Choosing an infant formula for your babe can feel overwhelming. Every parent wants to choose the best baby formula for their family. What should you consider when comparing the options? Here’s how to choose a good baby formula.
While we certainly acknowledge breast milk as the gold standard for infant nutrition, we also empower mamas to feed their babe in the way that makes the most sense for them. This is a personal decision.
For many moms, this means using baby formula, which we also fully support.
Our bottom line for feeding infants is: whatever is best for your baby is best!
If formula feeding makes the most sense for your family, here are some things to understand when choosing one.
How to use baby formula
Whether you breastfeed or formula-feed, these options (either one of them or a combination) should be baby’s sole source of nutrition for the first six months.
After that, you may spoon feed or do baby-led weaning to introduce your babe to solids and homemade foods.
At this time, continue to provide the majority of nutrition from breast milk or formula as needed, until babe can meet his nutrition needs from solids around 1 year or so.
Baby formula basics
Versions of baby formula have been around for over 100 years. But while formulations have evolved over time, the basic options of today haven’t changed much.
The main players in the baby formula game are:
- Cow’s milk formula: These contain dairy protein and have been altered to resemble breast milk as much as possible.
- Soy formula: These are naturally free from lactose and animal protein.
- Hypoallergenic, hydrolyzed, or amino acid formulas: These contain partially or fully digested protein and are free from common allergens. This can be helpful for allergies and digestive sensitivities, intolerance to soy and dairy, and other conditions.
All of these of course also come in various preparations, including powdered, concentrated, and ready-to-use.
Whichever option you choose, all infant formulas in the United States are required to meet strict federal regulations for nutrition.
This ensures that a formula provides all of the calories, protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals that an infant needs. Specifically, FDA outlines minimum amounts for 29 nutrients and maximum amounts for 9 of those nutrients.
Find more answers to infant formula regulatory FAQ on the FDA website.
Sweeteners and oils in baby formula
The main decision when it comes to ingredients are whether babe will do best tolerating dairy protein, soy protein, or a hypoallergenic/hydrolyzed formula.
When comparing formulas, many people have questions around added sweeteners and oils that may be used.
We often talk about looking at ingredients to minimize added sugar for babies.
When it comes to formulas, however, keep in mind that sometimes sweeteners are added for legitimate nutritional reasons.
For example, soy formulas lack enough carbohydrates to compare to breast milk (which is high in carbs from lactose) and meet requirements for this nutrient.
Therefore, it often contains added sweeteners like corn maltodextrin, corn syrup solids, or sucrose. This increases total carb content and provide a similar nutritional profile to breast milk.
Oils are also often added to baby formula to help meet requirements for fat composition.
You may see this is vegetable oils (soy, sunflower, palm, coconut).
Or, as ARA and DHA oil (often as Crypthecodinium cohnii or Mortierella alpina oil) to provide omega-3 fatty acids important for infant development.
Are there vegan baby formulas?
While soy is a plant-based food, most soy formulas contain some animal-derived ingredients, like supplemental DHA and vitamin D.
This prevents them from achieving fully vegan status. But we think this is a good option for predominantly plant-based babes who don’t have a soy allergy.
With the global increase in popularity of plant-based diets, we wouldn’t be surprised to see vegan baby formulas enter the stage in the future.
Homemade baby formula
You may have come across websites with recipes to make your own baby formula.
This can be tempting, especially for parents who are discouraged by the lack of vegan options or want more control over ingredients used.
Let us be very clear that we do not support homemade baby formula.
We strongly discourage trying this due to risk for inadvertent malnutrition and contamination.
Commercial formulas are tightly regulated and designed to provide all the nutrients baby needs for proper growth and development.
They are also made in sterile environments. This helps prevent risk of foodborne illness and infection that can be dangerous for immature immune systems.
Plus, most homemade formula recipes that circulate the internet are not created by healthcare experts.
They often don’t come with appropriate medical disclaimers and may use risky ingredients like unpasteurized milk.
For the best interest of your baby’s nourishment and safety, please wait to include complementary homemade shakes until he or she is old enough to begin weaning.
Which baby formula should you choose?
While we can’t answer this for you, we can tell you that the right decision is whichever formula you choose.
Consider what type of protein and preparation methods make the most sense for your family. Follow recommendations for formula use. Feel confident in your decision!
How do you determine the best baby formula? Choosing an infant formula for your babe can feel overwhelming. We hope this helps you decide how to choose a good baby formula.
Chime In: What infant formula(s) have worked well for your family?
If you enjoyed this post, we think you’ll find these helpful too:
Do you have any suggestions on soy free diary free formulas? We have tried Several but the taste is a no go for my babe… he’s now 81/2 months old and we are still struggling with nursing… would love to know your favourites!
I don’t know of any that are for infants; only pea-based toddler formulas. I had so many issues with nursing and supply and I know how frustrating it can be. Sending you lots of hugs!
Happy Baby Organic Sensitive has worked well for our daughter when breastfeeding didn’t work out. They don’t have it at our grocery store though, so we have to order it from Amazon, which was frustrating in the beginning when we didn’t know how much we’d need. I’d prefer not to use one made with cow’s milk (we don’t drink it otherwise), but it seemed like a good compromise for a year or until she’s weaned and able to eat mostly plant based foods like us. Thanks for all your helpful tips!
Glad you found an option that worked for you! And yes, there are more options online depending on where you live, but we know it’s frustrating to have to calculate how much you’ll need and when.
Kayla Lehrman says
We like Earths Best Organic Soy formula. Worked well for our son. It’s expensive but was recommended also by our plant based pediatrician. We plan on using it with our third baby coming soon too if needed.
I have listened to a few interviews with you and also just bought your book, thank you for the amazing information you put out in the world! It is thanks to you that I know to give vitamin D to our newborn when he arrives etc!
I am planning to breastfeed and have listened to both of your interviews with Simon Hill on formula etc for babies, but I was wondering if you could share your thoughts on this formula: https://sproutorganic.com.au/collections/infant-formula-toddler-drink/products/infant-formula
It seems to be a new organic vegan brand in Australia and it is made from pea protein and does not seem to have any syrups, which seems amazing. However, if you have time I would love to hear your thoughts on this one as it is not soy and seems to be the preferred brand here.
I understand that this may be too much to ask but it really is hard to work out what is best for the baby! 🙂 My plan is to breastfeed, but I want to have a tin of formula at home in case I need it.
Hi Tessa! That one seems to be good– our only hesitation is the rice-based products; we’d want to ensure that the formula is tested for arsenic levels
I want to add a soy formula as an additional supplement for my babe. I am curious though as to know how to introduce soy. Isn’t it more of an allergenic food? I eat it regularly, so I’m assuming my baby will be fine on it, but is there a specific way to test this?
Hi Emily, the only true way to test is in a doctors office but we recommend introducing soy like any other potential allergen– offering it, seeing how babe does and then if there is any reaction to discuss with your MD before testing again.