Is Goat’s Milk Formula Closest To Breastmilk?
Lately, there’s been an increased interest in goat’s milk formula.
Some mothers are even being told that goat’s milk formula is closest to breastmilk.
Is there any truth to this? If not, which milk is closest to breastmilk?
As you would well know, breastmilk is the normal food for babies.
And you probably know every mammal makes milk perfectly suited to the needs of its young.
From the tiniest marsupial to the blue whale, mother’s milk varies hugely in its composition of fats, proteins and other essentials for growing healthy babies.
Most commonly, this is cow’s milk; however, goat’s milk is also available.
And although not actually a ‘milk’, soy-bean liquid can also be modified to produce soy formula, which might be suitable for some babies.
Why Are These Particular Milks Selected As The Basis For Formula?
You might be surprised to discover that these milks are not selected because they are similar to human milk, but simply because they are easily available.
When our ancestors first domesticated herd animals, it wasn’t very long before they worked out how to milk the females, and collect the milk.
Nomadic people would often use the milk of their transport animals – horses, donkeys, and camels. Subsistence farmers turned to cows, goats and sheep. Cheese, butter and yoghurt soon became part of the human diet and eventually, dairy herds were farmed, as much for their milk as for their meat and skins.
However, even the animals closer to humans – the great apes and other primates – produce milk which is significantly different from that of the human species. This is probably a good thing. Farming these intelligent animals, and milking them, would be problematic – both ethically and practically!
So, that leaves us with milk from herd animals. Of these, only milk from cows and goats is commercially modified and sold as infant formula for human beings.
When it comes to choosing between cow’s and goat’s milk formula for babies under 12 months, many people are told either one or the other is closer to human milk, or otherwise better suited to human babies.
But is there actually a formula that is closest to breastmilk? Let’s look at 3 important facts.
#1: All Formulas Are Similar
All infant formulas available in Australia are regulated by the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. The basic components of any infant formula are proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.
Although there are slight differences between the various formulas, the composition of formula must be in accordance with the regulatory framework set by the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. Therefore, the basic nutritional make-up of formulas is very similar.
Most infant formulas start with a base of cows’ milk. Added in is lactose or other carbohydrates, vegetable and other oils, vitamins and minerals. Soy formulas are based on soy protein from soya beans, with added vegetable and other oils, and a carbohydrate source (e.g. maltose, maltodextrin or glucose polymers).
Goat’s milk formulas are based on goat’s milk, with added lactose or other carbohydrates, vegetable and other oils, vitamins and minerals. Other infant formulas contain no milk components at all. These are called elemental formulas, and they are based on synthetic free amino acids (the building blocks of proteins).
#2: Formula Does Not Have What Breastmilk Has
While the composition of human milk is used as a basis for making infant formula, infant formula lacks many factors present in human milk. It’s estimated that there are more than 100 substances in breastmilk that are not found in formula. For example, formula doesn’t contain living cells, cholesterol, enzymes, and a wide range of other bioactive substances.
Also, breastmilk changes throughout the course of lactation (and even within the course of a feed) to meet the baby’s needs at the time. Formula stays the same. The breastmilk a mother makes for a premature baby is different from the breastmilk a mother makes for a baby born full term.
#3: No One Formula Is ‘Better’ Than Another
According to Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), there’s little evidence that, for full-term healthy babies who are not breastfed, any one formula is better than another. The NHMRC indicates, however, that it’s preferable to use a formula with a lower protein level, to reduce the risk of obesity and being overweight.
For babies who are not breastfed or mixed fed, the NHMRC recommends that parents “Use cow’s milk-based infant formulas until 12 months of age…. Special formulas may be used under medical supervision for infants who cannot take cow’s milk-based products for specific medical, cultural or religious reasons”.
The NHMRC also indicates there has been little research done on goat’s milk formula: “Compared to cow’s milk formulas, there have been fewer studies evaluating the safety and efficacy of goat’s milk formulas…. The use of goat’s milk formula is not recommended”.
Due to the vast differences in composition between human milk and infant formula, it’s impossible to compare them effectively.
However, the following is a breakdown of the average macronutrient composition (in g/100mL) of human milk, compared with cows’ milk formula and goats’ milk formula, according to the information contained in the Infant Milks in the UK: A Practical Guide for Health Professionals (2014) document.
Gross Composition Of Human Milk, Cow’s Milk Formula And Goat’s Milk Formula
In terms of protein content, the animal with the highest percentage in its milk is the eastern cottontail rabbit. The milk has around 15 percent protein (15g/100mL).
- Human milk 0.9 to 1.2
- Cow’s milk formula 1.3 to 1.4
- Goat’s milk formula 1.3
Slight variations in content can occur between different formulas sold in different countries. For example, according to the NHMRC, “protein content in infant formulas available in Australia is in the range of 1.3 – 2.0 g/100mL, with goat’s milk formula at the high end of this range.”
The major proteins in milk are casein and whey. Whey protein is a fast-digesting protein, and casein is a slow-digesting protein. Different milks contain different whey:casein ratios.
- Human milk. The whey:casein ratio in human milk changes during the course of lactation. In early lactation, it’s 90:10; in mature milk, it’s 60:40; and in late lactation, it’s 50:50.
- Cow’s milk formula 60:40
- Goat’s milk formula 20:80
Lactose is a form of sugar found in many milks, including human. Australia’s Tammar wallaby produces one of the most sugar-rich milks for its joeys. At around 14 percent sugar, it has double the amount present in human milk and is one of the highest levels among mammals.
However, very little of that sugar is lactose – a reason why orphaned joeys must never be fed cow’s milk. It is mostly high levels of other complex sugars called oligosaccharides – also found in human milk.
- Human milk 6.7 to 7.8
- Cow’s milk formula 5 to 7.3
- Goat’s milk formula 7.4
Fat content in milk is essential for life – especially for Hooded Seals! Their mothers produce the fattiest known milk, with more than 60 percent fat.
In just four days between birth and weaning, these seal babies double their birthweight in time to brave the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. Most of that weight is in fat stores!
- Human milk 3.2 to 3.6
- Cow’s milk formula 3.2 to 3.6
- Goat’s milk formula 3.4
Energy estimates in kcal/100mL range from 65 to 70 for human milk, 66-68 for cow’s milk formula, and 66 for goat’s milk formula.
In conclusion, there really isn’t any formula that is closest to the breastmilk made by human mothers. Human breastmilk is unique. It’s impossible for any manufacturer to recreate it, and misleading for them to claim it’s even close.