cow's milk

Last reviewed 06/2022

If the mother is unable to breast feed then cow's milk, usually modified in some way, may be used instead as a feed for the baby.

There are some disadvantages with the use of cow's milk instead of human milk:

  • there is a higher protein content in cow's milk, especially curd protein or casein, and these may be difficult for the baby to digest and lead to bowel obstruction
  • cow's milk has a higher fat and phosphorus content and this may cause hypocalcaemia by chelation, and result in and fitting, especially in the first two weeks of life
  • there is a higher sodium content in cow's milk and this may lead to hypernatraemia with subsequent fitting and brain damage. This is more likely to occur when the baby has an infection such as gastro enteritis
  • the baby may have an allergy to cow's milk; this is unlikely to present until later
  • cow's milk has a low vitamin C content in comparison to human breast milk; a child fed on unfortified cow's milk may become deficient.
  • formula milk costs money. This is of concern in the developing world where advertising makes artificial feeds appear "Western" and hence safe
  • mothers in the developed world often make powdered milk too concentrated, in the belief that more is better. This may result in hypernatraemia in the infant. In the developing world the temptation is the reverse, to make the milk last longer, resulting in undernutrition.