The choice of how and what to feed your baby is a deeply personal decision that should be between you and your baby’s pediatrician. With the numerous options of baby formulas on the market, as well as the formula shortage, you may find yourself asking “What’s the best baby formula?”
There is no one size fits all answer, but we can help you figure out what may be the right formula for you and your baby.
Things to Consider
The biggest factors in choosing your baby's formula come down to 4 main questions:
- Is it nutritionally appropriate for your baby?
- Can your baby tolerate it?
- Is it readily available and accessible in your area?
- Is it within your budget?
Once you have an idea of your answers to the above questions, you can begin your search for the best formula fit for you and your family.
Having a conversation with your pediatrician is a great place to start when sourcing formulas. Some have samples from manufacturers that they can offer you to try.
If you receive assistance from WIC, a government assistance program for families to provide nutritional support, they may provide you with formula. Their most commonly provided brands are Enfamil and Similac.
Things to Look for in the Best Baby Formula
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All USA formulas are FDA approved and must meet very specific criteria and guidelines for nutritional needs. They must have specific levels of fat, iron, carbohydrates and certain vitamins and minerals to be approved and available for purchase.
This does not include European imported formulas. The EU has its own guidelines for infant formula specifications that differ slightly from the United States.
The biggest differences are the European formulas contain lower iron amounts and higher DHA. European formulas may also vary nutritionally based on age and stage of development for infants while American standards and level throughout.
Corn syrup and soy are the two most controversial ingredients in infant formula. Both have been deemed safe for consumption by the FDA in infant formula and are widely used by manufacturers. However, some families worry about the possible harmful effects of these ingredients and prefer to avoid them.
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Soy is often an ingredient for dairy allergy formulas. If you are hesitant to include soy in your infant’s formula, there are choices available like Nature’s One Plant-Based Toddler formula. There are formulas that are corn syrup free that come highly recommended.
The newest product on the market that is making a big splash is ByHeart. It is corn syrup, soy, and gluten-free, among other health proclamations. Their biggest statement is that they are the only formula to come as close to breastmilk’s nutritional composition.
Earth's Best Organic Dairy Infant Formula is another great option that is easy to find in stores.
Please note that if your infant has any allergies, confirmed or suspected, please consult with their pediatrician before selecting or changing formulas.
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Some families look for organic ingredients in their baby’s formula. Organic formulas are often more costly and harder to find. These two factors are important to consider when choosing a formula.
If organic ingredients are something that you’d like to consider, Bobbie and ByHeart have come out on top of many lists. However, as of this writing, Bobbie is not accepting new subscriptions but may be available at some Target locations.
Ready to Feed Formula Vs Liquid Vs Powder
Stand in a formula aisle and you’ll see both liquid formulations as well as powdered cans of infant formula.
The ready-to-feed liquid formulas are sterile formulas that may be better suited to newborns and more fragile babies. It is conveniently premixed and ready to go.
You’ll likely find this as the preferred choice at the hospital after your baby is born. The cost of ready-to-feed formula is typically higher than liquid or powdered formula. Popular brands include Enfamil and Similac.
Powder baby formulas are found in canisters that you then scoop into a bottle and mix with water, according to manufacturer instructions. You can prepare as little or as much as you need for your baby. Powder formula is the most common to find on store shelves and lightweight to transport.
Liquid formula is a concentrated formulation of infant formula that comes in bottles. You then add additional water according to the preparation instructions. Liquid formula is not sterile and is similar to powder formula in use.
Best European Baby Formulas
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If you’ve started looking at infant formulas for even one quick Google search, you’ve come across the names of popular European formulas, like Holle and Hipp. These particular brands grew in popularity over the past few years, although they can be difficult to source.
As mentioned above, the European Union has its own standards for infant formulas and differs slightly from American standards. Within the EU, there are some differences based on country of origin and even within the same brand, like Holle, it may vary from country to country.
Some consumers feel that the differences in standards and ingredient qualities make the cost worthwhile.
If you chose to go the European baby formula route, please always purchase from reputable sellers as there have been reported scams of European formula fraud. The top-rated European brands for infant formulas are (linked to a reputable, US-based seller): Holle, Hipp, Loulouka, and Aptamil (now available in the US).
Best Toddler Formulas
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Toddler formulas are a bit confusing at first. How does it differ from infant formula and is it really necessary?
Toddler formulas are designed for 12 months and above. Your baby is eating more regular foods and meals at this stage but is not quite fully nutritionally dependent on solids. They may need fewer nutrients from the baby formula at this point but could still benefit from the boost.
Toddler formulas have not been designed for nutritional needs under 12 months and are therefore not recommended as a substitute for infants.
Tips on preparation: How to prepare baby formula?
Always follow the manufacturer's directions in formula preparation. If using a powder formula, you may wish to look up if the manufacturer specifies packing or tapping the scoop as different ways will yield a slightly different amount of powder.
The best water source to use for infant formula is the cleanest available water source for you. This could be tap water that has been slightly boiled and then cooled or if the tap water in your area is not adequate, you can use bottled water.
Once prepared, the unused formula is safe to store in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours, as long as the baby has not drunk from the bottle yet. The prepared formula is safe for consumption for up to 2 hours once it is out of the refrigerator. Toss away any formula that has not yet been consumed after the baby has already begun to drink from the bottle after 1 hour.
Never rewarm formula that has already been prepared and warmed once. Unfortunately, formula and your morning cup of coffee that gets continually rewarmed don’t work the same way. Bacteria can multiply quickly, so it is better to err on the side of caution with regard to your little one’s well-being.
There are so many choices when it comes to what or how you feed your baby. Every family’s best choice will be unique to them, and that’s absolutely ok. Considerations of cost, availability, health needs, and ingredients in conjunction with guidance from your pediatrician or infant feeding specialist will help you find the best formula for you.
By: Erin Pasquet
Birth and Postpartum Doula
Certified Lactation Counselor
Pre/Post Natal Yoga Teacher