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There’s not 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 via the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
That doesn’t mean all formulas are the same, though. Some babies may do great with one brand or type; others not so much. It all comes down to finding what settles best with your baby.
You can find formula in three forms: powdered, liquid concentrate, and ready-to-eat. 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 formula’s 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. Goat’s milk baby formula is another option.
No matter which you choose, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to mix the formula. Diluting the formula with too much water can decrease the nutritional value, and it can lead to electrolyte imbalances that can cause seizures. Meanwhile, adding too little water can harm a baby’s delicate organs.
Breast milk vs. formula
Breast milk is the ideal food for babies. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the World Health Organization recommend
That said, not all parents breastfeed, whether by necessity or choice — and it is a personal decision. For more on the subject, read:
- Best baby formula for colic: Gerber Good Start SoothePro Powder Infant Formula
- Best baby formula for reflux: Enfamil A.R. Infant Formula
- Best baby formula for gas: Enfamil Gentlease Infant Formula
- Best baby formula for constipation: Enfamil Reguline Infant Formula
- Most similar to breast milk: Similac 360 Total Care Non-GMO Infant Formula Powder
- Best baby formula for preemies: Similac NeoSure
- Best baby formula for allergies: Enfamil Nutramigen with Enflora LGG Powder Infant Formula
- Best organic baby formula: Earth’s Best Organic Sensitivity Infant Formula
- Best plant-based baby formula: Gerber Good Start Soy Powder Infant Formula
- Best budget baby formula: Up&Up Advantage HMO Infant Formula
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.
So what else should you be looking for in infant formula?
Well, the good news is that in the U.S., infant formulas are required to meet FDA nutritional standards. Baby formulas made in Europe are required to meet the European Food Safety Agency standards. So any formula you choose should meet the minimum nutritional requirements for your baby.
The FDA requires minimum amounts of 29 key nutrients and gives maximum quantities for 9 of the nutrients required in baby formulas.
The key nutrients a baby needs are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. There will also be a bunch of vitamins and micronutrients, such as iron (crucial for development), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (
There are some key things to look for as you’re choosing a formula:
- The ingredient list: The front label can say almost anything the company wants it to and isn’t actually that helpful when choosing a formula. The ingredients, especially the first few, will tell you the most.
- Type of protein: What type of protein is the base for the formula — cow’s milk, soy milk, or goat’s milk?
- Size of the protein: Standard formulas made with cow’s milk or soy milk have big proteins that are a little harder for many babies to digest. Partially hydrolyzed proteins are smaller, while fully hydrolyzed proteins are the smallest. Partially and fully hydrolyzed protein formulas are closer to the size of proteins found in breast milk, and are often labeled “gentle” or “hypoallergenic.” Fully hydrolyzed protein formulas are usually only necessary in the case of severe allergies or digestive issues, so check with your doctor before going this route.
- Type of carbohydrate: The main types are lactose (the sugar found in milk, including human breast milk), sucrose (table sugar), and glucose (corn syrup, brown rice syrup, glucose syrup, and maltodextrin).
- A broken seal: If the seal on the container is broken or missing, you should not purchase, or should return, that container of formula, as it could be contaminated.
- Product recalls: Periodically check for
product recallsbefore purchasing formula.
- Expiration date: Check the container before purchasing (and before using if you have a stash built up).
- Preparation instructions: Double-check the preparation instructions, especially if you’re switching to a new formula. This is particularly important if you are switching to a European formula, as the units of measurement may be different.
- Pediatrician’s expertise: Always check with your pediatrician if there’s a formula you want to use that seems very niche or off-market, has significantly fewer nutrients (check the nutrition info label) than other formulas, or you have any concerns about choosing a formula.
A note about the baby formula shortages
Due to supply chain issues secondary to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as recent safety recalls from major formula companies, many baby formulas are currently out of stock. It is much more difficult to find the variety and quantity of baby formulas that used to be available.
If you are struggling to find the baby formula you need, try giving your pediatrician’s office a call. They may have sample cans available or be able to advise you on the closest match for your baby’s formula. Other resources may include your local WIC office (a federal assistance nutrition program for women, infants, and children), social media infant feeding groups, or large online grocery retailers.
If your baby isn’t on a specialty formula for metabolic disorders, they should be able to safely switch between formula types. If you are unsure whether the type of formula you found is right for your baby, give your pediatrician a call.
- $ = under $1 per ounce
- $$ = $1 – $2 per ounce
- $$$ = Over $2 per ounce
Best baby formula for colic
Unfortunately, there’s no solid evidence to suggest that a certain formula is a solution to colic. Most medical experts agree that colic is most likely caused by a combination of infant temperament and environment.
However, some babies (up to 7% of formula-fed babies, according to this 2016 study) do have a cow’s milk protein allergy that contributes to their crying. A true allergy will usually be accompanied by other symptoms such as runny or bloody stools or chronic nasal congestion.
If you’re at your wit’s end trying to help soothe your baby, it may not hurt to try a different formula, such as one with a more easily digestible form of protein. Check in with your pediatrician. If your baby does have a cow’s milk protein allergy, a hydrolyzed (hypoallergenic) formula may provide them with a lot of relief.
Typically, colic tends to ease up between your baby’s 4- and 6-month birthday. Even though colic can be incredibly challenging as a parent, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Key features: Gerber claims that Good Start SoothePro has the “gentleness of breast milk” and helps with anything from excessive crying episodes to fussiness and gas. It contains just 30% lactose, which the brand says may ease baby’s stomach (though research into this is lacking, and lactose is actually the same sugar found in human breast milk). 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 SoothePro smells bad and that their babies don’t love the taste and occasionally refuse to drink it.
- easy to find in stores (although current shortage issues may change this)
- prebiotic and probiotic blend may help with digestion
- claims to be very gentle on baby tummies
- can be clumpy and challenging to mix
- unpleasant smell and taste for some babies
- low lactose
Best baby formula for reflux
Is spit-up becoming more than just a laundry issue in your house? Formula-fed babies actually have higher rates of reflux than breastfed babies. These issues tend to peak around the 4-month mark.
There are formulas on the market that are thickened by rice. They may help decrease the frequency of spit-ups but should be used with the guidance of your pediatrician, as it’s not always recommended.
Key features: As with other thickened formulas, Enfamil’s A.R. formula contains rice starch to help thicken and settle better in baby’s stomach. The manufacturers of this formula supported a
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. A thickened formula could be more difficult for certain babies to digest.
Some parents may also be tempted to add rice cereal to bottles to thicken the formula, but this is not recommended due to safety concerns like choking, allergies, and excessive weight gain.
- may reduce incidence of spit-up or reflux pain in infants with gastroesophageal reflux (GER), which can have a big impact on quality of life for the family
- no known long-term risks to adding rice starch to infant formula
- may not help some babies
- could be more difficult for some babies to digest
Best baby formula for gas
Those toots might 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.
Key features: Enfamil claims that in clinical trials this partially-hydrolyzed 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. (It’s worth noting that there is some conflicting research about how much DHA is actually beneficial for babies).
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.
- partially hydrolyzed proteins may be easier for many babies to digest, reducing gas and fussiness
- contains DHA, choline, and prebiotics to help support baby’s brain and immune system
- very positive parent reviews, as well as some support from clinical research
- does contain milk and soy proteins, so may not be suitable for infants with a true allergy
- may leave residue in bottles
Best baby formula for constipation
There aren’t many formulas specifically marketed to help with constipation, since constipation isn’t terribly common in infants.
However, constipation is more common in formula-fed babies than in breastfed babies, since breast milk is easier to digest. Often, formula-fed babies have stools between two and three times a day before starting solids, and two times a day after starting solids.
Or, your baby might have a different routine.
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 this formula will help your little one poop more comfortably within a week of use. It contains a special blend of prebiotics that Enfamil says aids with digestion. Like other varieties, this formula is gentle enough that it can be used every day. While iron can be constipating for babies, this formula does still contain iron, which is essential to healthy development.
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.
- contains a blend of prebiotics that may help keep bowel movements regular
- still contains iron and other essential nutrients
- gets mixed reviews from parents
- some parents said this made their baby’s bowel issues worse
Most similar to breast milk
Maybe your baby will receive formula only part-time in combination with nursing. In this case, you may want a formula that’s as similar to breast milk as possible. We’ve called out our top pick below.
That being said, you can use any infant formula for supplementing a breastfed baby. The differences between formulas are mainly related to the protein size and type, not whether they interact well with breast milk. So, monitor what works best for your baby.
Key features: Similac claims that this formula is their closest in composition to human breast milk. It includes a blend of DHA, lutein, and vitamin E — all nutrients found in breast milk. It also includes more prebiotics than any other type of Similac formula on the market.
In fact, it contains 5 HMO (human milk oligosaccharides) prebiotics, which is why the company claims it is more similar to breast milk than other formulas.
Considerations: A good number of parents share very positive reviews of this formula. It is worth noting that it contains cow’s milk protein that has not been hydrolyzed (broken down), so it is a larger protein than those found in human breast milk.
- contains nutrients found in breast milk
- contains a large amount of prebiotics
- claims to be a gentle formula with a nutritional profile similar to breast milk
- it has not been scientifically proven that this formula is better than other infant formulas
- it contains larger cow’s milk proteins, which some babies may have trouble digesting
Best baby formula for preemies
Human milk is the ideal choice for preemies; however, it may not always be available. 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 contain nutrients geared at promoting 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.
Specialty formulas such as this one are especially important to use under medical supervision. It’s also important to follow the formula preparation instructions exactly to reduce the risk of infection from a certain bacteria called Cronobacter sakazakii.
Other options: The
- higher calories and nutrient enrichment may be beneficial for preterm infants
- preemie babies typically start life at a lower birth weight, and an enriched formula may help them “catch up” on their growth curve
- may cause digestive issues
- must be used under medical supervision
- not as widely available as standard infant formulas
- powdered formulas could be more prone to contamination, which is a bigger risk for preemies
Best baby formula for allergies
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 standard 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% 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 — again, according to Enfamil-sponsored research. The brand claims it reduced crying in 90% of babies within 48 hours. Speaking anecdotally, we know a number of parents who found huge relief in their baby’s eczema, colicky crying, and runny stools after switching to Nutramigen.
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.
- hydrolyzed protein is much smaller and easier to digest, as it is a more similar size to breast milk proteins
- broken down proteins won’t trigger an allergic reaction in baby’s with a cow’s milk protein or soy protein allergy
- may provide significant relief of colic or allergy symptoms
- unpleasant taste and smell
- quite expensive
Best organic baby formula
Formulas labeled organic must meet certain standards, like being made without contaminants such as prohibited synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Organic formulas are also free from artificial flavors and colors, growth hormones, preservatives, and other additives.
Key features: Earth’s Best’s Sensitivity blend is made with 95% 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.
Additionally, this formula uses water-extracted DHA (many DHA sources in formulas are hexane-extracted, which involves more chemicals).
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. It’s worth noting, though, that corn syrup solids, also sometimes called “maltodextrin,” is a common ingredient in most infant formulas.
- organic dairy may mean exposing your baby to fewer harmful chemicals
- still contains fatty acids and prebiotics to support baby’s immune system, just like standard formulas
- relatively affordable for an organic formula
- better taste than many formulas
- may be inconsistent texture
- higher corn syrup solids content than some formulas
- lower lactose is not necessarily beneficial, as lactose intolerance is extremely uncommon in infants
Best plant-based baby formula
Fun fact: Around 25% of all formula sold in the U.S. 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. And unfortunately, many babies with true cow’s milk allergies are also allergic to soy protein.
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, particularly as many babies with cow’s milk allergies also have soy allergies. Plant-based proteins are not necessarily easier for babies to digest. 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.
- plant-based soy formula does not have animal protein
- relatively affordable
- contains added calcium
- many babies who are allergic to cow’s milk protein are also allergic to soy protein
- some parents found this worsened digestive issues
- some parents reported this formula is difficult to mix well
Best budget baby formula
Your baby drinks a ton of formula in the first year, and many formulas are quite pricey. 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 for a fraction of the cost.
Key features: Target’s Advantage formula is modeled after Similac Advance, and also contains 2′-FL human milk oligosaccharide. This non-GMO dairy formula has DHA, lutein, vitamin E, and choline. Typically, it’s widely available either in-store or online at Target, although finding it online is harder in the current climate.
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, so they should be taken with a grain of salt.
- ingredient profile is very similar to brand-name competitors
- typically pretty widely available at Target stores
- easy to mix
- well tolerated by babies
- much more affordable than many formulas
- some parents noticed brown clumps even after mixing
- lesser-known production company
|Gerber Good Start SoothePro Powder Infant Formula||$$||2′-FL HMO (prebiotic), L. reuteri (probiotic), partially hydrolyzed (smaller) milk protein, DHA||may be easier for babies to digest, relieving tummy discomfort and crying||some babies may object to taste|
|Enfamil A.R. Infant Formula||$$||milk protein, DHA, rice starch (for thickening)||thicker texture may reduce spit-up||may be harder to feed, or for some babies to digest|
|Enfamil Gentlease Infant Formula||$$||partially broken down (hydrolyzed) milk protein, DHA, choline, prebiotics||smaller proteins may be easier for some babies to digest; prebiotics may promote gut health||not suitable for babies with cow’s milk or soy allergies|
|Enfamil Reguline Infant Formula||$$||partially hydrolyzed whey (milk) protein, blend of several prebiotics||may promote regular stools in babies who are constipated||could alternatively cause tummy upset for some babies|
|Similac 360 Total Care Non-GMO Infant Formula Powder||$$||whey (milk) protein, more HMO prebiotics than other formulas, lutein, DHA, choline||may be more similar to breast milk, given higher concentration of prebiotics (which breast milk also has)||not necessarily better than other formulas|
|Similac NeoSure||$$||milk protein, DHA, lutein, vitamin E||more calories per ounce to help preemie babies grow||must be used under medical supervision|
|Enfamil Nutramigen with Enflora LGG Powder Infant Formula||$$$||completely hydrolyzed proteins, DHA, probiotics, vitamins||completely broken down proteins can be digested by babies with cow’s milk allergy (or other allergies) to relieve bloody stools, crying, etc.||more expensive than standard formulas|
|Earth’s Best Organic Sensitivity Infant Formula||$$||organic, reduced-lactose milk, prebiotic fiber, DHA, water-extracted DHA||may contain fewer chemicals or harmful ingredients than non-organic formulas||inconsistent texture, low lactose may not be beneficial|
|Gerber Good Start Soy Powder Infant Formula||$||soy proteins, DHA, vitamins||may be a good source of protein for babies who can’t tolerate cow’s milk||many babies with cow’s milk allergies are also allergic to soy|
|Up&Up Advantage HMO Infant Formula||$||2′-FL HMO, DHA, lutein, vitamin E, choline||a very similar ingredient profile to more expensive big-brand formulas||some inconsistency with texture|
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, your budget, and what you can find.
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.
Always use the measuring scoop that comes with your formula. The AAP recommends cooling boiled water for 5 minutes before mixing with formula and then allowing the bottle to cool to room temperature before serving.
- 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 nipples intact.
- 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. It’s very important to follow the directions on the box for how much water you’ll use. Diluting formula with too much water or too little water can lead to serious health problems for your baby.
- If you choose to warm your baby’s bottle, do so by putting the bottle in a pot of warm water on the stove or use a bottle warmer. Heat to body temperature. Never use a microwave to heat formula.
- 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?
While it’s safe to switch between brands and types, you may not want to switch frequently, and it’s not recommended. If there’s an allergy or some kind of adverse reaction, it will be difficult to identify the source if they were used too close together.
In other words, try giving your baby one type of formula for 1 to 2 weeks before switching.
Which baby formula is the closest formula to breast milk?
The reality is that no formula can completely mimic human breast milk. However, scientific and nutritional advances have come a long way in recent years, and there are some great options.
Any of the formulas on our list should meet your baby’s nutritional needs for the first year of life, providing they don’t have a special medical condition.
The formula most structurally similar to human breast milk is Similac 360 Total Care. This formula contains an unprecedented 5 HMOs, which are prebiotics found in breast milk that should help babies digest and absorb nutrients. It also contains DHA (which is found in varying amounts in human milk), ARA, carbs, fats, and vitamins that are meant to mimic those found in breast milk.
This formula also contains cow’s milk proteins that are not hydrolyzed, so they are still quite a bit larger than the proteins found in human milk.
What are the 3 types of baby formula?
The three main types of infant formulas include:
- cow’s milk protein-based formulas
- soy protein-based formulas
- protein hydrolysate (broken down) formulas
These types of formulas can come prepared three ways:
- Powdered formula: must be mixed with water before feeding
- Liquid concentrate formula: must also be mixed with water before feeding
- Ready-to-use formula: comes already mixed to the correct ratio
Why is there a formula shortage in 2022?
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect supply chains across a number of industries, as well as the number of people in the workforce. Additionally, there have been some recent product recalls and factory closures at large formula manufacturers due to suspected unsafe or contaminated formulas.
These factors have combined to result in a much lower availability of infant formula.
There are many formula options available. Breast milk is always recommended as the first choice for a baby’s optimal health, but all formulas will meet the basic 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.