Formula milk, also known as baby formula or infant formula, is usually made from cows’ milk that has been treated to make it more suitable for babies. Formula replaces mother’s milk when a baby is not breastfed.
All babies need milk to help them grow. Some babies don’t drink enough from their mother’s milk, so we make this special formula from cows’ milk that has been treated to make it more suitable for babies.
What is The Closest Formula to Breast Milk?
Enfamil’s Enspire is the brand’s closest formula to breast milk, thanks to the inclusion of proteins found in colostrum, like lactoferrin. (In fact, Enspire is the first and only infant formula in the U.S. to include lactoferrin as an ingredient, according to the brand.)
Formula milk is made from cow’s milk or soya and other ingredients that have been mixed together to make it more suitable for babies.
Formula Milk is available in different types of packaging:- 1. Ready-to-feed bottles 2. Liquid Concentrate 3. Powder 4. Single serve sachet 5. Mixing pouch 6. Sachets with water
Milk formula for babies is the best replacement milk for infants when their mothers cannot breastfeed.
This is a great product for your baby, try it today and see the results.
Best Milk for Baby to Gain Weight
Editor’s note: Because of supply chain issues and recalls, many formulas are currently sold out, including several of the picks highlighted below. For a list of formulas currently in stock, plus tips for switching brands, see our article Coping With the Baby Formula Shortage? How to Swap and Find In-Stock Brands, updated every weekday.
Whether you’re strictly formula-feeding or nursing and supplementing with formula, you want to put the best ingredients in your baby’s tummy for her growth and development. But with so many different options on the market, choosing the best baby formula can be overwhelming.
There are lots of different formula brands, types and even forms of infant formula available. Ultimately, there’s no one “right” formula for your little one — what’s best for your baby may be different from what’s best for other families.
What is baby formula and why do you need it?
“Baby formulas are manufactured nutrition products made specifically for infants (and some toddlers as well, but mostly for infants),” says Steven Abelowitz, M.D., F.A.A.P., a pediatrician and regional medical director of Coastal Kids Pediatrics in Newport Beach, California. “Initially it’s made or manufactured to try and imitate, as closely as possible, breast milk.”
In short, formula provides the correct nutrition to infants who aren’t exclusively breastfed. “When moms need alternatives to breast milk, baby formula is the only appropriate alternative that offers complete nutrition during a baby’s first year of life,” notes Whitney Casares, M.D., a Portland, Oregon-based pediatrician.
Baby formula contains a variety of important nutrients, vitamins and minerals similar to those found in breast milk, in just the right amounts. And while some parents may wonder if cow’s milk would be a suitable alternative to breast milk instead of formula, that’s not the case. That’s because cow’s milk can be hard for your infant’s little tummy to digest, and cow’s milk doesn’t contain the all-too-important balance of nutrients that formula does, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Types and forms of baby formula
Although baby formula is patterned after breast milk to provide baby with equivalent essential vitamins and nutrients, Dr. Casares notes that not all formulas are alike. While the foundations are usually roughly the same, there are a handful of different types of baby formula to choose from:
- Milk-based baby formula. Although babies under 1 year old shouldn’t drink cow’s milk by itself, cow’s milk-based baby formulas have been modified to be more digestible and safe for little ones. This is the most common type of baby formula, according to the AAP.
- Partially hydrolyzed baby formula. These formulas have been partially digested, which can help babies who deal with colic or gas. (Some common examples you might recognize are Enfamil Gentlease or Similac Pro Total-Comfort, for instance — more on that later!) Note, though, that this type of formula is not broken down enough for babies allergic to cow’s milk protein.
- Extensively hydrolyzed baby formula. Also called predigested formula, these formulas contain broken-down milk proteins, making them easier for babies to digest. They’re well-tolerated by most babies who are allergic to cow’s milk. Talk to your baby’s pediatrician before switching to this kind of formula, as they tend to be more expensive and may not be necessary for your little one unless she is allergy-prone or has a special condition.
- Organic baby formula. Organic baby formulas are similar to standard milk-based formulas, but are generally produced with organic ingredients. “It’s coming from organic milk from organic ingredients,” says Tina Feeley, M.D., a pediatrician and member of the What to Expect Medical Review Board based in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. “It’s really the same as the families that choose to have organic foods and fruits and vegetables. It’s really a personal choice.” Organic formulas are often higher in cost than non-organic formulas though, notes Dr. Abelowitz, so if the bigger price tag sounds inhibiting, don’t stress. “When you really study the outcomes of those children that were [organic versus non-organic], both short and long term, the benefits are quite slim,” he says. “They’re still there; they’re quite slim — slim enough for us to say if economy or finances is a factor, then it doesn’t justify doing it.”
- Soy-based baby formula. This type of formula uses soy as a protein and either glucose or sucrose as a carbohydrate, unlike milk-based picks. However, the AAP recommends that soy-based formula only be used in rare situations, such as if your baby is intolerant to galactose, so make sure to speak to your pediatrician first. “That’s very rare that you would need that,” notes Dr. Feeley.
- Special formula. Some babies may require special formulas, such as preemies or babies with specific diseases. If necessary, your pediatrician will work with you to pick the best formula for your infant.
You may also see goat’s milk-based formula on the market, but beware: “Those we actually don’t recommend because raw goat’s milk can make babies anemic and cause some major electrolyte issues,” says Dr. Feeley.
When shopping for baby formula, you’ll also notice that it’s sold in a few different forms:
- Powdered formula, which you measure and mix yourself and tends to be the most affordable.
- Liquid concentrate formulas, which require you to just add water and shake.
- Ready-to-feed formulas, which are (true to name) the most convenient option, but also usually the most expensive.
No one form is better than the other – whether you prefer the ease of ready-to-feed formula or the lower price point of powdered formula, the type that’s best for you depends on your budget, how much formula you go through and where you plan to use it, says the AAP.
It’s important to remember that homemade baby formula is never safe, though. Medical experts agree that commercially manufactured baby formula is carefully created to meet your baby’s nutritional needs and can’t be safely replicated at home. “We strongly advise against [making your own formula] because when you make it, it’s not regulated,” notes Dr. Feeley.
What to look for in an infant formula
All infant formulas marketed in the U.S. must meet strict nutrition guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so while every formula is unique, you can rest easy knowing all the choices on the shelf are regulated. “I always describe the different formulas kind of like Coke and Pepsi: They’re pretty much the same, but a little different,” says Dr. Feeley.
Dr. Abelowitz agrees. “We always tell parents that, same as different Tylenols and Motrins and brands, when you have dozens, or these days, maybe even hundreds of different types of options, there almost isn’t one that’s superior to the other,” he says.
In addition to all the ingredients the FDA requires in a baby formula, several formulas on the market also contain a few extra ingredients that may help your infant grow and develop, like DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ARA (arachidonic acid).
You may also find that some formulas include prebiotics or probiotics, which are designed to support immune health. (A common example you’ll probably see on formula labels is 2′-FL HMO, aka 2′-fucosyllactose human milk oligosaccharides, which are found in breast milk.) While these generally don’t have much evidence to support their use, they’re also not thought to hurt, Dr. Feeley says. “This is part of formulas trying to mimic human milk as much as possible,” she explains.
How to choose the best baby formula
While your baby’s specific needs will vary, there are a few helpful guidelines to help you narrow down your search.
- Ask your pediatrician. Your child’s doctor can offer a recommendation for the right type of formula for your baby.
- Consider your baby’s dietary or allergy restrictions. Does your baby have any? If so, ask your doctor if your little one requires a special formula.
- Pick a brand that’s regulated and reliable. In addition to speaking with your pediatrician, Dr. Abelowitz recommends picking a brand that’s FDA-approved (which, again, all U.S. formulas are!) and has been on the market for a while.
- Know that you don’t have to stick to what the hospital gave you. If the hospital gave you a specific type of formula after welcoming your baby, know that you don’t have to stick to that one forever, says Dr. Feeley. “The way all the hospitals I’ve worked at are, they’re literally contracted (with a company for a certain amount of time), for like, six months out of the year, they give Similac and six months out of the year, they give Enfamil. So, one isn’t necessarily better than the other because of that.”
- Understand that a higher price does not equal higher quality. Again, all baby formulas sold in the U.S. are held to rigorous standards, so rest assured that you don’t have to worry about safety when you’re picking a formula brand from the shelf for your family.
Is there anything to keep in mind if you also breastfeed your baby?
If you breastfeed your baby but want to supplement with formula, there’s nothing in particular that you need to look for in a formula (unless your little one has special dietary or allergy restrictions or your pediatrician says otherwise, of course).
“I think all of the formula companies are really trying to mimic breast milk as much as possible,” explains Dr. Feeley. “So choose whichever one you want, whichever one your baby likes.”
What should you do if your go-to formula is sold out?
As supply chain issues continue to reverberate across the country, it can understandably feel worrisome to find your go-to formula missing from the shelves. If you find yourself in this situation, Dr. Abelowitz says parents should reach out to their pediatricians to see what the best, most compatible formula is to buy instead.
Generally speaking, one good rule of thumb is to stick to the same type of formula. “If they were on a cow’s milk-based regular formula, nothing special about it, then try another brand’s cow’s milk-based, nothing-special-about-it formula,” explains Dr. Feeley. “If they were on a partially broken down formula (what we call partially hydrolyzed) like an Enfamil Gentlease and they’re out of it, but they have the Similac Pro Total Comfort, which is also partially hydrolyzed, then go with that. If they’re out of Nutramigen (which is the fully hydrolyzed Enfamil one) but they have Alimentum, which is Similac’s version of the fully hydrolyzed one, then switch to that.”
What should parents know about European baby formulas?
Scrolling through Instagram, you may see that some parents choose European formulas (like HiPP and Holle, for instance) and wonder if that’s a better alternative.
While “the basic structure and breakdowns [of U.S. and European formulas] are very, very similar,” says Dr. Abelowitz, formulas in Europe are regulated differently than they are in the U.S. Because the European equivalent of the FDA has different requirements for formula than the U.S does, European formulas are often marketed as having ‘higher standards’ than U.S. formulas, even though that’s not true, explains Dr. Feeley. While the regulations are different, one isn’t better than the other.
For instance, “they don’t allow certain additives in their formulas that we allow in ours,” says Dr. Feeley. “It’s not so much that those additives that are banned in Europe are bad,” it’s just that the FDA hasn’t found any evidence or reasoning to ban them.
There are also serious drawbacks to consider when buying imported baby formula, points out Dr. Abelowitz. “The biggest thing we’re seeing at times [is] the confusion in dosages and how to prepare,” thanks to language translation issues or uncertainties with the way instructions are laid out. “There can be some dangerous situations of kids getting the wrong concentration, where that can be really dangerous,” he says.
Not to mention, buying imported formulas online means they aren’t FDA-regulated, may not be shipped or stored correctly (and hence, can lose some nutritional value) and are often more expensive without any proven benefits, notes the AAP and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). What’s more, if any foreign baby formulas were to get recalled, it may take longer for news to reach U.S. consumers.
Long story short? If you live in the U.S, it’s a good idea to stick to U.S. formulas.
How we chose the best baby formulas
To help take some of the guesswork out of your formula search, we completed hours of research to narrow down the best baby formulas. First, we studied several expert-recommended formula guidelines from health organizations like the AAP and CDC. We also spoke with three leading pediatricians for their guidance on all things baby formula: Dr. Abelowitz, Dr. Casares and Dr. Feeley. We made sure all of the baby formulas listed below match up with the criteria provided by experts.
Next, we combed through countless forums in the What to Expect community of millions of parents, taking note of which formulas worked best for different families and why. While lots of caregivers were simply looking for the best formula on the market, others had little ones with special conditions to consider, like sensitive tummies, colic or constipation. Finally, we asked parents on the What to Expect editorial team about which formulas they road-tested personally and used at home with their own little ones.
Here, the best baby formulas to consider for your little one.
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Best Baby Formula Overall
Amazon$134 for 108 oz
buybuyBaby$29 for 23.2 oz
Target$37 for 30.8 oz
Walmart$29 for 20.6 oz
Pros: Reliable favorite, no palm olein oil, available as powder or ready-to-feed
Cons: Can be hard to find in stores
Why We Love It
Similac formulas, which have been feeding babies for more than 90 years, check off all the nutritional boxes in terms of what your little one needs to thrive. The brand boasts a bevy of options, from those developed for sensitive stomachs to organic formulas and everything in between. Similac was even named Best Formula Brand in the 2021 What to Expect Mom Must-Have Awards, a community-driven awards franchise that received more than 9,000 total votes.
Both What to Expect’s Editorial Director, Christine Mattheis, and Director of Special Projects, Robin Hilmantel, can also vouch for Similac Pro-Advance in particular after using it with their little ones. “I started my formula journey with Similac Pro-Advance because two of my friends had used it with their babies and had positive things to say about it,” Mattheis says. “I began supplementing with it when my daughter was about 6 months old and I was no longer pumping enough milk to get her through her day at day care. She sucked down her bottles without fussing at all, and didn’t seem to notice that it wasn’t breast milk. She was a happy baby when she was exclusively breastfed, and she remained a happy baby with no digestive issues when we added formula to the routine.”
The brand’s Pro-Advance powder is a particular favorite among What to Expect community parents and editors. This non-GMO milk-based formula includes the necessary ingredients to boost brain and eye development and provide your baby the nutrition she needs. Pro-Advance is also available in a ready-to-feed format for families who prefer to take that route.
One thing to note: Some parents say they’re currently having trouble finding these Similac formulas in stores. If you can’t find any online or near you, ask your doctor about other brands that may be more readily available and a good swap for your little one.
Type: Milk-based formula
“We use pro advance on recommendation from our pediatrician and no problems at all. LO seems to like it just fine and no gas or tummy problems. It also doesn’t smell terrible like some other formulas. Seems much more like breast milk.”
“I’ve been using pro advance with my LO. Very happy with it. He doesn’t throw up and poops regularly. I would recommend trying it out.”
“Love pro advance! We used it because that’s what they gave us in the hospital and we have had no issues.”