What Type of Formula Milk to Use?

Published: 08th September 2006
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Choosing to bottle feed your baby can be a hard decision to make. You need to think deeply about why you believe it's best to bottle feed rather than breastfeed your child. Having made your decision to bottle feed, you should also think about the type of formula milk that's best for your baby.

Formula milk comes in 3 forms: ready-made, concentrate and powder. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Ready made milk formula is the easiest to use; all you need to do is open the container and feed your baby its contents. The main disadvantage with ready-made formula is it is the most expensive option, so if you're trying to save pennies it may not be the best choice. Formula concentrate is cheaper than ready-made, but you do have to add boiled water. The cheapest and most widely used form of formula milk is powdered formula. As well as having the advantage of being cheap, it is also the easiest to store. Both ready-made and concentrate need to be stored in the fridge whereas you only need to stored formula made from powder, after it has been mixed with water.

As you'll soon discover, you need to be prepared when you travel with your baby. You need to take along everything you need to prepare your child's formula. If you're planning on staying somewhere away from home, you need to think about: will where you're staying have a fridge? Will it have facilities to provide you with boiled water if you're using concentrate or powder? What about cleaning facilities? Can you plug in your bottle sterilizer? Even if you are using concentrate or powder (and trying to save pennies) I would strongly recommend buying some ready-made baby formula and keeping it stored in the fridge. You can then use it as a standby for when you need to make a trip out somewhere.

As well as coming in three forms, baby formula comes in different types: the main ones being cow's milk and soybean. In addition to these basic formula types, you can also find lactose free formula, formula supplemented with DHA and ARA, and formula for preemies.

By far the most popular and probably the best for your child is baby formula made from cow's milk. Choosing the right brand is a personal choice. All brands now sold in Western countries will meet their government's guidelines. However, different brands will contain different levels of sugar and protein. All baby milk formulas are fortified with iron and Vitamin D (these can be lacking in breast milk) and contain lactose (milk sugar). Brands such as Similac Advance, Enfamil Lipil, and Nestle Good Start Supreme are made with lactose and cow's milk based proteins.

Soy based formula is now becoming more popular. Unlike cow's milk it does not contain lactose. If your child has lactose intolerance then soy formula milk may be right for your child. Brands include Enfamil ProSobee, Similac Isomil, and Nestle Good Start Supreme Soy. There has been some controversy as to whether soy protein can cause long term health implications to babies who are fed soy-based formula. However, a recent study, led by Dr Brian L. Strom from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, showed no difference in the long-term health effects of soy infant formula and those based on cow's milk. But if you have any doubts then stick with baby formula milk that is made from cow's milk.
Goat's milk is gaining in popularity and some feel it is better for baby and the environment. Using goat's milk is probably fine; however, goat's milk does only contain around 10% of the folic acid that is found in cow's milk. So, if you are planning to use goat's milk, find a brand that has been fortified with folic acid. On the plus side, goat's milk formula does contain far higher levels of copper and antioxidant selenium. Some also believe that babies have a lactose intolerance will do better by switching from cow's to goat's milk. Whilst it is true that Goats milk does contain lower levels of lactose, if your child is lactose-intolerant then you are probably best switching to soy based formula or a lactose free formula of cow's milk.

Lactose free formulas, such as Lactofree and Similac Lactose free are made without lactose, but do have cow's milk proteins in them. Babies are not usually thought to be born with lactose intolerance, so these formulas are usually not needed. If your child is experiencing problems with cow's formula, seek professional advice before switching to a lactose free formula or soy-based formula.
Other infant formulas include Enfamil AR (anti regurgitation), which is thought to be helpful for infants with reflux and premature formulas, such as Similac Special Care and Enfamil Premature. Again, you probably should never need to buy this type of formula as your baby's reflux is probably being caused by something else. Again, speak to your doctor before switching to this type of formula.
Very recently, new infant formulas have been introduced that are supplemented with DHA and ARA, which are found in breast milk and are thought to help with an baby's development. Brands of these supplemented formula include Enfamil Lipil, Similac Advance, and Nestle Good Start Supreme DHA & ARA. Talk to your doctor about these and what benefits, if any, they could offer your child.
Having read the above it is hoped that choosing the best baby milk formula for your child has been made easier. If you have any doubts or further questions talk to your paediatrician, they will be able to give you more information about all aspects of bottle-feeding your baby.

Robin O'Brien is founder of a bottle feeding website where you can get advice about which baby formula to use.

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Wacky Mummy on September 1, 2011 said:
If you planned to fully breastfeed, you might feel unhappy about using formula, and even guilty or angry, or become depressed - if this happens talk to your health professional. You might think people are criticising you. In fact, you deserve the same support as any other mother, something most sensitive people understand
Adrian Lawrence on September 1, 2011 said:
You should always seek the advice of a doctor, midwife, health visitor, public health nurse, dietician or pharmacist on the need for and proper method of use of infant milks and on all matters of infant feeding.
Emily on September 1, 2011 said:
Formulas are not really the solution for acid reflux babies.
Sarah on September 1, 2011 said:
Nice article, I am really not sure if I want to try Formula or stick with breast feeding. At the moment I am 8 months gone, so I guess I will have to make up my mind soon.

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