Baby milks – the most natural alternative to breast milk

Even though the best nutrition for babies’ healthy development is breast milk, not every mother is able to continue breastfeeding for 6 months as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO, 2009). However, advanced scientific knowledge and gentle processing provide a close alternative to breast milk – baby milks, which are adapted to the special requirements at this age.

Characteristics of
baby milks

Breastfeeding provides the best nutrition for a baby. However, if a mother is not able to breastfeed, baby milks are the best alternative. They differ from other types of milk by supplying all the essential nutrients, in balance with all the necessary nutritional requirements of babies in different age phases. 
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Baby milk bottle in baby's hand

Gently processed milk

Due to children’s special nutritional needs, the processing of baby milk requires extraordinary care. Science shows what is best for conserving the milk in its most natural form possible. In particular, timely processing and gentle heating processes are essential for receiving fresh, high quality, and gently processed milk. 
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  • Characteristics of baby milks

    Baby milks are undisputedly the best alternative if breastfeeding is not possible because only baby milks can support the special nutritional requirements of a baby. This also implies that non-adapted or untreated cow’s milk, any other milk of mammals (e.g. goat’s milk), plant-based “milk” from soya or almonds, or home-made mixtures, are not suitable as a baby’s sole source of nutrition (Koletzko et al, 2013). In contrast to the afore-mentioned types of milk, baby milk is specifically composed for age-adapted nutrition for healthy body and mind.

    In general, two main age-related types of baby milks exist: infant milk is suitable from birth onwards, while follow-on milk is developed for babies of 6 months or older. For both, cow’s milk builds the foundation. 

    The terms infant formula or follow-on formula also appear. The difference between formula and milk is that recipes for formula are not based on cow’s milk, but on hydrolysed protein, which ensures special nutritional requirements are met, for example in the case of allergy risk. 

    Cow’s milk as the foundation of infant and follow-on milk  contains two types of proteins – whey protein and, predominantly, casein. However, baby milks themselves are balanced out in whey protein and casein – resulting in a ratio more favourable for whey protein, resembling that which is found in breast milk. To imitate breast milk as closely as possible and to have all essential nutrients integrated, lactose, selected vegetable oils, as well as a mixture of vitamins and minerals, are also added  (EFSA, 2014).

    Further specific nutrients complete the nutritional profile of baby milk – in particular, those which are suitable right from birth onwards therefore are the sole source of nourishment in the first months of life. Prebiotic fibre made of natural milk sugar lactose – galacto-oligosaccharides  (GOSs)  or human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) – promote the development of healthy intestinal flora. Nucleotides  support the immune system and the maturation of the gut, and the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) Omega-3 and Omega-6 are important for cognitive development and the development of eyesight (Koletzko et al, 2008; Ben et al, 2008; Brunser et al, 1994).

    Since baby milk is composed of particularly valuable ingredients, it should be processed with care and as gently as possible. Read more about it under "Gently processed milk".

  • Gently processed milk

    Since baby milk is composed of particularly valuable ingredients, it should be processed with care and as gently as possible  right from the beginning. Gentle heating is especially important as it minimises adverse protein denaturation as well as anti-nutritional and potentially toxic products. In this way, essential proteins in their good bioavailable and natural form can be preserved (Birlouez-Aragon et al, 2002).  

    Heat treatment of milk follows two main objectives: to ensure a good microbiological quality and long storage. Ultra high temperature (UHT) treatment allows longer storage time than more gentle pasteurisation. However, various systems and technologies associated with different time-temperature profiles vary substantially depending on the process, meaning that variations within UHT treatment and pasteurisation exist. Gentle versions of UHT treatment guarantee safe products and, at the same time, preserve natural structures.

    With a decreasing number of initial microorganisms, gentle heating at more favourable temperatures becomes progressively more important. This can be achieved with timely processing of the fundamental raw material – cow’s  milk – to maintain freshness and to minimise the growth of adverse microorganisms. This clearly improves the quality of the milk, providing gently processed milk.

    One of the ways to measure quality in milk is via the FAST index (Fluorescence of Advanced Maillard products and Soluble Tryptophan index) as an indicator for Maillard reactions and protein denaturation. The FAST index is a highly sensitive and innovative indicator of the impact of heat based on fluorescence measurements of: i) tryptophan (an amino acid representing the native protein); and ii) the accumulation of fluorescent Maillard products (the more meaningful advanced steps) (Desic and Birlouez-Aragon, 2011). Therefore, the FAST method globally evaluates the effect of heat and gives an estimate of the nutritional quality of the milk including digestibility (Lindberg et al, 1998). This means that potential digestive discomfort due to indigested protein is prevented. Instead, protein – the important vital building block needed for healthy growth – is availbale in the best form possible. The lower the FAST index, the better is the milk quality and protein digestibility because the natural protein structure is preserved. 

    FAST index =  (antinutritional Maillard products )/(preserved valuable protein)


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