Choose the Right Infant Formula for Your Baby
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How to Choose the Right Infant Formula for Your Baby

Whether you intend to exclusively use formula, combine breast milk and formula, or simply have formula as a backup option, the wide array of choices available can be overwhelming. However, it’s important to remember that while there is no perfect infant formula, there is one out there that will suit your baby’s specific requirements. Here is all the information you need to make the best decision when choosing a baby formula for your little one.

 Choose the Right Infant Formula for Your Baby

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What is infant formula?

While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, it’s important to acknowledge that breastfeeding may not be feasible or suitable for everyone. This is where baby formula comes in. Infant formula serves as a partial or complete substitute for breast milk for babies under 12 months old. During this crucial stage of growth, babies triple in size, making their nutritional needs paramount. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates all infant formulas sold in the United States to ensure they meet specific federal nutrition guidelines, regardless of their price, brand, or form.

Fun fact: Infant formula was developed by a chemist in 1865, comprising ingredients such as cow’s milk, wheat and malt flour, and potassium bicarbonate.

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What’s in baby formula? 

Despite variations in packaging, colors, and pricing, all infant formulas are required to include specific amounts of calories, carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Here are the essential components found in all infant formulas:


Babies require a substantial number of calories to support healthy brain development. Typically, baby formulas provide around 19 to 20 calories per ounce.


Carbohydrates serve as the primary energy source for babies and can be derived from ingredients such as corn syrup solids, maltodextrin, sucrose, or lactose (the naturally occurring sugar in breast milk).

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Protein is essential for the growth of baby’s hair, nails, cells, skin, and organs. Common protein sources in baby formula include nonfat milk, milk protein isolate, whey, casein, soy, and amino acids.


Fats play a vital role in promoting healthy growth and development. Baby formulas contain fats in the form of vegetable oil, palm olein oil, coconut oil, canola oil, or corn oil.

Vitamins and minerals:

Baby formulas are fortified with essential vitamins and minerals like A, D, K, C, choline, calcium, and iron to prevent deficiencies and provide a healthy start. All infant formulas must meet specific minimum and maximum nutrient requirements. However, certain specialized formulas for preemies, metabolic conditions, and amino acid-based formulas may have different rules. Iron-fortified formulas are recommended if breastfeeding is not possible, with iron content ranging from 4 to 12 milligrams for the first year.

In addition to these essential components, many baby formulas may also include:

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Long-chain fatty acids:

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA) are long-chain fatty acids naturally found in breast milk and are believed to support early brain development. However, the benefits of including them in infant formula are still being researched and not all studies confirm their impact.

Probiotics and prebiotics:

Probiotics are beneficial live bacteria, and prebiotics are substances that nourish them. While they promote gut health, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that there is limited evidence regarding their benefits in baby formula.

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Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs):

HMOs are present in breast milk and help protect against infections. Some infant formulas are supplemented with HMOs as an alternative when breast milk is not available.


Lutein is a carotenoid with antioxidant properties that support eye health and cognitive development. Breast milk naturally contains lutein, but the extent of its impact in baby formula is still uncertain, as infants tend to absorb more lutein from nursing than from fortified formula.

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What Types of Baby Formula are Available?

In addition to powdered, concentrate, and liquid forms, there are various types of baby formula available today, each with its own characteristics. While all formulas are considered safe and suitable for infants, they do have distinct differences.

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Cow’s Milk-Based Infant Formula:

Regular cow’s milk is not suitable for infants under 12 months old, but cow’s milk-based baby formula is specially processed to be safe and easily digestible. Similar to breast milk, these formulas contain lactose, a milk sugar. Some cow’s milk-based formulas labeled as “sensitive” or “gentle” have lower lactose levels for babies with lactose sensitivity. Currently, cow’s milk-based formulas make up 80% of the market and are generally well-tolerated by most babies. However, some babies may have cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA), which means their digestive system cannot handle the whey and/or casein in cow’s milk. CMPA symptoms can affect the baby’s skin, digestion, and breathing.

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Soy Infant Formula:

Soy-based formula is derived from soybeans and does not contain lactose or cow’s milk protein, making it suitable for babies with a rare condition called galactosemia, which prevents them from tolerating lactose. It’s important to note that while some babies may have temporary difficulty digesting lactose, significant lactose problems are extremely rare in infants, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). While there is a belief that soy formula can prevent or alleviate colic symptoms, there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. Generally, there are few cases where soy formula should be chosen over cow’s milk-based formulas, as advised by the AAP.

Hydrolyzed and Partially Hydrolyzed Infant Formula:

These formulas differ in terms of protein size. Regular cow’s milk formula contains large and intact proteins, which may be difficult for some babies to digest. In such cases, infants require formulas with smaller proteins. Hydrolyzed formulas have proteins that are broken down into smaller, easily digestible forms. Partially hydrolyzed formulas are often found in sensitive and gentle formulas, which may help with gassiness. Fully hydrolyzed formulas are further broken down and are suitable for babies with more severe conditions like cow’s milk protein allergy or multiple food allergies.

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Organic Baby Formula:

To be certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, at least 95% of the ingredients in a baby formula must be organic. This means that if the formula is cow’s milk-based, the cows producing the milk must have had an organic diet. If it is a plant-based formula, the plant source must have limited exposure to pesticides and be free of genetically modified organisms. Organic formulas tend to be more expensive, but there is currently no evidence suggesting that they are superior to non-organic formulas that offer the same nutritional value and safety. It’s important to note that “organic” does not necessarily mean the formula is all-natural, as certain nutrients and preservatives required in formula production can only be synthetically created.

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Special Infant Formula:

There are specialized formulas designed for infants with specific medical conditions or those who were born prematurely. If a pediatrician recommends a special formula, it is crucial to carefully follow their instructions regarding serving size, feeding schedules, and preparation, as these formulas can differ significantly from regular infant formulas.

 Choose the Right Infant Formula for Your Baby

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How To Choose The Right Infant Formula-

Begin with a Standard Commercial Baby Formula:

Unless advised otherwise by your baby’s pediatrician, it’s generally recommended to start with a standard cow’s milk-based formula, as most babies tolerate it well. However, it’s important to avoid non-U.S. brands of formula, as the FDA only regulates American formulas.

Consider the Cost:

The cost of baby formula can add up quickly, so it’s wise to factor in your budget when choosing a formula. If your baby consumes around 25 ounces per day, the cost can range from $821 to $2,920 by their first birthday. Keep in mind that powdered formula is typically more affordable than liquid options.

Prioritize Convenience:

Choose a formula that is readily available at stores near you. While online ordering is an option, potential shipping delays could cause added stress, so it may be preferable to have easy access to formula locally.

Be Cautious of Marketing Claims:

Many formula packages make bold claims about brain development or immune system protection, but it’s important to note that most of these claims lack sufficient scientific evidence to support them.

Get Support in Your Decision-Making Process:

While it can be helpful to gather information from various sources such as family, friends, social media, and the internet, it is crucial to consult your baby’s pediatrician for accurate and personalized advice. They have the best understanding of your baby’s health and medical history and can guide you through the decision-making process. They may also have free samples of infant formula available in their office.

Take a Deep Breath:

Stay calm and trust that there is a formula suitable for your baby’s unique needs. If your baby experiences issues like excessive gas, colic, reflux, vomiting, or diarrhea, don’t hesitate to discuss it with your pediatrician to determine if the formula might be the cause.

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