Finding the Right Baby Formula for your Little Kids – What You Need to Know
Infant formula - otherwise known as ‘first milk’ in British English - is a substitute for breast milk that fulfills the dietary needs of babies under 12 months old. While most pediatricians still encourage breastmilk, there will be times when it's physically impossible for the mother to breastfeed.
For many parents, choosing the right milk formula for a 0–6-month-old baby can be complicated. Aside from the thousands of different brands and varieties, every baby is different – even siblings! No parents deserve to be anxious when it comes to feeding their child. In the end, there is no perfect formula, but you can try to find the best one for your newborn.
To help narrow down your choices, here are a few topics that can help you:
- What nutrients to look for in a baby formula
- Different types of milk formulas
- What if your baby has specific needs?
- What if my baby has an allergic reaction?
- What is the best milk formula for babies?
Let’s start with the basics: protein, carbohydrates, and fat make up 98% of any milk formula. These three will have the most impact on your baby’s comfort. On the packaging, you will find words like ‘gentle’ or ‘sensitive’ but you can skip those - they are nothing more than marketing terms! Instead, you should look at the list of ingredients for what type of protein and carbohydrates are used in the formula.
Protein is vital to a child’s development. These complex molecules promote the growth of all body systems. It also acts as enzymes, immune molecules, hormones, and cellular messengers in a child’s growing body.
Both dairy-based and soy-based formula can be used as ingredients. The more important factor lies in how well your baby digests these proteins. The larger the molecules, the more difficult they are to absorb.
Here’s a quick lowdown on proteins commonly found in infant milk:
|Type of protein formula||Size of Molecules||Description||Examples|
|Standard (full-size)||Large|| || |
|Partially hydrolyzed||Medium|| || |
|Fully hydrolyzed||Small|| || |
It’s ironic that many diet-conscious adults avoid carbohydrates as much as possible yet as infants, it's a crucial ingredient in milk formulas. Lactose from breast milk is a good source of carbohydrates which all healthy babies can digest. For infants starting on formula for the first time, it is best to start on a lactose-based formula to maximize the amount of carbohydrates.
However, there are babies that absorb lactose-reduced formulas. Premature babies or those with irritated digestive tracts may have less enzymes to properly digest lactose. Furthermore, babies recovering from diarrhea or those who are accustomed to low-lactose diets can also benefit from reduced lactose content.
For milk-free formulas, other carbohydrates must be added to ensure that infants get the prescribed amount of carbohydrates. Sugars can be a primary source of carbohydrate energy - mainly sucrose (table sugar) and glucose sugars.
Both types are safe for infant consumption. Look for ingredients such as corn syrups, brown rice syrup, glucose syrup, and maltodextrin to know if the formula is indeed lactose reduced.
Another tip is to always check the label when it comes to carb and protein percentages. Some infant formulas may have more carbohydrates while others may carry more protein. In certain formulas, you can find other ingredients such as monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fat, as well as vitamins, minerals, rice starch, dietary fibers, amino acids, and probiotics.
Bonus nutrients: DHA, MFHGM, etc.
On many infant formula labels, you will find all these bonus ingredients that may look appealing to any parent. Ingredients like DGA, MFGM, lactoferrin, and HMOs are some of the many you can find slapped on the packaging. Although these are nice to have, you should primarily focus on proteins and carbohydrates and how comfortable your newborn is to the formula.
Once you’ve narrowed down what your infant is comfortable with, feel free to add those extras if you can afford them. Other than that, it should just be an afterthought rather than a priority.
Each type of infant formula provides a different set of benefits. Much of your choice depends on your baby’s preferences. For example, if your child is lactose intolerant, consider soy-based milk or any other lactose-free milk formula. To give you a better idea, here are a few ways you can classify different types of baby milk:
Ready-to-use versus powdered milk
Formula milk can be prepared in two distinct ways: ready-to-use and powdered formula.
- Ready-to-use formula – convenient and requires no mixing at all. However, ready-to-use formulas need to be consumed once opened and can be more expensive than powdered formulas.
- Powdered formula – this is the typical powdered formula milk you see in supermarkets. It needs to be mixed with warm water but is cheaper than ready-to-use formulas.
Categorized by base ingredients
Another way you can group milk formulas is through its base ingredients. In general, there are eight different types:
- Cow-based formula – provides the right balance of nutrients and makes it easier to digest based on how much they have been hydrolized. Most healthy babies thrive well with cow’s milk but be sure to check for any signs of allergies.
- Soy-based milk – a plant-based formula for parents who want to exclude animal proteins and lactose from their child’s diet. Besides the low lactose content, soy is also a great source of protein which is crucial for your child’s growth and development.
- Protein Hydrolysate formulas – formulas that have been ‘broken down’ or hydrolyzed either fully or partially so it’s easier for your baby to digest. Protein hydrolysate milk is meant for babies who can’t tolerate both cow’s and soy-based formulas.
Types of milk to avoid
Babies don’t have a fully developed digestive system like what adults have. Not all types of milk are suitable for babies, especially complex substances and milk drinks. Never give these types of milk to your little one less than 12 months old:
- Sweetened or condensed milk
- Evaporated milk
- Dried milk
- Goats or sheep’s milk (unless used for cooking or pasteurized)
- Milk drinks
As mentioned, not all babies are born the same – each individual infant is unique! The best milk for some newborns may not be the best for yours. The best way to find out what is the best formula for your baby is to consult your pediatrician, especially for cases like acid reflux, eczema, or constipation. Here are a few tips that can help:
If you find your baby always spitting up after a meal, they could be suffering from acid reflux. Consider choosing a formula with high whey content.
To put it simply, milk proteins can be categorized in two ways: whey and casein. Whey proteins remain as liquids in the stomach and therefore easily absorbed. Another way is to consider a thicker formula to let gravity do its work. Try what’s best for your infant and see which one works!
Eczema can be difficult to deal with, even for adults Thankfully, partially hydrolyzed protein formulas have been shown to alleviate infant eczema. Along with regular trips to physician, you can try Enfamil Gentleaseor other partially hydrolyzed formulas.
Keep in mind that some generic brands use a blend of partially hydrolyzed and full-sized proteins which can be harder to digest. Make sure to read the ingredients carefully before purchasing.
If your child is suffering from constipation, ask your doctor to switch to a formula without palm oil. Palm oil can cause your baby’s bowel movements to be firm. We recommend Similac brand formulas since the brand does not use palm oil on their ingredients. The best thing about Similac is there are tons of options depending on the size of protein your baby prefers.
Don’t panic if your little one gets an allergic reaction! If your family has a history of food allergies, your baby may have a higher chance of inheriting one as well. If this is the case, there are numbers of ways you can try to prevent an allergic reaction. The most obvious way is to take proper care of your baby’s nutrition.
Make sure to always consult your pediatrician for any signs of an allergic reaction. Milk allergies are very common, which can make breastfeeding difficult. Infant formulas like Nan milk and Blemil act as a replacement for cow’s milk allergy or sensitivity. Dairy allergy symptoms include a change in behavior when eating a certain food, gassiness, eczema, vomiting, and even diarrhea.
Sensitivity towards cow’s milk doesn’t always mean your child is lactose intolerant. There could be proteins and antibodies from cow dairy that could be triggering such reactions. Depending on the level of susceptibility for cow’s milk, breastfeeding mothers can still consume dairy products in small portions. However, if your child is highly allergic, it’s best to eliminate all sources of dairy proteins and use a replacement allergy formula like Nutramigen.
If you are breastfeeding, avoid consuming allergenic foods like eggs, fish, milk, and nuts. Cover your mattresses and pillows with dust-mite-proof and hypoallergenic cases. If you own any pets, try leaving your cats or dogs in a pet hotel for at least a week. Make sure to regularly dust and vacuum your home, especially if your floor is carpeted and during pollen seasons.
If only newborns could talk and tell exactly what they want – how much easier would that be? Because of the nature of babies and their sensitive digestive systems, finding the right infant formula is crucial. In addition, each baby has their own unique needs so what may be good for one might not be good for others.
Focus on carbohydrates and proteins when looking for infant formula. These two ingredients are crucial to your baby’s growth and development – everything else is considered a bonus. Be sure to check with your pediatrician for any unusual symptoms like allergies, diarrhea, eczema, or constipation. Babies with sensitivities need specific ingredients or lack thereof. For example, babies with lactose intolerance would need soy-based infant milk, or infants with eczema would fare well with partially hydrolyzed protein formulas. Check with your pediatrician for any changes to your baby’s diet.
It may seem unconventional, but many Filipino parents are now buying their infant milk online. Not only is it convenient, but it is also cheaper compared to supermarkets. On the iPrice catalog, you can compare different infant milk prices from big supermarkets and stores in the Philippines. It’s never been easier to find great offers for the best infant formula milk!
Marjorie Mae Mendoza
Marjorie (MJ) is iPrice Tech Writer in Residence. Always on the hunt for the inside scope on the newest smartphones, computers, and electronic devices, MJ provides a no-holds-barred analysis on what’s hot (and what’s not) in the latest tech releases. In her free time, MJ enjoys first-person video games and digital illustrations.