Curious about the best formula for babies? Everyone’s needs are different and there are many options on the table. We’ll take you through the details.
We all want what’s best for our babies — and how and what we feed them is a big part of that equation.
There are so many options out there — different brands, different formulations, and even different base ingredients.
It can be overwhelming.
Take a deep breath and have a read. We’ve got you.
Note: With the current formula shortage in the US, read here about what to do if you can’t find your usual brand. Babies on standard cows-milk or soy-based formulas should be able to switch without consulting a doctor. There may be a period of adjustment over a few days while your baby’s taste and tummy adjust.
In this article: 📝
- Why formula?
- What are the different kinds of baby formula?
- What is the best formula for babies?
- What baby formula is most recommended by pediatricians?
- What baby formula is the healthiest?
- What is the top-selling baby formula?
- Best formula for babies: key takeaways
You may be wondering why your baby needs formula at all.
Can’t they simply drink cow or goat milk, for example?
The problem is that their developing bellies are not yet able to digest these. In addition, these types of milk don’t contain the complete array of nutrients needed by a growing baby.
That’s not to say they can’t have some dairy products before then.
But the rule of thumb is that either breast or formula milk form their main source of nutrition for the first year.
What are the different kinds of baby formula?
All FDA-regulated formulas give your baby the essential vitamins and nutrients they need. But there are still some basic differences between them:
Cow’s milk-based formula
The most commonly used type of baby formula uses cow’s milk as a base — but it’s treated so that the protein becomes more digestible.
It also has added lactose (the sugar found in milk) to mimic breast milk.
The butterfat is removed, and vegetable oils and other fats are introduced to make it more easier on their developing systems.
These so-called “predigested” formulas might be recommended if your baby has specific allergies.
The protein content has been broken down into smaller proteins to be more easily digestible.
If your baby is lactose intolerant and is unable to digest cow’s milk, this might be a good option.
If your baby is premature or has specific health conditions, there are highly specialized options that your pediatrician might recommend.
Homemade formula is unfortunately not an option as it can lead to serious health problems and even death.
The AAP lists some resources on their site should you be unable to afford formula for a time.
What is the best formula for babies?
Every baby and family has different needs, so there’s no one clear winner here.
Some babies will have food sensitivities that require a certain type of milk as the base ingredient.
Others with reflux may need a different formulation gentler on their systems.
For some families, a powdered formula may be fine.
Others may prefer a liquid concentrate or the convenience of ready-to-feed bottles.
And your little one might just prefer one type over another or digest one better.
They might be happy with the first kind you try, or there may be a little trial and error involved.
But barring any special considerations or advice from your pediatrician, all formulas that are commercially available are regulated by the FDA.
This makes them safe and packed with the nutrition your baby needs.
What baby formula is most recommended by pediatricians?
Enfamil is marketed as the number one formula brand recommended by pediatricians and used by 80% of birthing hospitals.
But there are a lot of other options that are on par.
For the most part, your doctor will probably recommend you start with a cow’s milk protein-based formula and take it from there.
If so, you might be able to switch immediately from a standard formula to a hydrolyzed option that should be easier to digest.
If your baby is transitioning from a specialized formula, you may need to make the change gradually by mixing the two together — but your doctor will give you guidelines on this.
As you slowly phase out the old formula, you can keep an eye on any side effects and symptoms.
What baby formula is the healthiest?
Because the FDA regulates formula carefully, anything they’ve approved will be a healthy choice for your baby and nutritionally adequate.
Beyond this, the CDC recommends an iron-fortified formula, which most of those made in the US are.
And there are a few extra things you could look for like DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ARA (arachidonic acid), which are omega-3 and -6 fatty acids.
These additives are thought by some scientists to improve brain development, vision, and growth in infants, but the research is not conclusive on this one.
Similarly, some formulas have added pro and prebiotics to support immune health.
The research is also young on this one, but it does look promising.
But the bottom line is that any FDA-approved formula that works with your baby’s dietary requirements or allergies is a healthy choice.
If in doubt, check in with your doctor, and remember the more expensive formulas are not necessarily better — they may just be better branded.
What is the top-selling baby formula?
It is also consistently rated as one of the best formula by both mothers and market researchers.
Pure Bliss Similac Infant Formula is another top seller with 5-star reviews.
Best formula for gassy babies
These partially hydrolyzed formulas are designed to be easier to digest.
Another partially hydrolyzed but budget-friendly option is Parent’s Choice Tender Non-GMO Formula.
Gerber Good Start GentlePro is also highly rated for babies with sensitive bellies.
Best formula for breastfed babies
The same goes here — unless your baby has specific health concerns and/or is premature, FDA-approved formulas contain all they need to be healthy.
Enfamil Enspire, while a little more pricey, claims to be the brand’s closest-to-breastmilk option.
It is the only US brand to contain lactoferrin, one of the proteins found in colostrum, and other ingredients like DHA.
Best organic formula
Earth’s Best Organic Dairy Infant Formula often comes up tops in terms of organic formulas.
Fortified with iron, prebiotics, lutein for eye development, and DHA and ARA, it ticks all the boxes.
It is also made from organic cow’s milk and contains no GMOs, artificial growth hormones, or corn syrup solids.
Best soy formula
Enfamil ProSoBee Infant Formula is often recommended for babies with specific dietary issues.
It’s also vegan for plant-based families.
Dairy and lactose-free, it has no artificial colors, sweeteners, or flavors.
Best hypoallergenic formula
Neocate Infant is a great option if your baby has a cow’s milk or other food allergy or gastrointestinal conditions.
It’s free of GMOs, dairy, and soy oil and contains DHA and ARA.
But it’s important that it’s only used under the supervision of your pediatrician.
Best formula for babies with a milk protein allergy
Lactose-free Enfamil Nutramigen is a well-recommended option.
It’s hypoallergenic and claims to reduce crying dramatically within 24 hrs.
Best for constipation
Gerber Good Start SoothePro Formula, like it says on the tin, aims to ease uncomfortable poops!
Loved by mamas the world over, it is a good option to try if your baby is struggling with constipation.
It also receives good reviews in general so it could be a good place to start.
Best formula for babies: key takeaways
Most babies do just fine with formulas made from cow’s milk.
Proteins can be intact or, to aid digestion for some babies, fully broken down.
The FDA monitors all formulas sold legally in the US.
They are all nutritionally adequate for your baby, though some contain extra nutrients which may be beneficial.
Generic options are as complete and nutritious as those with more recognizable branding and can be far less expensive.
Some periods of fussiness and gassiness are normal with babies.
Chopping and changing formulas too often is also not a great idea, so when in doubt, chat with your doctor about your concerns.
And if you’re looking to hear from other mamas doing this thing at the same time as you, chat to them over at Peanut.
We don’t have to do this alone.