There’s long been debate about whether or not to use baby formula. If a new mama can establish a breastfeeding relationship that works for her and her sweetie, wonderful! But if that's not the case, it's necessary to nourish your baby with formula, whether you're supplementing breastfeeding or replacing it altogether.
If you’re deciding to go the formula route, you’re not alone — millions are making the same choice. It turns out many millennial moms are choosing formula over breastfeeding, as it is more convenient for them when working outside of the home and allows parents to share the feeding responsibility. No matter your reason for choosing to feed your baby formula, there are plenty of options out there.
Best Baby Formulas
Best Newborn Formula: Gerber Good Start Soothe Non-GMO Formula
Best First Year Powder: Similac Pro Advance
Best Organic Formula: Earth’s Best Organic Baby Powder Formula
Best Non-Dairy Formula: Enfamil Soy Baby Formula
Best Toddler Formula: Enfagrow Premium Toddler Transitions
Best Innovative Formula: Enfamil Enspire Baby Formula
Best Supplementing Formula: Similac for Supplementation Formula
Best CMPA Formula: Gerber Extensive HA Hypoallergenic Powder
Best for Babies With Lactose Intolerance: Enfamil Nutramigen Infant Formula
Best Ready-to-Use Formula: Enfamil Neuropro Gentlease Ready To Feed Baby Formula
What to Look for in Formula
Best Products contacted Dr. Christina Valentine M.D., M.S., R.D., FAAP — neonatologist, dietitian, and medical director at RB Health — to find out what it is exactly that parents should know about formula.
She tells Best Products that choosing the right formula for your baby is essential because within the first 1,000 days in a baby's life, the brain, body, and immune system are rapidly developing, and require specific nutrition. She cautions parents that "U.S. formula is the way to go because formulas here are highly regulated and safe," which is extremely important when you consider that some of the largest recalls of baby formula have happened outside of the U.S. — and with lethal consequences due to a lack of nutrition or lack of oversight. She says that "we make sure that there's sufficient iron, vital nutrients, and calories in each formulation."
Valentine tells Best Products that there are a few key things you want to be aware of when choosing a formula — fats, prebiotics, and probiotics, the types of dairy used, and the fat that's added. Each of these plays a key role in digestion and cellular development.
A few key things you want to be aware of when choosing a formula — fats, prebiotics, and probiotics, the types of dairy used, and the fat that's added.
She notes that fats docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA) are important for a baby's myelin development, which is an insulating layer around nerve cells that help keep impulses transmitting easily and quickly. Also, she points out that while many formulas use vegetable oil as their primary source of fat, Enfamil formulas have developed a proprietary fat called MFGM or Milk Fat Globule Membrane, which is found in the milk of every mammal (including humans), and they argue helps promote cognitive development.
As for the dairy choice, this is where things get tricky. Different babies need different dairy formulations. Valentine says that most babies will be just fine and develop well on standard formula, but babies who come from families with a history of allergies might need a formula like Nutramigen from Enfamil, which has extensively hydrolyzed casein protein that babies can digest easier than regular dairy. She says that if your baby is gassy or tends to cry a lot, they might need a gentle formula; babies who are “snacky” might need a carbohydrate adjustment and require a sensitive formula like Enfamil Sensitive.
As for the prebiotics and probiotics, ingredients like galactooligosaccharides (yes, that's one word) help a baby digest their food more easily, and they actually produce stool similar to that of a breastfed baby when they're being fed formula with these types of ingredients.
As for the prebiotics and probiotics, ingredients like galactooligosaccharides help a baby digest their food more easily.
Whether you choose powder, ready to go, or concentrate isn't a huge deal, says Valentine. But she does caution that if you're mixing it yourself, just make sure you're keeping everything clean and sanitary. (Don't throw the measuring scoop back in the container! Wash and dry it. Your hands are touching the handle and then hanging out in the food.)
Pro tip: Ditch the scoop entirely (or store it) and put your empty bottle on a digital food scale and go by the weight indicated on the side of the container. You can use a clean spoon every time, and it's dead simple. Tare out the bottle, dump in the powder, add water, shake and go.
Pro tip: Put your empty bottle on a digital food scale and go by the weight indicated on the side of the container.
No matter the route you want to go, it's always important to chat with your pediatrician or WIC counselor to determine the best plan for your baby.
Types of Formula
To help you decide the best route to take in terms of baby formula, we put together a guide of the best formula options. Full of feel-good ingredients, and now closer to breast milk than ever before, you'll be confident feeding your baby any of these infant and toddler formulas.
Best Newborn Formula
Created to mimic the nutritious benefits of Mom’s breastmilk, the Gerber Good Start Soothe keeps colic and gas pains at bay for your little one's sensitive tummy. The pre- and probiotics encourage good bacteria in your sweetie's belly for painless poops. This hypoallergenic blend contains small, easy-to-digest proteins and probiotics that promise to cut your baby's excessive crying bouts in half by reducing colic and gas, symptoms that could be causing your baby physical distress.
Best First-Year Powder
Similac Pro Advance is the top baby formula brand in the United States, and the sales and coupons they put out can not be beaten. When your baby is powering through tins of the stuff, cost can be a huge factor.
This specific blend is packed with OptiGRO, a blend of DHA, lutein, and vitamin E to support your healthy, growing baby.
Best Organic Formula
This infant powder is a perfect pick for the first year. It includes ingredients for brain and eye health, plus overall growth and immunity support. Aside from its organic formula, it's also offered as an organic formula specifically for babies with lactose sensitivities.
Best Nondairy Formula
Some babies are born with a dairy allergy that cannot withstand even the most hydrolyzed casein protein. If you have a baby who is happier staying away from milk-based formula, give this soy-based formula by Enfamil a go. While you won’t find any lactose in this formula, you will find an abundance of nutrition that’ll nourish your baby’s brain and body.
Best Toddler Formula
This premium formula, specifically created for growing toddlers, is packed with nutrition to support growth and development. It's also loaded with elements that protect and strengthen your little one's immune system. Plus, the omega-3 DHA will fully support healthy development of your child's brain.
Best Innovative Formula
It's not a perfect match, but the addition of milk fat globule membrane (MFGM) and lactoferrin — two nutrients naturally found in breast milk that support brain development, gut health, and the immune system — help make Enspire the closest formula to breast milk. That means that infants on Enspire will pretty much reap the same nutritional benefits as breastfed babies.
Best for Breastfed Babies
This gentle, non-GMO formula by Similac is ideal for the babies who get the majority of their nourishment from mama, but could benefit from a little supplementation between feedings. It contains vitamins and minerals essential for your baby's healthy growth, including an extra dose of macros like protein, carbs, and fat.
You'll also appreciate the probiotics in this formula, which will keep your little one's diapers looking consistent when switching between mama's liquid gold and formula. With this formula on hand, moms can pump and dump without worries if it isn't convenient to store the breast milk that can't be directly fed to baby.
Best for CMPA Babies
If your little sunshine is allergic to cow's milk, hunting around for a trusted formula can be frustrating. Make things easier and order this hypoallergenic powder from Gerber. It's the perfect pick for babies with CMPA (cow's milk protein allergy). The formula is made with whey, but babies can easily tolerate it and enjoy it. Plus, the formula includes ingredients that support your baby's gut flora.
Best for Babies With Lactose Intolerance
Enfamil's Nutramigen is one of the best formulas available for babies that struggle with dairy. It has super hydrolyzed casein protein, which Enfamil says can actually help heal baby's tummies over the duration of their time consuming it, so babies can grow to lead healthier, less-sensitive lives.
Best Ready-to-Use Formula
This formula includes partially broken-down proteins, which means your baby's tummy will have to do less work. It's perfect for on-the-go use when your little one is under the stress of traveling or sleeping in a new environment! It's so easy to toss one (or two!) of these in the diaper bag on the way out of the house, too. This is the ultimate in cleanliness, nutrition, and convenience for parents and babies.
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