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Overwhelmed by all the formula choices available to your baby? You’re not alone. A walk down the formula aisle at the store can send even the most seasoned parents into a panic.
Thing is — there’s no one brand or type of formula that’s universally best for all babies. And all infant formulas you’ll find sold in the United States have to go through the same nutritional and safety testing through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
That doesn’t mean all formulas are the same, though.
You can find formula in three forms. Powdered and liquid concentrate must be mixed with water before feeding to your baby. Ready-to-eat bottles contain liquid formula that’s already diluted with the appropriate amount of water.
Beyond that, the choices revolve around the content. Most formulas are made from cow’s milk, but you can also find soy and protein hydrolysate formulas for babies who have certain intolerances or allergies.
Is one formula really better than another?
When we select the “best” options, we aren’t saying that one brand has necessarily been proven better or more effective than all the others. In fact, this isn’t true at all.
A comprehensive review of formula feeding in American Family Physician reveals that there’s no reason to recommend one formula brand over another. Instead, they’re described as “nutritionally interchangeable.” So, in making this list, the following formulas earn high marks from parents for things like helping baby’s tummy issues, ease of use, store availability, and overall value.
Your baby may do well on one formula and not another due to reasons that are very individual and hard to pin down. As always, we recommend speaking with your pediatrician if you have concerns about your baby’s nutrition or digestion.
Dreaded colic. If you’re starting to link your baby’s cries to what they’re eating, consider choosing formulas specifically made to address what’s causing those wails.
But, reality check: There’s no evidence to suggest that a certain formula will make your baby better.
Instead, colic tends to ease up between your baby’s 4- and 6-month birthday. And colic formulas may not help if your little one has an allergy, so it’s a good idea to check in with your pediatrician to make sure there’s nothing more at play with their health.
Related: 14 remedies to try for colic
Gerber Good Start Soothe
Key features: Gerber claims that Soothe has the “gentleness of breast milk” and helps with anything from excessive crying episodes to fussiness and gas. It contains just 30 percent lactose, which the brand claims may ease baby’s stomach (though research into this is lacking). It also contains a blend of prebiotics and probiotics.
Considerations: Parents generally like this formula, but some feel it can be a bit clumpy and hard to dissolve in the bottle. A few say that Soothe smells bad and that their babies don’t love the taste and occasionally refuse to drink it.
There are formulas on the market that are thickened by rice. They may help decrease the frequency of spit-ups and don’t have any long-term safety concerns.
Key features: As with other thickened formulas, Enfamil explains that their A.R. formula meets reflux guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It contains rice starch to help thicken and settle better in baby’s stomach. The manufacturers of this formula supported a study in 2003 that showed it can reduce babies’ spit-up episodes by up to 50 percent.
Considerations: You’ll want to speak with your pediatrician before offering thickened formula to your baby. While some parents swear this is the best formula they’ve ever tried, others share that this mix really didn’t help their baby’s spit-up issue enough.
Those toots may be cute at first. But your baby may have a lot of discomfort with gas. Keep in mind that severe gas may be a sign of allergy or other medical issue. So, if switching formulas doesn’t help, head in for a check-up.
Enfamil Premium Gentlease
Key features: Enfamil claims that in clinical trials this formula reduced gas and associated fussiness and crying in just one day. This formula also contains a high amount of DHA to help nourish and develop your baby’s brain.
Considerations: Many parents are pleased with this formula and feel it does seem to help their babies. A few noted that they didn’t like the packaging and that the formula left an oily residue in the bottle after feeding.
There aren’t many formulas specifically marketed to help with constipation. It’s normal for formula-fed babies to have stools between two and threetimes a day before starting solids and two times a day after starting solids.
Or, your baby might have a different normal. But if they seem to be straining and passing hard stools or suddenly start going longer and longer without a dirty diaper, they may be constipated. You can try a different formula, and speak to your doctor about other ways to get things moving.
Key features: Enfamil claims the formula will help your little one poop more comfortably within just one week of use. It contains iron and a special blend of probiotics that Enfamil says aids with digestion. Like other varieties, this formula is gentle enough that it can be used every day.
Considerations: Reviews are mixed on whether or not this formula is a magic fix for constipation. A few parents note that their child’s stools turned dark green while using this formula. Others say it gave their babies diarrhea and more gas.
Maybe baby will receive formula only part time in combination with breastfeeding. In this case, you may want to find a formula specifically designed for supplementation.
Similac for Supplementation
Key features: Similac claims that this formula provides a “gentle introduction” to formula for breastfed babies. It includes the OptiGRO blend of DHA, lutein, and vitamin E — all nutrients found in breastmilk. It also includes more probiotics than any other type of Similac formula on the market.
Considerations: A good number of parents share positive reviews of this formula. That said, some others share that this formula gave their babies loose stools and other digestive issues, like gas.
Babies born prematurely may need additional support nutritionally. As a result, formulas for preemies focus on higher calories — usually 22 to 24 per ounce versus the standard 20 — to help boost weight gain. They may also help promote long-term growth and development.
Key features: This product includes additional calories — as well as nutrients like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus — to help baby grow in the first year. Specifically, the enriched formula aims to help premature babies “catch up” in growth
Considerations: While most parents explain that this formula truly did help their babies catch up, some shared it came at a price of constipation, gas, and other digestive issues. This formula isn’t sold at all stores, so you may need to order it online. And talk with your doctor about whether to use formula with extra calories and how long to continue with it — some recommend switching to term formulas after a few months.
Other options: Some
Some babies may be allergic to cow’s milk protein and need hypoallergenic formula — specifically, one where the protein has been broken down either partially or extensively. These formulas are also called protein hydrolysate formulas. They’re for babies who can’t drink milk- or soy-based varieties.
Key features: This formula is free of lactose and sucrose. Enfamil boasts “fast management of colic” right on the label. Some 90 percent of babies experienced relief from their symptoms within 48 hours of switching, at least according to Enfamil’s own research. This formula may reduce future allergy issues by up to 50 percent — again, according to Enfamil-sponsored research.
Considerations: Keep in mind that Nutramigen may not help your baby if their issues aren’t caused by an allergy. This formula is also on the higher end of cost per ounce. Some parents share that the formula smells and tastes bad.
Other options: You can also find Nutramigen in a liquid concentrate form.This means that you’ll mix the liquid with water for bottles instead of using powder. Some parents find this method more convenient.
Formulas labeled organic must meet certain standards, like being made without contaminants like prohibited synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Organic formulas are also free from artificial flavors and colors, growth hormones, preservatives, and other additives.
Earth’s Best Organic Sensitivity
Key features: Earth’s Best’s Sensitivity blend is made with 95 percent less lactose than standard formulas. This means it may be more easily digested by babies who are sensitive to lactose (which is very uncommon). Its dairy ingredients are organic, coming from grass-fed cows, and the formula also contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, lutein, and prebiotics to support your baby’s immune system.
Considerations: Some parents explain that they like the formula, but that it can be inconsistent from batch to batch (some more foamy, for example). Others like that this formula tastes like milk, but a few note that they’re unhappy with the high corn syrup solids content.
Fun fact: Around 25 percent of all formula sold in the United States is soy based. These formulas are free of both lactose and cow’s milk protein and may be better digested by some babies with certain medical conditions.
Talk with your doctor before switching to soy, however. Some studies show that preterm babies fed soy gain significantly less weight than those on standard formulas.
Gerber Good Start Soy
Key features: Gerber claims that their soy formula can help ease the fussiness and gas babies experience with cow milk allergies. The formula includes soy protein, vitamin D, DHA, and added calcium to support growth and development.
Considerations: Soy may not be the magic answer for all babies. Some parents share that this formula made gas and colic issues worse with their little ones. Others say the powder is lumpy and difficult to mix.
Earth’s Best Non-GMO Soy Plant Based
Key features: This lactose-free formula doesn’t contain any genetically modified ingredients or artificial additives, like colors, flavors, or pesticides. It’s made from organic soy beans and contains both DHA and ARA — two fatty acids that are naturally found in breast milk.
Considerations: Some parents say this formula is hard to find at local stores and that ordering online can be tricky to remember. A few others say this mix made their babies constipated more than other soy brands.
Your baby drinks a ton of formula in the first year. So, you may just be thinking of the bottom line. Good news for you — beyond the well-known formula manufacturers, there are some solid generic options that provide the same nutrition and safety on a dime.
Kirkland Signature Non-GMO
Key features: Kirkland’s blend contains 2′-FL Human Milk Oligosaccharide, which is a prebiotic found in breast milk. This prebiotic may help support your little one’s immune system, though there is no evidence to support this in infants. The dairy-based formula comes from cows that were not treated with artificial growth hormones.
Considerations: Some parents share that this formula is a bit more chalky and foamy than Similac. With older children, this new non-GMO formula may cause more gassiness.
*Note: You can only purchase this formula if you have a club membership to Costco. If you don’t have a Costco near you, you can always join the club and buy this product online. You may also find it on sites like Amazon, but you may want to cross-check the price to be sure you’re getting a good deal.
Target Up&Up Advantage
Key features: Target’s Advantage formula also contains 2′-FL Human Milk Oligosaccharide. This non-GMO dairy formula has DHA, lutein, vitamin E, and choline. Unlike Kirkland, it’s widely available either in-store or online at Target.
Considerations: Many parents give this formula high marks for mixing easily and not upsetting baby’s tummy. One reviewer noticed some brown clumps in the bottle after mixing. Keep in mind that many of the online reviews you’ll find are part of a promotion program.
Parent’s Choice Tender
Key features: Walmart’s Parent’s Choice Tender formula is a generic offering of Gerber Good Start Gentle. It combines prebiotics and DHA — all without artificial growth hormones or genetic engineering. Many parents share that this formula helps with constipation issues.
Considerations: Your local Walmart may not carry this product, so you may have to buy it online. Some parents say it has a cheesy smell that isn’t appealing. And a few said this formula made their babies gassy.
At the most basic level, there’s really no wrong choice when it comes to formula. Since everything you’ll find is technically safe to use, that means that what you put in your cart is really up to you, your preferences, and your budget.
You might ask yourself if a certain brand or type:
- is easy to find at a local store or online
- has a price point that fits within your budget
- meets your need for convenience (powder vs. liquid or pre-portioned)
- is appropriate for your child’s special needs (allergy, prematurity, etc.)
Beyond that, you’ll need to see what works best for your baby. Know that most formulas contain 20 calories per ounce. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, you should choose a brand that contains iron (most do) to help prevent iron deficiency anemia.
Anything else that’s added to the formula, like fatty acids and other ingredients “found in breast milk,” are completely safe, but they may or may not provide the benefits written on the box.
Once you’ve chosen your formula, you’ll want to make sure you prepare it in a safe way.
- Wash your hands with soap and water before grabbing bottles and preparing your formula. While you’re at it, make sure your bottles are clean and in working order.
- Check the date on your formula container to make sure it’s not expired. Examine the container for breaks in the seal, rust marks, leaks, and other signs that the formula is compromised.
- Use water from a safe source. You might consider boiling water for a minute and cooling before mixing bottles as well. And if you don’t think your tap water is safe to use, you may want to purchase bottled water.
- Measure out the water first before adding powder or liquid concentrate. Follow the directions on the box for how much water you’ll use.
- If you choose to warm your baby’s bottle, do so by putting the bottle in a pot of warm water on the stove. Heat to body temperature.
- Use prepared formula within 2 hours or store it in the refrigerator for 24 hours. And discard any formula your baby doesn’t finish after a feeding.
- Feed your baby in an upright position and burp often to help relieve symptoms of colic. You may also want to look into curved bottles or those that use collapsible bags to reduce air intake.
- If your baby is under
3 months old, was born prematurely, or has other health issues, your doctor may have additional guidelines for preparing formula.
Looking to switch formulas?
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to follow any specific instructions or wait any length of time before switching formulas. You can offer one at one feed and another at the next. You can even mix two types, provided you dilute them appropriately with water.
But while it’s safe to switch between brands and types, you may not want to switch frequently. The Seattle Mom Doc explains that you shouldn’t “react to every single poop.” While switching between formulas for cost or convenience may be fine, don’t do it repeatedly in search of a fix for things like colic or gas.
In other words, try giving your baby one type of formula for 1 to 2 weeks before switching.
There are many formula options available. All meet the nutritional needs of your baby. The key is preparing them in a safe way.
Still don’t know which formula to choose? Ask your pediatrician. Your child’s doctor may be able to point you in the right direction based on your baby’s health history or your personal preferences. Same goes with switching formula brands or types.
As an added bonus, your pediatrician’s office may even have coupons or free samples so you can try before you buy.