Unsuitable Breastmilk Substitutes For Infants – 4 Things You Need To Know

Unsuitable Breastmilk Substitutes For Infants – 4 Things You Need To Know

Leading health organisations from around the world recommend exclusive breastfeeding for babies for the first 6 months, then for suitable complementary foods to be introduced and for breastfeeding to continue to two years and beyond.

Breastfeeding is the normal way to feed babies. Science doesn’t have to prove the importance of breastfeeding for mothers and babies.

Nonetheless, the body of scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the infant feeding recommendations of leading health organisations.

According to the World Health Organization, “Breast milk is the natural first food for babies, it provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life, and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one-third during the second year of life.”

But, what should an infant be fed if he doesn’t receive breastmilk?

Breastmilk Substitute Facts

Here are 4 things you need to know:

#1: Formula Is The Only Suitable Breastmilk Substitute

If a baby is not breastfed or doesn’t receive breastmilk, the only suitable substitute is infant formula which is designed for babies to one year of age. It’s not necessary to switch a baby to follow-on formula once he is 6 months old. And, once a baby is one year of age, any formula (including toddler formula) is not generally necessary.

You may have heard about evaporated milk being used to feed babies in the past. Evaporated milk was recommended in the early 1900s but we now know it is not suitable.

#2: Unmodified Animal Milks Are Not Suitable Breastmilk Substitutes

There are no unmodified animal milks that are suitable substitutes for breastmilk. This includes milk from a cow, goat or sheep.

Differences in protein and electrolyte concentrations are some of the reasons why these milks are not suitable breastmilk substitutes. Use of such milks can place extra strain on infants’ kidneys and lead to various nutrient deficiencies etc. Also, unpasteurised milks increase the risk of dangerous infections.

Pasteurised cows’ milk should not be given as a main drink to infants under 12 months of age. However, small amounts of cows’ milk can be mixed with solid foods (e.g. on cereal).

#3: Plant-Based Milks Are Not Suitable Breastmilk Substitutes

There are no plant-based milks that are suitable substitutes for breastmilk. This includes soy, rice, almond, coconut and oat milks. Use of such milks as a substitute for breastmilk can result in severe nutritional deficiencies.

#4: Non-Milk Drinks Are Not Suitable Breastmilk Substitutes

There are no non-milk drinks that are suitable to be used as a breastmilk substitute. This includes fruit juices, caffeinated and sugar-sweetend drinks. Use of such drinks as a breastmilk substitute could lead to severe nutritional deficiencies.

Young children drinking large amounts of fruit juice has been associated with a range of health problems such as gastrointestinal upsets, reduced appetite, failure to thrive, tooth decay and obesity. Caffeinated drinks such as tea contain tannins which reduce how well some minerals are absorbed in the body.

For infants who are not breastfed or receive breastmilk, formula is the only suitable substitute.

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Renee Kam is a mother of two daughters, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual' and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.


  1. This article is utter rubbish! It doesn’t take into consideration individual circumstances – some mothers have no choice but to formula feed their baby!

    1. I think you’ve misunderstood. It’s not saying not to have formula. It’s saying not to have these forms of milks for babies. There is a massive difference between formula and almond milk for example – an issue that was in the media because a mother who gave her baby almond milk (on advice of her doctor) ended up with scurvy.

    2. The article is saying that the only substitute for breast milk is formula. It is not saying anything bad about formula whatsoever.

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