There are many different formulas around, so it can be difficult deciding on the best infant formula for your baby.
Here is some information which will hopefully help steer you in the right direction. Remember, you can always call our experts
for advice on your baby's formula options.
Formula is designed to be a substitute for breast milk, so it’s matched as closely as possible to the nutrition that breast milk provides. Infant formula has the balance of fat, protein and carbohydrate to provide your baby with the energy they need, as well as all the other essential vitamins and minerals for healthy growth and development. Some formulas also contain other nutrients such as Omega 3, and probiotics like ‘Bifidus’ – a type of good bacteria naturally found in baby’s digestive system.
What’s in Infant Formula
There are very strict regulations controlling how formula is made and the nutrients it contains. In NZ and Australia, the Food Standards Code ensures this. The aim is to make the nutrition in formula as close to breast milk as possible.
If you’re not fully breastfeeding your baby, formula is the only suitable alternative to breast milk for the first 12 months. Infant formula can be used right from birth, and is suitable for babies under 6 months old (but can also be used up to 12 months). Follow-on formula is designed to be used for babies six months and older, once they are on solids. Formula provides the energy, protein, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that your baby needs for healthy growth and development.
Three basic types: which is best?
Most infant formulas are based on either cow's milk, soy, or goat's milk. There are a few specialized formulas available as well, but usually these will be suggested by your GP if they are necessary.
Cow's milk based formula:
Most formulas are made from cow's milk and designed to match as closely as possible the nutritional composition of breast milk. In NZ the Ministry of Health recommends a cows’ milk based formula as the most appropriate choice for babies who are not being fully breastfed.
Soy formula is based on proteins derived from soy beans. Some parents who wish to raise their baby on a vegetarian diet will choose soy formula. Doctors may suggest soy formula for a baby who is bottle fed over six months with a diagnosed allergy to cow’s milk. Soy formula is probably best used on medical advice.
Goat's milk based formula:
This is formula made from goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk. Goat's milk formula is not suitable for babies with diagnosed allergies to cow's milk as the proteins in goat's milk and cow's mik are very similar. Goat's milk formula is nutritionally similar to other formulas providing a different option for parents to choose.
Lactose-free formulas contain much less lactose than standard cows’ milk or goat’s milk formulas. Lactose is the natural sugar found in breastmilk (and formula) and is an important carbohydrate and source of energy for babies.
Some parents feel their baby doesn’t digest lactose very well because their baby has wind, bloating and is unsettled. In reality, true lactose intolerance is rare and can cause severe diarrhea and problems with growth.
Most babies have no problem digesting lactose because it is an important part of breast milk.
Some babies can suffer from a type of temporary lactose intolerance that can happen after baby has had a severe gastro-intestinal infection, but this usually resolves within 4 weeks without any need for a change in baby’s normal milk. Lactose-free formulas are probably best used on medical advice.
These formulas are often used for babies with food allergies. Much of the protein in the formula has been broken down into smaller protein units to make them more easily digested. Partially hydrolysed formulas may assist babies with protein digestion, but are not suitable for genuine incidences of cow’s milk allergy. If your baby is being formula fed and has a diagnosed allergy to cow’s milk protein or soy protein, the doctor will probably trial them on an extensively hydrolysed formula to see if their symptoms improve. Extensively hydrolysed formulas are specialised products and in NZ are available on prescription, but not in the supermarket.
AR (Anti-Reflux) Formulas:
AR formulas are sometimes used for babies who have reflux. These formulas have thickeners added to them so the formula is thicker and is not as easily regurgitated from baby’s stomach back into the oesophagus. However, the most effective treatment for reflux is medication that is prescribed by your baby's GP or Specialist. Some of these medications cannot be used if baby is being fed a thickened formula. Make sure you discuss this with your GP if your baby is having an AR formula, as a standard formula may be more appropriate.
Are very similar to cow’s milk based formulas except organic ingredients are used. Organic and non-organic formulas both must meet stringent safety, quality and nutritional standards and regulations. In some cases the strict organic requirements may prevent some optional ingredients from being used in formula. For this reason, there is no nutritional advantage in using an organic formula. However, some parents choose to use organic formula for other reasons.
You’re not alone
If you are confused or unsure you can always ask for help from your midwife, well child or Plunket nurse or your GP. Many of the formula companies also provide a free helpline where you can talk to health professionals
about formula related questions.