We get it: there are so many different types of baby formula! Soy formula, cow’s milk formula, read-to-feed formula, hydrolyzed formula… Which is best?
And you may be looking for the best baby formula for a variety of reasons.
Some moms use formula to supplement the milk baby gets from breastfeeding.
Others need to find the best infant formula to send to daycare when they return to work.
Some either have a baby who struggles to latch or are having difficulty with their milk supply.
And some might have decided that breastfeeding just isn’t something they want to do.
No matter the reason you’re looking for formula, we know you all want the same: the best formula available for your baby.
And so we’ve enlisted the expertise of Registered Toddler Dietitian and Nutritionist (RDN) Kacie Barnes – founder of Mama Knows Nutrition – to give you the lowdown on all things baby formula.
In this article: 📝
- What are the different types of baby formulas?
- How do I know if formula isn’t agreeing with baby?
- What type of formula is best for infants?
- How do you pick formulas?
- Can babies have 2 different formulas?
What are the different types of baby formulas?
Before choosing a formula, you’ll first want to decide which type of formula is right for your baby.
There are four main types to choose from:
Cow’s milk-based formula
Most formulas you’ll see on the shelves at the supermarket feature cow’s milk as the main ingredient.
However, unlike the milk you’d pour out of a gallon, the milk in these formulas has been modified.
These modifications make it easier for infants, who don’t have stomachs that are as developed as an adult’s, to digest the formula.
Unless there’s a specific health or religious reason, your baby’s pediatrician will most likely recommend using a cow’s milk-based formula.
“Most babies do very well on this type of formula,” explains Barnes, “and there usually isn’t a need to change to other ones except in cases of an allergy/intolerance, a special medical situation, or if you prefer a non-cow’s milk protein source (like goat).
Hydrolyzed formulas can sometimes be used for babies who cannot tolerate a cow’s milk-based or soy formula.
They are also useful for those who have a diagnosed allergy to the proteins casein and whey (CMPA) – the proteins found in cow’s milk.
The protein in these formulas has been hydrolyzed, or broken down, into smaller proteins that are designed to be easier for a baby to digest.
“It’s not necessary to opt for a hydrolyzed formula unless indicated by your pediatrician, recommends Barnes.
“They are often much more expensive, and there is less of a supply of them (because there is less need/demand for them due to their specialized nature).
But, if your child is having issues with a formula they are on, your pediatrician can help you determine if a hydrolyzed formula might be a good option for your child.”
Your baby’s pediatrician will likely recommend a soy formula if your baby seems to have trouble digesting the lactose in a cow’s milk-based formula.
Unilke cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA), lactose intolerance has to do with the milk sugar found in cow’s milk.
This formula type is also recommended to families who do not eat animal products and do not want their baby drinking a formula made from animal products.
Of who have a personal preference to avoid cow’s or goat’s milk entirely.
Soy formulas include soy and glucose, sucrose, or another carbohydrate.
However, as you weigh the different types of baby formula it’s worth knowing that some studies have shown that soy formulas do have higher concentration of certain heavy metals such as cadmium.
Cow’s milk formulas tend to have the lowest.
If you want to know more, the American Academy of Pediatrics have a great guide to minimizing your baby’s exposure to heavy metals, the
If your baby has very complex medical needs or was born very early, your baby’s pediatrician may recommend a specialized formula.
Formula options vary based on the medical needs of your child, and you would definitely want to consult with the pediatrician to determine the specific needs of your baby.
They can help you make sure the selection you make will meet all the specific dietary needs of your child.
How do I know if formula isn’t agreeing with baby?
Some babies may have a milk allergy or an inability to digest lactose.
A cow’s milk-based formula should be avoided if either of these is an issue.
If you believe your baby has developed an intolerance or an allergy to cow’s milk, you’ll want to contact your pediatrician right away so they can help you select a new formula.
Here are the most common signs of a milk allergy to look out for:
- Excessive crying after a feeding
- A scaly rash on the skin
- Wheezing or coughing
- Blood in their poop
- Bluish skin tone and/or trouble breathing
- Swelling around the mouth and throat
- Stuffy nose
- Watery eyes
Another tricky sign to watch out for is frequent spitting up or vomiting.
“Spitting up is normal and even normal spit ups can look like a lot more than they are”, explains Barnes.
“If you can tell these are accompanied by discomfort (not happy spitters) OR are more of a vomit-like motion instead of just regurgitation, keep an eye out for the other signs mentioned and talk to your child’s doctor.”
What type of formula is best for infants?
There is no one-size-fits-all “best formula for babies” because there are many factors to take into consideration as you find the right fit for your child and your situation.
Your baby’s pediatrician is a great resource for helping you select which type of formula to feed.
As Barnes points out, “the decision to be on specialized formula should always be made with your child’s doctor.
They can assess symptoms and point you in the direction of the right type of specialized formula based on your child’s needs.
What works for one child may not be what another child needs.
There isn’t a ranking of “best formula” per se, but just what is most compatible for your child’s body in helping them grow and thrive.”
What’s better: liquid formula or powder?
Both liquid and powder baby formula contain what your child nutritionally needs.
Generally speaking, liquid tends to come with a higher price tag but only because it is already prepared for you and takes the work out of getting bottles ready.
Powdered formula can still have the nutrition your little one needs, it just takes a little more preparation.
Which formula milk is best for weight gain?
Hydrolyzed, specialized, and cow milk formulas can all be beneficial if your little one needs to pile on the pounds.
“All formulas have the necessary calories in them for infant growth and development,” explains Barnes, “there isn’t a “best” one here.”
“Your doctor will be a great resource for helping you track your child’s weight gain (according to their growth chart) and suggest what might need to be done to address any discrepancies.”
What formula is best for colic and gas?
Hydrolyzed formulas may be able to help with a gassy or colicky baby, as they’re easier to digest.
But it depends on the cause of the discomfort.
“There are certain strategies that may help eliminate some of these issues,” says Barnes, “like staying upright after feedings or it could be that they have an allergy or intolerance.”
Again, it’s worth checking in with your doctor, as it may be a sign of a milk allergy.
How do you pick formulas?
So how do you know which formula is right for your little one?
Well, there are a few things to do so you can make your decision:
Talk with your pediatrician
Again, the first thing you’ll want to do before choosing a formula to use with your baby is to talk with their pediatrician.
Pediatricians are experienced and know about the specific nutritional needs of newborns and babies.
They can guide you in selecting the formula that will best meet the developmental needs of your little one.
Compare the different styles of formula
There are three different styles of formula: powdered, concentrated, and ready-to-feed.
Each has its own pros and cons to consider:
To turn powdered formula into a bottle for your baby, you’ll need to measure out the formula and mix it with water.
This type of formula is typically less expensive than the other two types, but it isn’t as convenient to prepare when you’re away from home.
Also, powdered formula typically isn’t recommended for premature babies because it isn’t sterile.
Concentrated formula is similar to powdered formula in that you mix it with water, but it is less messy since you don’t need to measure out the powder.
A downside of this option is that it is relatively expensive and an open container is only good for 48 hours in the fridge once it has been opened.
Ready-to-feed baby formula is the most convenient option; however, it is also the most expensive.
As the name suggests, ready-to-feed formula is pre-mixed and ready to give to your baby right away.
You can pour it into a bottle, or there are even small bottle options that you can simply attach a nipple to.
Ready-to-feed formula is sterile, making it the safest option for young babies, especially those born prematurely.
Consider how easy it will be to get the formula
The ease of getting the formula you select is another factor you should take into account.
If a formula you’re interested in is only available at a few stores or through an online order, you may want to look for a different option.
Worrying about whether the formula you ordered will be delivered on time can unneeded stress during the already stressful time of dealing with a newborn.
Cost is another important consideration.
Formula is not cheap and your baby will go through it quickly.
Choose a formula that will fit within your budget since you’ll need to continue purchasing it for the first year of your baby’s life.
You should be able to find budget-friendly options that will still help you meet the nutritional needs of your baby.
How easy is the formula to prepare
Especially if you’ll be traveling or making formula on the go frequently, you may want to consider how easy it will be to get the formula mixed and ready for your baby.
While ready-to-feed formula is usually the easiest option, you don’t need to rule out powdered formulas.
You can find formula dispensers where you can pre-measure the amount of formula you’ll need for each bottle.
When you’re ready to make your baby’s bottle, simply dump the contents of one section into a bottle filled with the right amount of water, mix it, and it will be ready for your baby.
Can babies have 2 different formulas?
Once you’ve started using a baby formula, you should try to stick with the same kind or brand, when possible.
This will prevent your baby and their stomach from needing to keep adjusting to a new formula.
Of course, if your baby is showing signs of an allergy or other intolerance to the formula you selected, that would be a reason to talk to the pediatrician and try something different.
There you have it ‒ everything you need to know when it comes to choosing the right type of baby formula for your little one.
Remember, your baby’s pediatrician can answer any other questions you may have and provide guidance to help you choose the best formula to meet yours and your baby’s needs.
And if you want to ask other moms what baby formula they recommend, why not join us on Peanut?
We think you’ll fit right in.