• Baby Food
  • Is Formula More Filling than Breast Milk?

    by Agustina Fernandez July 09, 2024 7 min read

    is formula more filling than breast milk

    Ensuring babies get the right amount of calories from formula and breastmilk is integral for their healthy growth and development.

    As a parent, this concern is likely at the forefront of your mind, especially if your baby was born prematurely, had a low birth weight, or if your breastfed baby begins to gain weight rapidly after switching to formula.

    If you are looking for the best way to feed your baby, we are here to answer the question, "Is formula more filling than breast milk?" and explain what the answer means for your feeding journey.

    Does Formula Fill Babies Up More?

    In short, yes. Baby formula can be more filling because infant formula takes longer to digest.

    Formulas may also provide prolonged satiety due to the milk's consistency, protein composition, and presence of added complex carbohydrates like starch that break down more slowly.

    However, just because infant formula is more filling does not mean it is nutritionally superior. Despite this difference in digestion, breast milk remains the optimal source of nutrition for babies.

    The nutrients in breast milk are absorbed more quickly and efficiently, ensuring a readily available supply of essential nutrients that are easy for your little one to digest.

    Breast Milk Composition: What is Breast Milk Made of?

    Breast milk is a complex and ever-changing fluid packed with all the essential nutrients a growing baby needs. Breast milk contains the following components:

    what is breast milk made of

    Carbohydrates: Mainly lactose, which provides energy.

    Proteins: Including casein and whey, which support growth and development.

    Fats: Crucial for brain development and energy.

    Hormones: Breast milk contains a potent cocktail of various hormones. Research often focuses on how certain hormones contribute to appetite and energy regulation, while others, like oxytocin, may help initiate the bond between mother and child.

    Beneficial Bacteria & Prebiotics: Promote a healthy gut microbiome.

    Vitamins & Minerals: Essential for overall health and development.

    Amino Acids: Building blocks of proteins.

    Antibodies: Helps protect and fight against infections and support immunity.

    Foremilk vs Hindmilk: Lactose Imbalance

    Feedings begin with thin, watery milk before transitioning to richer, more satiating milk from deep within the breast, where the fatty milk cells are stored.

    foremilk vs hindmilk

    The types of milk are referred to as the following:

    • Foremilk: The milk at the beginning of a nursing session. It's lower in fat and higher in lactose.

    • Hindmilk: The milk at the end of a nursing session. It's richer in fat, providing more calories and satiety.

    When breastfeeding, babies may experience lactose imbalance. This occurs when a baby consumes more foremilk than hindmilk or through overfeeding, causing them to intake more lactose than their tiny body can digest.

    The result is significant digestive troubles such as painful gas, explosive stools, and overall discomfort after meals.

    To avoid this, it is best to nurse for at least 10 to 15 minutes to ensure that your little one has enough time for a balanced feeding.

    It may also be beneficial to check your baby's latch and try different feeding positions to help manage your milk flow.

    What is in Baby Formula?

    Baby formula ingredients can vary based on the type (cow, goat, specialty, or vegan milk), brand and country version. Formulas usually contain the following.

    what is in baby formula

    Carbohydrates: Carbs like lactose, maltodextrin, or starch supply energy.

    Proteins: Primarily whey and casein, are crucial for growth and development.

    Vitamins & Minerals: Formula contains heaps of nourishing vitamins, such as vitamins A, B, C, and D. Various minerals are also added, including iron and calcium.

    Enzymes & Amino Acids: Added to support healthy digestion and protein synthesis.

    Fatty Acids: Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids are important for brain and eye development.

    Prebiotics & Probiotics: Found in some formulas to support a healthy gut microbiome.

    Formula vs Breast Milk

    When deciding between breastfeeding and formula feeding it comes down to personal preference and your baby's health and dietary needs.

    Breastfeeding vs formula offers benefits such as immune support and bonding opportunities between mother and child.

    However, the benefits of formula feeding, like the fact that anyone can feed your baby, may appeal to parents who cannot or choose not to breastfeed.

    The good news is that both breast milk and formula provide adequate nutrition for babies when used appropriately.

    Organic baby formulas, in particular, are expertly formulated to mimic the nutritional profile of breast milk as closely as possible for parents wondering what formula is closest to breast milk.

    Protein Composition

    The protein composition in breast milk vs formula can differ slightly. As for breast milk, the whey/casein ratio fluctuates based on the stage of lactation.

    In early lactation, the ratio is higher in whey proteins, while in mature milk, it becomes more balanced, and in late lactation, the casein content increases.

    Alternatively, the whey/casein ratio is designed to be consistent in most baby formulas unless they're staged.

    Maltodextrin and Starch

    Certain baby formulas contain maltodextrin and starch to supply more energy and thicken the milk. Starch creates a creamy, smooth texture similar to breast milk, which can help hungry babies feel satisfyingly full.

    However, not all formulas contain these ingredients, so checking the label is important.

    Calories in Breast Milk vs Baby Formula

    You now know that formula can be more filling than breast milk, but you might still be wondering, "Does formula have more calories than breast milk?".

    Normal breast milk contains around 19-22 calories per ounce or approximately 60-75 calories per 100 ml.

    In comparison, standard cow's milk, goat's milk, or special formulas generally have about 20 calories per ounce or 65-70 calories per 100 ml.

    Special high-calorie formulas, designed specifically for premature babies, can contain up to 30 calories per ounce.

    Research Insights for Moms: What You Might Not Know

    It's normal for parents to worry about their little ones gaining enough weight. Here, we address some commonly asked questions about formula feeding and weight gain.

    Do Formula-Fed Babies Gain Weight Quickly and Risk Infant Obesity?

    Research demonstrates that formula may cause some babies to gain too much weight too quickly from overfeeding.

    One study found that "infants who consumed higher volumes of formula milk at 3 months gained more body weight and length in later infancy than breastfed infants."

    Thankfully, the risks of overfeeding can be managed by accurately measuring formula and responding appropriately to your baby's hunger cues.

    Research suggests that using a larger bottle for formula feeds can result in quicker weight gain for infants under 6 months old. This supports the finding that some parents overfeed their babies unknowingly.

    So, make sure to monitor their intake and weight closely, especially throughout the first year.

    Can Formula Aid Underweight or Premature Babies?

    Alternatively, if you want your baby to gain weight due to being underweight or born prematurely, then feeding them formula may seem like a practical solution.

    In this case, research seems to suggest that formula feeding may provide short-term benefits, stating that "in preterm and low birth weight infants, enteral feeding with formula milk compared with unfortified term human milk resulted in a greater rate of growth in the short term." However, researchers have failed to find positive conclusive effects on longer-term growth.

    Is Ready-to-Feed Formula Better for Preventing Overfeeding and Rapid Weight Gain?

    Anecdotal reports from seasoned parents suggest that ready-to-feed formula may help prevent overfeeding since it essentially eliminates the risk of human error when preparing a feed, but does research support this claim?

    A study based on a randomized trial found that by 6 months, 6/19 babies fed powdered formula had become overweight, compared to only 1/19 who were fed ready-to-feed formula, suggesting that errors in the formula preparation could be to blame.

    Tips to Avoid Overfeeding Your Baby

    The best way to manage the weight of formula-fed babies is to avoid overfeeding them. Here are some best practices to follow.

    Always Follow the Instructions and Feeding Table of Your Baby's Formula

    Follow the preparation instructions from your formula manufacturer to a T because research suggests that inaccurately measuring formula "can lead to altered infant growth and increased obesity.

    How to Tell if Baby is Still Hungry After Feeding

    Watching for hunger cues from your baby, such as rooting (turning their head side to side), smacking or licking lips, opening the mouth, being fussy, and pointing or looking at food, can help to avoid overfeeding.

    Keep in Mind Our Formula Alternatives Closest to Breastmilk

    A2 milk proteins are naturally found in human, goat, and some cow's milk, making them a key component of formulas designed to closely mimic breast milk.

    closest formulas to breastmilk

    You can find A2 proteins and 100% lactose in Holle Goat Stage 1 and Holle A2 Stage 1.

    These formulas contain organic and Demeter ingredients and easy-to-digest qualities that more closely resemble breast milk.


    Here are a few answers related to the query: is formula more filling than breast milk?

    Do Babies Eat Less Breast Milk than Formula?

    Breastfed babies often regulate their milk intake, naturally stopping to feed once full. On the contrary, formula-fed babies are given specific volumes of formula, which can cause them to consume more.

    Breastfed babies also usually take smaller, more frequent feedings than formula-fed infants, so the amount they are consuming tends to balance out.

    Does Formula Take Longer to Digest than Breast Milk?

    Yes, breast milk can be easier and faster for babies to digest because it contains less protein and special enzymes called lipase and amylase that aid digestion.

    Virtually all of the protein in breast milk is digested and absorbed into your baby's body, whereas about half of the protein in infant formula is excreted as waste.

    Do Babies Get Hungry More often with Breast Milk?

    Yes, since breast milk is digested more rapidly, babies may feel hungry sooner. This highlights the gentle and easily digestible nature of breast milk.

    Moreover, because breast milk is digested quickly, all the important nutrients are delivered to your baby more efficiently, helping to support healthy growth and development.

    Breast milk typically takes roughly 1.5-2 hours for babies to digest, while formula takes approximately 3-4 hours.


    Please be aware that this information is based on general trends in babies, and it is not medical advice. Your doctor should be your first source of information and advice when considering any changes to your child’s formula and when choosing your child’s formula. Always consult your pediatrician before making any decisions about your child’s diet or if you notice any changes in your child.

    Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby because breast milk provides your child with all the essential nutrients they need for growth and development. Please consult your pediatrician if your child requires supplemental feeding.

    Agustina Fernandez
    Agustina Fernandez

    Dr. Agustina Fernandez earned her medical degree from the prestigious Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Argentina. With a deep-rooted passion for pediatrics, Dr. Fernandez is currently on the path to specializing in children's healthcare. Recently, she has delved into the vital field of infant nutrition. Her research interests include breastfeeding, infant formula, and baby food in little ones’ formative years. Dr. Fernandez's commitment to this area of study underscores her dedication to ensuring the health and well-being of children from their earliest days.

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