Our single best baby formula choice is Happy Baby Organic Infant Formula with Iron Stage 1. Why this formula? Because it’s organic, non-GMO, and has the best ingredients, formulated with parents with baby’s best interests in mind. However, not every mother may want an organic baby formula, and some doctors feel that it is not necessary. Based on this, our top non-organic infant formula recommendation is Enfamil NeuroPro Infant Formula for its quality ingredients.
How We Chose the Best Baby Formulas
The main purpose of baby formula is to provide proper nutrition to help a baby grow and thrive.
Cow’s milk is the next best option to breast milk, but not all babies can tolerate it. These moms must choose other options, especially when a baby is allergic to cow’s milk. Alternatives may be hard to find, and can often be expensive.
There are also many parents out there who just want a gentle formula, or one to treat a specific problem.
To help, our list includes the best options for infants with special needs. We found the following:
- Organic baby formula
- Formula for supplementing breastfed babies
- Vegan baby formula
- Non-GMO formula
- Best formula for preemies
- Best formula for newborns
- Formula for milk allergy
- Best formula for toddlers
- Best soy baby formula
- Baby formula for sensitive tummies
- Best formula for constipation
- Best formula for gas and reflux
We know that brand and reliability are important to parents. This is why we’ve chosen from the most well-known brands including Happy Baby, Enfamil, Similac, Earth’s Best (often confused with Nature’s Best), and Gerber.
For each of our favorite baby formulas, you will learn important information about the composition. We’ve analyzed the ingredient lists, and given you our thoughts based on lots and lots of research.
During our evaluation, we discovered that some brands use less-than-desirable ingredients in their attempt create a product that is similar to breast milk. Corn syrup, maltodextrin, and soybean oils are a few of the worst ingredients for your baby.
Sadly, bad ingredients are found in a variety of formulas, even among the most popular brands. We’ve done our best to find those that lack or keep these ingredients to a minimum.
Lastly, we’ve used our mommy experience. We’ve taken our own knowledge, combined it with that of all the mommies we know, and used it to weed out the bad formulas.
Best Formula for Babies
Earth’s Soy Based Formula with Iron is soy based and contains corn syrup, which is a sweetner that can cause spikes in blood sugar levels, but is found in most soy formulas; whereas Happy Baby Organics Infant Formula is a milk based formula that does not use corn syrup but uses lactose as a sugar source instead.
Enfamil NeuroPro Infant Formula
This formula is Enfamil’s attempt to create a “similar to breast milk” formula Enfamil NeuroPro Infant Formula.
Unlike Similac, Enfamil’s prized ingredient is MFGM or milk fat globule membrane, a fatty substance that boosts the immune system, and protects against some bacterial infections (source). This ingredient may also have a role in the formation of nerve connections within the brain (source).
Breast milk consists of about 50% fat which is necessary for brain growth and development (source). The addition of MFGM is Enfamil’s way of simulating this beneficial breastmilk ingredient.
In contrast, Similac adds 2′-FL HMO to some of their infant formulas. It is designed to simulate the human milk oligosaccharides that naturally occur in breastmilk. It is thought to improve cognitive development early in infancy (source).
So which is better – Enfamil’s or Similac’s fortifier? The answer is neither. Both MFGM and 2′-FL HMO (from the Similac Pro-Advance) are beneficial. An infant formula that included both of these ingredients would be ideal.
Take a look at the Enfamil label:
MFGM promotes immunity and brain nerve connections. This NeuroPro version touts a larger amount of inositol, also known as vitamin B8. Like vitamin D, inositol functions more like a hormone than a vitamin, and can have mental health benefits (source). This is one of the reasons for the “neuro” name. This Enfamil formula has a higher carbohydrate content than the Similac version, but is lower in linoleic acid.
It is non-GMO, which is no surprise, as this is an increasingly popular trend for many foods and products.
Most infant formulas contain between 4.9mg and 6mg of inositol, but this formula has 24mg, a significant amount. The vitamin and mineral blend are comparable to other formulas on the market.
Polydextrose provides a source of fiber. It is also functions as a prebiotic function, helping to boost immunity (source). Current research shows that it does not cause abnormal increases in blood sugar.
Let’s not forget my favorite aspects: this formula is, fortunately, without maltodextrin or corn syrup. Enfamil has prioritized milk as its first ingredient, followed by additional lactose and whey proteins.
The inclusion of palm olein oil is not ideal. It can block the absorption of calcium which can lead to poorly mineralized bones in infants (source).
In addition, the second ingredient is lactose, a sugar that is derived from cow’s milk. Although the intension is to simulate the lactose in breastmilk, it results in an infant formula that is high in sugar. Also, some parents have concerns about lactose intolerance, and may not want an infant formula that includes it. Fortunately, the majority of infants are not lactose intolerant (source).
Happy Baby Organic Infant Formula with Iron Stage 1
Many experts suggest organic infant formulas are not worth the money, but some moms feel that organic ingredients are a way to provide the very best for their family.
These moms should buy Happy Baby Organic Infant Formula Milk Based Powder with Iron Stage 1. Sure, Earth’s Best Organic formula is also a great option, but the Happy Baby brand takes organic formula to the next level. It’s also much more affordable that other organic options.
Not all mothers are able to breastfeed, but they still want the best for their baby. Happy Baby has a bit more brain-nourishing fat when compared to other infant formulas. The primary ingredients are from quality sources. These include lactose from organic milk, specially selected vitamins and minerals, and prebiotics.
The other ingredients include:
The proper ratio of ingredients helps your baby grown and thrive as best as possible.
Instead of corn syrup, lactose is the first ingredient. Because lactose is the primary sugar in breastmilk, it is preferred over other types of added sugar (source). It also helps promote softer and more frequent stools. In addition, this formula is non-GMO, gluten-free, and kosher. It also contains DHA and ARA for brain and eye development (source).
For moms who feel confidence in the quality of organic ingredients, this formula will fulfill their desire to feed your baby well. And, it will appeal to your baby’s desire for a full belly!
Also, the manufacturer completely skips unnecessary sugars such as corn syrup and maltodextrin. Corn syrup causes higher spikes in blood sugar than lactose, and may have long term adverse health effects (source).
Lastly, this powder mixes well in water, and most babies tolerate the taste (although some infants may not as each has different preferences). Since Plum Organics infant formula is no longer available, this is the next best thing after breastmilk!
Sadly, even this organic formula uses soy oils; it is difficult to find any infant formula without soy. We would also love to see the fat ratio go up a little closer to that of breastmilk, but this may be difficult for manufacturers to accomplish.
This formula does tend to be a bit “foamy” after it is combined with water. This is ok for beer, but something you want to feed your baby. When excess air is swallowed, gassiness and fussiness can result. To avoid this, allow the milk to “settle” a for a few minutes before feeding.
Every baby may not like the taste of this of Happy Baby Organic Formula. This may be especially true if replacing one that contains corn syrup.
For more information on organic formula, check out this article on How To Pick The Right Organic Formula.
Similac For Supplementation Non-GMO Infant Formula with Iron
If solely breastfeeding is not going well and supplementation has been recommended, try Similac For Supplementation Non-GMO Infant Formula with Iron.
For whatever reason you choose to supplement, this formula will take care of your infant’s nutritional needs. The list of ingredients is very similar to many other conventional baby formulas. This version, however, is free of corn syrup, unlike most Similac formulas.
As a matter of fact, this is one of Similac’s most outstanding formula achievements!
Again, the best aspect is that it is free of corn syrup. A sweeter formula may taste so different from breastmilk that it further impairs breastfeeding.
Even more surprising is the lack of maltodextrin, a potentially nefarious ingredient that causes blood sugar spikes (source).
Linoleic Acid, a type of omega fatty acid, is present in abundance. The amount of vitamins and minerals is comparable to other baby formulas on the market, including organic options.
This formula is also suitable when weaning from breastfeeding, offering benefits such as DHA, Lutein, and Vitamin E.
This unique combo of nonfat milk, lactose, and whey protein (in that order) should be easy for your tot to digest from infancy through to 6 months, or up to the first year.
Also, this baby formula is non-GMO which is a great bonus!
Be sure to check the expiration date as this has been an issue for some customers.
Of course, as with all formulas, there may be an adjustment period. For some babies, it causes a bit of stomach trouble.
Overall, this formula is a decent option. Babies may snub their little noses at how it smells compared to breast milk. Switching from breast milk to formula can be a bit of a surprise, but, if offered to a hungry baby, she will eventually drink it.
Earth’s Best Organic Infant Powder Formula
Earth’s Best Organic Infant Powder Formula with Iron, Omega-3 DHA & Omega-6 ARA is their original formula version, and it’s packed full of wholesome organic goodness.
The company offers five different formula types, including a gentle, sensitive, non-DHA and ARA , and a soy baby formula blend. This original powdered version is just right for babies without stomach issues. The amount of fats, carbs, protein, vitamins, and minerals is consistent with most formulas on the market.
Earth’s Best is so committed to excellence, even their packaging is made from recycled materials.
Here are the ingredients:
Earth’s Best designed their original formula to be as close to breast milk as possible. To do this, they added DHA, ARA, and lutein for brain and eye health (source).
Like many of the best baby formulas available today, this formula includes prebiotic fiber, and is iron-fortified.
Those who worry that organic brands are not well scrutinized will be pleased to know this infant formula meets all the FDA and ESPGHAN infant nutrition requirements. It is also non-GMO.
Some versions of Earth Best Organic Infant Formula contain corn syrup and maltodextrin such as the sensitive and soy versions.
The recyclable packaging may be better for the environment, but it is easily damaged during shipping.
Like many powdered infant formulas it develops foam when mixed. Using one of the best baby bottles really helps to minimize extra air and foam.
A few babies did not find this formula to be gentle enough for their tummies. If you feel that your baby is not tolerating a particular infant formula, you should discuss this with their pediatrician.
Similac Pro-Advance Non-GMO Infant Formula
As we have mentioned, infant formula companies are searching for ways to make a formula like breast milk (source). To do this, they include ingredients that closely resemble those found in human milk. Similac Pro-Advance Non-GMO Infant Formula with Iron, with 2′-FL HMO, for Immune Support, Baby Formula is Similac’s “closest to breast milk” option due to the added 2′-FL HMO. Human milk oligosaccharide, a prebiotic found in breast milk, helps to boost immunity (source).
This product is non-GMO.
Similac should, like many formula companies, find a way to produce baby formula without corn syrups and maltodextrin. This particular version, however, is free of both of ingredients which is why it made the cut.
Take a look at the ingredients:
Similac Advance is another good option if you would like more information.
Similac’s Pro-Advance is a bit higher in fat and linoleic acid, great for your baby’s brain health. The remaining ingredients are comparable to other Similac formulas and other brands.
Nonfat milk and lactose are the first ingredients. Upon seeing the word “lactose,” your first thought is probably of sugar. You are correct, and sugar is something for which I have admonished formulas. But remember, breast milk’s first ingredient is also lactose, just that of the human variety. Sugar is a source of energy, meant to improve growth, and lactose is far preferable over corn-based sugar.
Unlike some infant formulas, this one has a high level of whey protein concentrate. Formulas that contain more casein can be difficult for infants to digest (source). This supports the company’s claim that their formula “reduces fussiness in one day.”
Another key ingredient in breast milk is…drumroll, please… human milk oligosaccharide! It helps to nourish healthy bacteria so they can thrive in the GI tract (source). Score for Similac!
In addition to these ingredients, significant amounts of lutein, DHA, and vitamin E for eye and brain development are included. This baby formula also claims to be palm olein oil-free which will allow for better calcium absorption.
To top it all off, the price is quite reasonable for most budgets.
Like many formulas, the packaging does not fare well in transport. Some customers received tubs with broken safety seals. Be sure to buy from a reputable retailer or directly from Similac to avoid this issue and facilitate returns.
Enfamil Enspire Infant Formula
Enfamil’s Enspire Infant Formula is not just non-GMO, but Enfamil’s other closest to breast milk formula.
What makes this version so unique is inclusion of lactoferrin, MFGM, ARA, and DHA paired with choline. It also offers a source of prebiotics, polydextrose.
In addition to premium ingredients, this formula offers a host of wholesome goodness to nourish your baby during the first year of life.
Take a closer look at the ingredients list, and let’s discuss the important ones found in this cognitive-building and immunity-boosting formula.
Lactoferrin, MFGM, and DHA paired with choline are the stars of this show. Any ingredients that help a formula to more closely resemble breast milk are a a win.
Lactoferrin is a protein that boosts the immune system’s defense against bacteria and viruses (source). It naturally occurs in breastmilk.
MFGM is a lipid (fat) found in breast milk. DHA is typically found in fish, and it works best in the presence of choline. All of these compounds promote brain development (source).
Except for DHA, these particular ingredients are not found in other formulas. Continue reading to discover another Enfamil formula with a few of these ingredients.
Other remaining ingredients increase the nutritional value of this formula. Milk and lactose are the primary ones, much like breast milk. This Enfamil formula offers a whey protein and fat combo that is not seen in other infant formulas.
Two prebiotics are also included to help maintain your baby’s gut microbiome. This leads to better digestion and fewer tummy troubles.
All of these fabulous ingredients increase the price of this formula.
One of the prebiotics, polydextrose, is a bit controversial because it may be considered a sugar substitute. However, with less than one percent sugar overall, this is less concerning than maltodextrin or corn syrups, both of which are absent in this formula.
Its taste may not be agreeable with every infant. No two babies are the same. This one is definitely worth a try as it has several components that mimic breast milk.
Earth’s Best Organic Soy Infant Formula with Iron
If you must give your baby soy formula, then you will want to try Earth’s Best Organic Soy Infant Formula with Iron first.
Especially with concerns about chemicals, additives, and synthetic ingredients, baby formula research can be a dark rabbit hole. Researching one ingredient will lead to another, and on the list goes.
However, with Earth’s Best, you are assured to have organic ingredients, and the worst one is corn syrup.
Unfortunately, every soy formula available includes corn syrup as its first ingredient. That’s because soy protein isolate is not very palatable, and the corn syrup improves the taste.
The only exception is one type of Gerber infant formula, but it has corn maltodextrin and even table sugar. That’s no bueno.
Take a look at the ingredients in Earth’s Best Soy:
Aside from being organic, this formula has many benefits. The most obvious one is that it’s dairy-free for infants who do not tolerate cow’s milk, and families who prefer plant-based diets.
This is also the only brand that specifically states their product has no ingredients treated with pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, a major concern of moms wary of chemical-laden food. This is important because some manufacturers use chemicals in the processing of soy that can have adverse effects on the endocrine system (source).
You can expect the usual DHA and ARA in this formula, but Earth’s Best claims to have 2X more DHA than the leading organic formula.
Also, you will find healthy amounts of linoleic acid, lutein, and prebiotics, all for a great price.
Soy should not be your first formula option as it may not provide a sufficient amount of the amino acid methionine. The Earth’s Best version has have added L-methionine, which is good. Most soy formulas require addition of the 9 essential amino acids (source). This is more of a downside of soy formulas in general than a complaint about Earth’s Best’s.
There has been controversy regarding phytoestrogens and soy, and why a discussion with a doctor may be warranted. Some studies have shown that phytoestrogens in soy can mimic the activity of estrogen. Theoretically, it could bind and stimulate estrogen receptors in the body, not good for baby boys or girls. Recent studies, however, have failed to show any hormonal effects from soy, so more research is necessary (source).
Soy must requires more processing than milk before it can be used in infant formulas. Because soy protein can be more difficult for infants to digest, a soy isolate is manufactured (source).
Earth’s Best soy formula contains corn syrup and added sugars, not just for taste, but to also aid in digestion.
Finally, the taste is apparently quite bad, but may be the case for most soy infant formulas. Think of it as drinking whole milk vs drinking plain soy milk.
Similac NeoSure Infant Formula with Iron
Similac NeoSure Infant Formula with Iron is designed especially for infants who are premature, born underweight, or have a medical condition that requires extra calories in the diet.
What sets it apart from all of the other formulas on the market? Medium chain triglyceride, or MCT, oil. The addition of this fatty acid increases the calories per ounce to 24 instead of 20. Clinical studies have proven that this fatty acid can significantly improve the weight gain in premature babies (source).
This is a game-changer, my friends! It’s why the neonatologist or pediatrician may recommend this best baby formula for your baby that was born just a bit too early.
Although there are some situations where an infant may need this higher calorie formula throughout the first year of life, most infants will be able to transition to a normal calorie one after gaining a sufficient amount of weight.
Let’s take a look at the ingredients:
First of all, this formula touts DHA, lutein, and vitamin E, all wonderful ingredients. You definitely want these along with the MCT for your preemie.
It is non-GMO, an added bonus as we don’t want the tiniest bellies to deal with GMOs.
The first ingredient is milk, as expected. This is followed by corn syrup for energy and taste, then lactose, fats, and vitamins. There is no maltodextrin, however.
The additional proteins, linoleic acid, and other fats promote cognitive development.
All of these ingredients give medically fragile babies a healthier weight, length, and head circumference.
Unfortunately, the second ingredient is corn syrup. Don’t worry too much though; a quick call to Similac confirmed that they use just plain corn syrup, and not the dreaded high fructose corn version.
You will notice that this list emphasizes formulas without corn syrup. For preemies, corn syrup iss unavoidable because they are lactose intolerant until their intestines fully mature (source). It’s also an inexpensive, readily available source of carbohydrates.
Too much sugar consumed early in life can lead to a lifelong medical issues. Unfortunately, for premature infants and those with conditions that require a higher calorie formula, the options are limited.
For this reason, once your baby’s growth parameters have improved, a doctor may advise you to change formulas. Some moms may worry that their baby will refuse a formula that is less sweet. Each baby is different, but it’s worth a try, especially since a higher calorie formula is no longer needed.
We have all the information you need on the best formula for preemies in our comprehensive article.
Enfamil Nutramigen Infant Formula
Enfamil Nutramigen Infant Formula – Hypoallergenic & Lactose-Free Formula with Enflora LGG is the best choice for babies with cow’s milk protein allergy. The name is shorted to Nutramigen because the actual product name is far too long! Either way, the manufacturer of this formula claims that it “reduces colic due to an allergy to cow’s milk in two days.” This scenario differs from the usual infantile colic seen in infants ages two weeks to three months (source).
In addition, the company claims their formula protects against future milk allergy while still providing a nutritionally complete product. Symptoms of this type of cow’s milk protein allergy are irritability despite regular feedings, weight loss, and blood in stools.
In layman’s terms, this means that some babies who have difficulty digesting milk proteins continue to have problems even as preschoolers or older. The idea behind the claim is, by reducing the intestinal irritation caused by cow’s milk protein as an infant, a child is less likely to still be sensitive to it in the future.
Nutramigen is considered hypoallergenic because the cow’s milk proteins are fully hydrolyzed (source). This means that they are broken down into more basic components so that no allergic reaction occurs. Since the offending component of cow’s milk protein is absent, no symptoms develop.
This formula is one of several products on the market designed for infants with cow’s milk protein allergy. Two other formulas, Elecare and Neocate, are for infants who cannot tolerate Nutramigen or other hydrolyzed infant formulas.
Let’s look at the ingredients:
Cow’s milk contains proteins that are more difficult for humans to digest than breast milk. Most babies tolerate it without too many issues, but other babies do not. Some babies just have a mild sensitivity to milk, but others cannot digest the proteins at all.
Nutramigen contains casein hydrolysate (from milk), which is a fancy way of saying smaller, more digestible proteins made from larger ones.
Despite being hypoallergenic, this formula still contains all of the necessary vitamins and minerals as well as DHA and ARA.
Nutramigen also has a higher amount of inositol for developing brains.
Nutramigen, unfortunately, uses sugars to improve palatability. Not only that, but sugar is the first ingredient. Choices are limited for these babies, so most parents will accept the higher sugar content for the greater good.
Also, Enfamil uses modified corn starch to thicken the formula, and increase its digestibility. This addition does help a bit with formula preparation. The starch, however, may impart a bitter taste that some infants won’t like.
Sadly, this formula is very expensive because it is a specialty version. This presents a dilemma for parents who have no choice due to their infant’s symptoms. State run programs can help provide this formula for families who qualify. Your pediatrician’s office may also receive samples, and the company website may offer assistance in some cases.
Enfamil’s Reguline Infant Formula
Enfamil’s Reguline Infant Formula is designed to help promote soft and comfortable poops within one week.
It almost did not make the list due to the corn syrup solids. However, it is not one of the first ingredients, and the others are fairly impressive.
This formula made the cut because of the overwhelmingly good reviews. Reguline does seem to regulate babies’s stools, and life is definitely better when pooping comes easily! The manufacturer claims that it’s the best formula for constipation. Some parents may even want to give this formula to prevent their baby from developing constipation.
Time to look at the ingredients:
Beyond helping babies with number two, this formula has DHA and prebiotics, along with all the required vitamins and minerals.
The ingredients start with partially hydrolyzed, nonfat milk and whey protein for easy digestion. These are followed by a blend of oils for fat content, then the corn syrup, lactose, vitamins and minerals.
It would be preferable if lactose were the first ingredient, but at least they used milk instead corn syrup.
This formula does not have too many bad qualities.
It may cause diarrhea in some babies, but each belly is different.
One of the prebiotics is polydextrose which is not our preferred type.
As with any formula, some babies may become gassy. Normal amounts of gas, however, indicate that the digestive system is working correctly.
Mama Bear USDA-Certified Organic Infant Formula
The Mama Bear USDA-Certified Organic Infant Formula is not just a decent newborn formula, but also it’s organic, meaning no milk from rBST treated cows. It’s also a great way to give your baby fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and E.
This formula promises complete nutrition during a baby’s first year of life with important ingredients such as DHA and lutein.
Honestly though, the only difference between this formula and the Similac Organic, which claims to be their closest to breast milk, is the vitamin level and the amount of maltodextrin.
Take a look at the ingredients:
Mama Bear’s formula offers all the good stuff you expect from their brand, and continually works toward offering lower priced products.
Most parents seem to like this formula because it has more omega fatty DHA than other brands, but this comes with a nicer price tag.
No artificial growth hormones or GMO ingredients mean you get a high-quality formula to support your baby’s growth and development. It also doesn’t have casein which can be difficult for some babies to digest.
This formula uses both maltodextrin and corn syrup solids to sweeten the formula. As stated earlier, maltodextrin can spike blood sugar. Also, corn syrup makes babies too accustomed to sweetness, and takes away some of the benefits of formula.
This infant formula is also missing lactoferrin which is found in Enfamil’s Enspire. It’s similar to thieves oil, but more natural. Lactoferrin is an iron-binding protein that is an anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal superhero that may also protect against some cancers.
This ingredient, however, may cause stomach upset in some infants. Perhaps, this is why it was omitted. Either way, a little gas seems like a small price to pay, especially when the ingredient makes up less than one percent of a formula.
That’s it, there are no other complaints about this formula. But honestly, the Enfamil Enspire might be a better choice overall.
Gerber Good Start Gentle Non-GMO Powder Infant Formula
Just because Gerber is a very well-known national brand, it doesn’t mean their formulas are top quality. That’s why the only Gerber baby formula on this list is Gerber Good Start Gentle for Supplementing Powder Infant Formula. It is the best option from the Gerber family of baby formulas.
They lost my confidence at maltodextrin. Gerber adds this as a main ingredient in every single one of their formulas, including their organic versions.
Why is this seemingly innocuous ingredient so bothersome? As mentioned above, this formula thickener, while easier to digest, causes blood sugar spikes (source). It may also create an imbalance in the gut microbiome.
On a positive note, Gerber seems to strongly dislike corn syrup, as not one of their formulas has a drop of it on the ingredient list.
It’s important to note that corn maltodextrin is most often sourced from GMO crops, despite Gerber saying their products are non-GMO.
The label clearly lists corn maltodextrin. Take a look:
Gerber offers a different formula, Gerber Good Start Gentle 2 (HMO) Powder Infant Formula for ages 6 to 12 months with similar ingredients.
The good news is that this formula’s first ingredient is partially hydrolyzed whey protein. This makes the formula easier for babies to digest. This is a win.
Next come the oils, lactose (we will further discuss the fourth ingredient maltodextrin below), and the vitamins. The ratios of vitamins and minerals are all quite similar to other brands of formula.
I know I sound like a broken record, but there is no legitimate reason to include such a “sketchy” ingredient as corn maltodextrin. Nor should it be one of the first ingredients. At least Gerber is consistent, however.
The fat content in this formula is lower than other brands, which is frustrating, as babies need fat for growth. None of the fat content in Gerber formulas compares to that in breast milk.
The carbohydrate level of this formula are higher than that of others, similar to Similac formulas.
Looking at the reviews, the vast majority of babies seem to reject its odor and flavor. No formula really tastes good, but palatability is necessary. Many babies developed an upset tummy from this formula as well. It is possible, however, that these babies had very sensitive tummies.
Also frustrating is the formula’s texture during preparation. It tends to clump quite a bit.
Sadly, the priced doesn’t justify the lack of quality.
If you’ve read through this list of the best baby formula choices, but are still left wanting more, here are a few that almost made our list. They’re good options for special needs.
- For babies allergic to milk and soy, and who don’t tolerate Nutramigen or Alimentume, try Neocate Infant With DHA and Ara.
- An organic Similac formula is Pure Bliss by Similac Infant Formula.
- The Happy Baby Organic Infant Formula is an acceptable option, but we thought the fat levels were a bit too low.
Best Formulas for Babies Compared
The table below compares only the recommended products on this page. A low or high Price means it is low or high compared to the other products listed. The Popularity Score reflects how often readers click on and buy the product. The Quality Score is our assessment of the overall performance and satisfaction with the product compared to others in the table.
What’s In Baby Formula
Baby formula consists of several components designed to replicate those of breast milk. Many ingredients are a mystery to most people. We hope we have enlightened you on the different elements of infant formula.
Hopefully, gaining a better understanding of the nutrients in your baby’s diet will make you feel more comfortable when choosing which formula will help your baby thrive and grow during the first year of life.
Let’s first take a look at breast milk, and then move on to formula components. Do remember, ingredients in formula are listed from the largest to the smallest amounts, with the most used ingredient first and the least used ingredient listed last. All infant formulas, however, must meet the minimum ingredient standards that have been established by the ESPGHAN global panel of experts (source). This helps to maintain consistency and quality.
What’s in Breast Milk?
The list of ingredients in breast milk is almost endless! Human milk is 87% water, but is also fortified with carbs, proteins, non-protein nitrogens, fats, vitamins, minerals, peptides, hormones, enzymes, antiproteases, and antimicrobial factors.
So far, infant formula brands have only been able to re-produce about a fourth of the ingredients in breast milk. But don’t worry, babies can thrive on formula because they still get the basic necessities: fat, protein, carbs, and nutrients.
Let’s now look how breast milk is used as a model to re-create the same nutrition and benefits in a baby formula.
Carbohydrates are complex sugars, starches, or fiber that give energy and calories for growth. The biochemical make up is of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.
The most prevalent carbohydrate in breast milk is lactose. This is also the type of sugar found in cow’s milk. In many infant formulas, lactose is usually, and preferably, the first ingredient.
Manufacturers, however, add other carbohydrates in infant formula as well. These include other, less desirable options such as corn syrup or its solids, maltodextrin, glucose or its syrup form, sucrose (table sugar), and, less commonly, brown rice syrup. It is believed that these sugars may be easier for babies to digest in their tiny tummies.
Lactose is preferable, however, because it aids the absorption of calcium, and feeds the healthy bacteria in the intestines (source). Other forms of sugar are more detrimental. Too much sugar can cause spikes in blood sugar levels, and lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes. Not to mention, these sugars can give babies a sweet tooth (source). We do not want to make children less likely to eat vegetables and other savory foods.
Like breast milk, formula has roughly 4o percent carbohydrate.
Proteins may be the first or second predominant ingredient depending on which infant formula.
Milk proteins include solid casein and much softer whey. Casein tends to be difficult to digest, forming curds, where as whey exits the stomach faster.
Cow’s milk breaks down into a 2o percent whey and 80 percent casein ratio. In contrast, breast milk has a 60 to 40 percent whey to casein ratio. Despite this difference, cow’s milk is the preferred animal protein source for infant formulas. Formulas with added whey are always beneficial for this reason.
Partially hydrolyzed proteins are meant to be easier to digest because they are broken into smaller pieces for easier digestion. Cow’s milk proteins are larger than those in breast milk. The process of partially hydrolyzing proteins makes cow’s milk proteins closer in size to those in breastmilk. There is promising research on whether or not partially hydrolyzed infant formulas prevent future allergies, diabetes, and illnesses (source). These formula versions, however, are not appropriate for infants with a cow’s milk protein allergy.
Wouldn’t it be great if we moms could suck the fat out of our bodies, and give it to our babies? After all, babies need to eat a high-fat diet. Around fifty percent of their calories are from creamy, fatty goodness. Sadly, giving them our fat is a fantasy.
Most infant formulas provide about the same amount of fat calories as breast milk which is definitely a good sign.
Manufacturers add a blend of vegetable oils to fulfill the fat composition requirements. The most commonly used oils are palm olein, soy, coconut, high oleic sunflower, high oleic safflower, and MCT oil.
Because these are plant-derived oils, none are found in breast milk (source). Most of these oils are easy enough for babies to digest, and do not cause any issues. Oils derived from coconut such as MCT oil are very easy to digest.
Palm olein oil is the most prevalent oil used in baby formulas because it is structurally similar to one found in breast milk. There is some concern, however, that this oil can block calcium absorption, and prevent proper bone mineralization. It is also more difficult to absorb other fats, including DHA, which is important for brain development (source).
On the subject of the omega fatty acids DHA and ARA, most infant formulas listed above include these ingredients. While not considered essential, they are also found in breast milk, and promote brain and eye development. You may have heard of these before reading this article.
Lastly, Enfamil has a formula version with MFGM, another fat, perfect for boosting the baby’s brain.
Vitamins & Minerals
Most people know what vitamins and minerals are, but babies have no clue. They just want food in their bellies.
Vitamins and minerals comprise two percent of most infant formulas. While this may seem a bit low, considering how our moms insisted that we eat our veggies to get vitamins, it is the recommended amount that is safe for infants.
Now, we have the FDA “mothering” our vitamin content. They make sure that manufacturers follow the guidlelines for minimum amounts of 27 different vitamins. Some brands add in extras like lutein for eye health, but it’s not required by the FDA.
Most formulas contain large amounts of iron as a way of overcompensating for how poorly it is absorbed. In contrast, the iron in breastmilk is more bioavailable. Most formula blends contain 1.8 mg of iron. This is enough to meet the iron needs of infants without causing constipation (source). Further research is necessary to evaluate the effects of excessive iron on gut health.
Here are the key vitamins and minerals you will find in most formulas:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Thiamin (Vitamin B1)
- Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Folic Acid (Folacin)
- Pantothenic Acid
- Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
Side note: soy-based formula can inhibit the absorption of some minerals, so it should be used with caution.
Prebiotics stimulate a good bacterial response in the intestines without the addition of probiotics. They are meant to keep the gut happy. Probiotics are live bacteria, not often found in formula, and are given as a supplement if you want to add this to your baby’s diet.
Prebiotics are practically becoming standard infant formula ingredients. They are indigestible types of fiber that allow good bacteria to grow in the intestines. A good way to remember the difference is to think: probiotics eat prebiotics.
Both are found in breast milk, and are called oligosaccharides (found in Similac Formula). They are felt to protect babies from infection, and boost the immune system.
Two common prebiotics found in current infant formulas are galactooligosaccharides (GOS) and fructooligosaccharides (FOS). Another is polydextrose. As previously mentioned, polydextrose is sugar-based, and not the most ideal prebiotic. Try to avoid this type if healthier options available.
Nucleotides are the other super-long, complicated words you see in the list of formula ingredients. They show up as Adenosine 5′-Monophosphate, Cytidine 5′-Monophosphate, Disodium Guanosine 5′-Monophosphate, and Disodium Uridine 5′-Monophosphate.
Sometimes, they do have the decency of announcing themselves as a nucleotide. But what are these strange “-tide thingies?” They are the building blocks of DNA and RNA.
Breast milk, of course, has them in abundance, so it makes sense to add them to formula as well.
FAQs – Formula for Babies
What ingredients should I avoid in baby formula?
If possible, Experienced Mommy recommends that you avoid soybean oils, corn syrup, and maltodextrin. Many formulas do contain these ingredients, however. If your baby has trouble with certain formulas, or if you have other requirements such as organic, non-GMO, or vegan, your options may be limited.
What is really in baby formula?
It depends upon the particular formulation, of which there are many. Cow’s milk is the most commonly used protein source, and is recommended by the AAP. Soy is commonly for babies who are temporarily lactose intolerant or are born with galactocemia. Some European infant formulas are made with goat milk.
Is Nan formula good for babies?
Nan is a Nestle formula. (Nestle formulas also include the Gerber Good Start Formulas.) Experienced Mommy cites only one Nestle formula as a top formula: Gerber Good Start Gentle for Supplementing Powder Infant Formula (which Experienced Mommy identifies as the best of all Nestles’ formulas).
Even this one contains maltodextrin. There’s a similar (but not so highly recommended) formula for babies 6-12 months: Gerber Good Start Gentle 2 (HMO) Powder Infant Formula. Note that the first mentioned above is recommended for supplementing while breastfeeding. The second version is for non-breastfed babies.
Is it okay to put vanilla in baby formula?
Some parents talk about adding vanilla. I would not add vanilla extract, since it contains alcohol. The (nonalcoholic) vanilla flavor might be alright, but I would not add it without the approval of your pediatrician.
How can I make my baby’s formula taste better?
The general recommendation is that you not alter your baby’s formula in any way without your pediatrician’s recommendation (source).
Do baby formulas taste different from one another?
Yes, they do taste a little differently. If your baby dislikes one formula, your doctor may recommend that you try another.