, goat's milk allergy and cow’s milk intolerance are different conditions. Some children intolerant to the proteins found in cow’s milk, can ingest goat’s milk without any complications.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) concluded that cow’s milk based baby formula remains most similar to breast milk - the best source of nutrition for babies. The balance of the two milk proteins (whey and casein) are changed to make the formula whey-dominant, like human breast milk, using cow’s milk as a base,
Cow’s milk-based formula can be fed from birth with confidence (although breast feeding is still the best if possible) because all formula for newborns is required to provide the complete and total nutritional needs when fed at the correct levels.
As with all health matters, parents should consult their child's doctor. The above conclusions only apply to infants fed soy formula and not to children and adults who consume soy foods or soy supplements.
Last but not least, breast milk is still the best for you and your newborn and as much as possibly, should be fed exclusively to your newborn until 6 months old.
We also shared some tips on how to select the best milk bottle for your baby here!