Newborn baby in nappy sleeping on mother's leg

Choosing the best baby formula

Walk down any supermarket baby formula aisle and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the choice available. Here’s what you need to know about the different types and forms of formula, so you can make the best decision for your baby.

Formula types

There three main types of formula that you need to be familiar with.

1. Milk-based formula

Most formulas are made from cow’s milk. The proteins in cow’s milk are altered so that the formula resembles breast milk as closely as possible, making it easy for babies to digest it. Most babies do well with this type of formula as it has the right balance of nutrients.

Helpful hint: Never feed your newborn fresh cow’s milk because your baby won’t be able to digest it. What’s more, fresh cow’s milk doesn’t have the right balance of nutrients your baby needs to grow. You can introduce cow’s milk after your baby turns 1 year old.

2. Soy-based formula

These formulas are made with plant proteins that, like milk-based formulas, are modified so babies can digest it easily. Soy-based formulas are lactose-free so they’re often recommended for babies with lactose intolerance. You might also want to use a soy-based formula if you’re vegan.

Many babies who are allergic to milk are also allergic to soy, so be careful and consult your doctor if you’re switching to soy because of allergies.

3. Extensively hydrolysed formula

These are milk-based formulas, where the proteins have been broken down into even smaller parts. Your baby may need extensively hydrolysed formula if they are allergic to milk and soy formulas or if they have trouble absorbing nutrients.

There is also a range of other specialty formulas for babies with different needs. Your doctor will be able to tell you if your baby needs a special formula and will recommend one that suits your child.

Formula forms

Formula comes in 3 different forms.

1. Powdered formula

The cheapest and most widely used option is powdered formula. It may take more time to prepare but it’s the easiest to store because you don’t need to put it in the fridge like ready-to-use and concentrated formulas. It also has the longest shelf-life.

2. Ready-to-use formula

This is the easiest and most convenient option and is especially useful when you don’t have access to safe water. There’s no mixing or measuring required. But it’s the most expensive option.

Once you open it, ready-to-use formula must be finished within a certain time, usually 48 hours. Check the package for instructions.

3. Liquid concentrate formula

With this option, you have to add water to the formula to prepare it. It’s cheaper than ready-to-use formula but more expensive than powdered formula.

Formula stages

Formula is split into two stages – Stage 1 is for newborn babies up to 6 months old and Stage 2, also known as follow-up formula, is for babies 6 months and older, until they’re ready to switch to regular cow’s milk.

Follow-up formulas contain more calcium, iron, protein and calories than infant formulas. The proteins in follow-up formulas are not as broken down as infant formulas, so they take longer to digest and will keep your baby full for longer.

The World Health Organisation states that follow-on formula isn’t necessary. Doctors encourage parents to start their baby on solids at this stage, instead of filling them up on formula. Some babies with a history of poor growth might benefit from follow-up formula though. Speak to your doctor to find out what’s appropriate for your child.

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