The Best Baby Formula on the Market, According to Pediatricians
Whether you’re looking to supplement your breast milk with some formula or are a full-time bottle feeder, choosing the best baby formula for your infant shouldn’t be a laborious task. (You’ll have enough of those as a new mom…promise.)
Although it may take some trial and error to figure out what works well with your baby's tiny tummy, don’t stress about the breast versus bottle debate, if you do decide to go the strictly formula route. (While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months and encourages breastfeeding until at least 12 months or longer, says New York-based pediatrician Dr. Cherilyn Cecchini, “some mothers might opt for formula over breastfeeding for several reasons including personal comfort. Some moms might experience pain and discomfort with breastfeeding or difficulty with latching.”)
But how do you decide which is the best baby formula? And how do you go about introducing it to your baby? We tapped the experts to learn about the types of formulas and how to choose one that works for your family.
First things first: The 3 types of baby formula
To start, there are three main types of baby formula: cow’s milk, soy and specialized varieties that are formulated for babies who are premature or have certain illnesses and needs. “Cow’s milk protein-based formula is a suitable choice for most infants,” Dr. Cecchini says. She adds that cow’s milk formulas contain the same number of calories per ounce as breast milk. “The ingredients of these formulas closely mirror the composition of breast milk, which is 70 percent whey and 30 percent casein. Omega-3 fatty acids naturally produced in breast milk are added to some formulas, so they are safe for infants to consume and have been associated with enhanced brain development in infants.”
If your baby is allergic to the protein in cow’s milk or your household is vegan, you might need to try soy formulas. Doctors will usually recommend a hydrolyzed formula for babies who are allergic to milk proteins. “If parents notice blood in the diaper, this might mean the child has a milk-protein allergy. In this scenario, avoidance of milk- or soy-based formulas is important and choosing a hydrolyzed formula with the guidance of your pediatrician is key. The ingredients in a hydrolyzed formula are broken down and easier to digest,” Dr. Cecchini explains.
The 3 forms of baby formula
Like a choose-your-own-adventure game, you get to decide how you want your formula: powder, liquid or ready-to-feed. Powder formula needs to be mixed with the correct ratio of water (one scoop of powder to every two fluid ounces of water); liquid formula is concentrated and requires the addition of water (as directed on the packaging); and ready-made formulas are good to go; just add a nipple. The ready-made formulas are typically the most expensive option, says Dr. Jen Trachtenberg, a New York-based pediatrician and creator of the video series Pediatrician in Your Pocket. Plus, they’re heavy to carry around in your diaper bag and are ultimately not the most convenient for travel since they need to remain refrigerated.
“There should be no difference in the calories, nutrients, or ingredients in a powder versus a liquid or ready-made formula of the same brand product,” explains Dr. Corey Hebert, a New Orleans-based pediatrician and a professor at LSU and Tulane Medical Center. “The family’s choice should be based on the convenience needed to make the moms and dads feel more comfortable with providing the formula to the baby.”
And don’t get too hung up on buying the fancy name brands either. Dr. Trachtenberg says that generic store brands contain the exact same ingredients as the more expensive brands. That’s because the Food and Drug Administration regulates formulas to ensure safety and consistency across the board, so that all formulas contain the same minimum amount of required nutrients and vitamins like iron and vitamins C, D and E, along with other criteria. It’s kind of like buying a generic version of an OTC medication. Because of this, Dr. Trachtenberg explains that it is also OK to swap in a different brand if, for example, the store runs out of your go-to formula. Your baby shouldn’t notice a difference, unless he’s prone to sensitivities.
The specific needs of a baby typically dictate the best formula, says Dr. Hebert. “For example, if a baby is extremely fussy, I may recommend Enfamil Sensitive to decrease the baby’s irritability. For healthy term babies, I recommend Enfamil Neuropro because it has MFGM (milk fat globule membrane) and DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid), which are ingredients found in breast milk that help support brain development.”
Here are some formulas to consider to help keep your baby smiling and satiated:
Gerber Good Start GentlePro
This formula is designed to closely mimic breast milk, with a bit of a boost from the addition of DHA, prebiotics and probiotics to help your little one’s digestion.
Similac for Supplementation
As the name suggests, this formula is geared toward moms who are doing double duty, breastfeeding and bottle feeding. It’s also a good option for those who want to transition to formula full-time.
Gerber Good Start Soothe
This formula is made with partially hydrolyzed proteins, and aims to ease colic and excess gas, which can happen if your baby has difficulty digesting lactose. All infants (except for those with a rare disorder) are born with the ability to digest lactose. A hydrolyzed formula is simply broken down more so it’s easier on your baby’s tummy, Dr. Trachtenberg explains.
Plum Organics Gentle Infant Formula
Modeled after breast milk, this organic baby formula contains no added corn syrup solids or genetically engineered ingredients and it is U.S.D.A. certified organic.
Similac Pro-Total Comfort
Made from partially hydrolyzed whey protein, this baby formula is designed for reflux-prone infants, since whey protein is digested faster and is easier on sensitive stomachs.
Enfamil NeuroPro Gentlease
This formula is lower in lactose and contains MFGM and DHA for brain-building nutrition.
ENFAMIL NEUROPRO GENTLEASE
This is another easy-to-digest formula similar to the Gentlease product.