A Nurse's Guide to Choosing a Great Baby Formula

baby formula newborn Oct 04, 2022
A baby with blue eyes looks at the camera while drinking a bottle of baby formula. Choosing a baby formula can be easy.

When picking a formula for your baby, you are given SO many options.

It can be really confusing and all you want is to pick the right one for your child. Don’t worry, mama - I got you.

Choosing a formula isn’t as easy as just picking one off the shelf and trying it. Sure, you can try that but with a little research, you can find the one that is just right.

Keep in mind that this can end up being a process of elimination, but I’m here to guide you through it in 5 steps.

 

Step 1: Choose the type of formula

When buying formula, you will typically see two different types on the shelves: ready-to-feed and powdered.

  • Ready to feed: this formula is just as it says! You can give it to your baby straight from the container, no need to mix with water.
    • Most convenient - you always know it is mixed correctly and it is ready to go whenever your baby needs it.
    • Sterile and has less risk for cronobacter.
    • Some babies will tolerate this better than other types of formula.
    • Usually the most expensive option.
  • Powdered: this powdered mix will come in a can and you will measure out scoops to mix with water based on how many ounces your baby will eat. Remember to measure the water first before adding the formula powder.
    • Make sure to read the label to ensure you are mixing correctly! Different formulas have different mixing instructions.
    • Not sterile so there is a small risk for bacterial contamination.
      • It is recommended to boil the water for formula if your baby is under 3 months of age, was premature, or is immune compromised.
    • Powdered formula is the most commonly used, is often the least expensive, and has many options for different formulas. 

 

Step 2: Understand what formula terms mean

Once you have selected the type of formula you would like to feed your baby, you might notice all the different kinds on the shelves.

Let’s break this down a bit:

  • Standard cow milk formula:
    • AKA Advantage
    • Start with this one unless directed by a medical provider otherwise.
    • Has whey and casein as the protein source, lactose as the carb source, oils for fat, and added vitamins and minerals.
  • Sensitive formula:  
    • Lactose is removed as the main carb source to decrease upset stomach.
    • Many contain milk protein isolate as the protein source, which is concentrated milk protein.
    • Many parents find sensitive formulas do not help improve their baby's digestion. This is because lactose intolerance is not common in babies. 
      • I suggest skipping sensitive formulas and going to gentle formulas unless the sensitive formulas have partially hydrolyzed milk proteins.
  • Gentle formula:
    • The milk proteins in these formulas have been partially broken down to make them easier to digest.
    • Some companies will remove lactose as the carb source and replace it with an easier to digest carb like maltodextrin, glucose, or corn syrup solids.
  • Soy:
    • Uses soy protein instead of milk protein.
    • This is a good option for those who are vegan and may be an option for those with milk protein allergies.
      • It is important to note that some babies with milk allergies may still react to a soy formula.
  • Hypoallergenic:
    • These formulas have milk proteins that have been broken down so they are less likely to cause allergic reactions.
    • This might be a good option for babies with colic or a true cow milk protein allergy. Consult with your pediatrician if you feel your baby needs to be on a hypoallergenic formula.

 

Step 3: Decide which ingredients are must-haves

I’m going to start by saying you can just ignore all the marketing surrounding formula. What is inside the formula is the most important part!

So, get up close with those nutrition labels and start looking for ingredients you want and which ones you want to stay away from.

You will find five main ingredients in your formula.

  •  Protein: whey/casein, nonfat milk protein, whey isolate or concentrate, hydrolyzed milk protein, or a soy protein isolate.
    • Protein helps build and repair tissue, fights infection and provides energy.
    • I prefer a formula with added whey/whey protein isolate because whey is easier to digest than casein.
  • Fat: Palm olein or palm oil, soy oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, coconut oil, rapeseed oil or single cell oil are all types of fats you might find.
    • Fats are essential because they provide energy, help with brain development, and help absorb nutrients.
    • Some families like to avoid palm oil due to ethical concerns and that it sometimes causes constipation. Others like to avoid soy oil.
  • Carbs: lactose, maltodextrin, corn syrup/corn syrup solids, starch, sucrose/sugar, and glucose syrup/solids.
    • Carbs are the main source of energy.
    • Most babies tolerate lactose well. Lactose intolerance often doesn't happen until late childhood.
  • Vitamins and minerals: the FDA regulates minimums and some maximums of certain vitamins and minerals that are critical to your baby's growth and development.
    • These are mandatory for all infant formulas.
  • Finally, the manufacturer may have added some featured ingredients such as lactoferrin, lutein, milk fat globule membrane, prebiotics and probiotics.
    • These are not mandatory. Different formulas will have different featured ingredients. Many are added after independent research is done by the formula company and are often used to mimic breast milk. 
    • I personally like an added pre or probiotic for good gut health, but this can be added separately.

 

Step 4: Decide what special features you want.

Now you have the basics for what you want in your baby’s formula. What other aspects are important to you? 

Some parents might prefer a non-GMO product while others might look for organic or grass-fed. There are many options out there so keep looking until you see one that is the right fit for you and your baby!

 

Step 5: Try the formula

Now that you have narrowed down the kind of formula you want or need, it’s time to buy it and try it! Make sure it is available where you shop or online. Make sure it is within budget.

Reminder: more expensive does not equal better. Generic formulas work great for many families. The best formula is the one that is best for YOUR baby. 

It can take 2 weeks for your baby to get used to a new formula, so make sure to stick with it for a while! If you have questions, I am here to help!

 

 

Hopefully, this helps you understand formula a bit better and feel more confident with your decision.

 



Do you have a baby under 4 months and have LOTS of questions?

This bundle has the answers to support you to make those first months of life less stressful so you can enjoy your baby more and worry less.

What's Included?

  • A 50 minute self-paced workshop with common questions that occur in the first month.
  • A 60-page PDF that covers breastfeeding, formula feeding, and combo-feeding to help you learn HOW to address concerns in your feeding journey.
  • A 20 page PDF on troubleshooting the most common breastfeeding issues in the first 3-4 months.

 

 

Get it now

Stay connected with updates!

Join my mailing list to receive feeding support straight to your email.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason. Opt out anytime.