Whether you've decided to exclusively bottle feed your baby or are looking to supplement breastfeeding, choosing an infant formula is no simple task. Parents and caregivers want to give their baby the most nutritious nourishment, but with all the different formulas on the market, the options can be overwhelming.
Our buying guide details the types of infant formulas and things to consider before purchasing. We've also included our top picks at the end, like Similac Pro-Advance Non-GMO Formula. It contains iron and other key nutrients to help your baby grow.
Considerations when choosing infant formulas
Types of infant formulas
Although preferable to formula, breast milk isn't always an option. Fortunately, infant formulas are now carefully concocted to resemble the nutritional profile of breast milk. The most common type is derived from cow's milk, but there are many variations of and alternatives to cow's milk.
Cow's milk: Cow milk protein (CMP) formulas contain both casein and whey proteins as well as all the essential vitamins, fatty acids, and minerals babies require. There are several variations of this standard formula type:
Lactose-reduced or lactose-free
formulas have reduced or completely eliminated lactose and replaced it with sugars. This "colic formula" is intended for short-term use after a baby has temporary lactose intolerance following a gastrointestinal infection.
formulas are thickened with starches (typically rice, potato, or corn starches) to reduce reflux in the esophagus.
formulas break down cow's milk proteins into smaller, more digestible pieces, similar in size to the proteins found in breast milk. These "hypoallergenic" formulas can be partially hydrolyzed or extensively hydrolyzed. The latter is more unrecognizable to the body as an allergen.
Goat's milk: For infants with cow's milk sensitivities, goat's milk may be less reactive. However, because milk from goats is similar in composition to milk from cows, an infant with a cow's milk allergy may have an adverse reaction to goat's milk, too.
Amino acids: For babies who can't tolerate even extensively hydrolyzed cow's milk, amino acid formulas break down the proteins even smaller into individual amino acids, which eliminate proteins from the formula altogether. Only give your infant an amino acid formula under medical supervision.
Soy: Doctors only recommend switching to soy-based formulas in the case of extreme lactose intolerance. Most infants with a cow's milk allergy are reactive to soy as well.
Powdered formulas are in powder form and come with a measured scoop. They are designed to be mixed with water (typically two ounces per scoop).
Concentrated liquid formulas require slightly less preparation than powdered forms. Water is mixed with the liquid concentrate in a 1:1 ratio. These can also be stored in the fridge for 48 hours after opening.
Ready-to-use formulas require no mixing or added water. They are ready to "heat and eat," and the leftover portion can be stored in the fridge for up to 48 hours. However, this convenience comes with a higher price tag than powders and liquid concentrates.
Cow's milk formulas run between $20 and $30 for a 22-ounce container. Extensively hydrolyzed formulas and ready-to-use formulas can cost double the price.
Q. How do I know if my infant has a cow's milk allergy?
A. Keep an eye out for symptoms that indicate an allergy during or following ingestion of a cow's milk formula: vomiting, diarrhea, hives, rash, coughing, puffy/itchy eyes, wheezing, or loss of consciousness. Other symptoms can appear days later such as irritability, rejecting food, eczema, vomiting, or bloody diarrhea.
Q. What type of formula is good to supplement breastfeeding?
A. A partially hydrolyzed formula is ideal, if your infant isn't allergy-prone.
Our take: An organic cow's milk formula in a bargain six-pack deal.
What we like: Doesn't cause stomach issues like other formulas. Great for supplementing breast milk. Contains DHA and ARA to resemble breast milk.
What we dislike: May make infant's stool more solid or cause constipation.
Ana Sanchez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.