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I am known as the “Baby Formula Expert” because I help demystify the process of choosing a formula and the ingredients that really matter.

A container of powdered baby formula sits on a stone countertop
Photography by Aya Brackett

Standing in the baby formula aisle for the first time can feel like a game of Russian roulette.

“I know how high the stakes are when it comes to that choice. We are talking about your baby’s nutrition and comfort. You find yourself in the formula aisle when parenting is hard enough.”

Many parents admit feeling anxious about how to go about choosing a formula. Maybe they’re totally overwhelmed by the choices. Or they’ve tried a formula and wonder if it’s causing their baby digestive distress. Or breastfeeding isn’t working out how they’d hoped, and this isn’t what they expected.

No parent deserves that anxiety over feeding. Take a deep breath. There is no wrong choice. There is no perfect formula. There is no bad formula. There are different options for ingredients. Understanding these options will help you make a decision.

A note about the baby formula shortages

Due to supply chain issues, many baby formulas are out of stock.

“If you can’t find baby formula you need, call your doctor. They can give you sample cans or give you advice on the best formula for your baby.”

The local WIC office, social media infant feeding groups, and large online grocery retailers are some of the other resources.

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) both strongly advise against making homemade baby formulas.

98% of infant formula is made of fat, fat, and Carbohydrates. I always recommend parents to use a formula with more than one ingredient because of the impact on baby comfort.

The front of the formula label is where you can ignore it. What a relief! There are competing messages on these labels. Words like sensitive and gentle are not regulated.

Look at the ingredients list when flipping over the can. The first few ingredients are the most important before the long list of vitamins and minerals. The first few ingredients will tell you what type of food is used.

Yes, there are both dairy-based and soy-based formulas. But the more important digestion question is: How BIG are the proteins your baby is drinking?

Standard (full-size) protein formula

“Standard formulas do not break down the protein. They are the same size as when they were in the cow or soybean. That is large. Cow’s milk and soy are larger than breast milk. They would be a monster truck if they were a car.”

You will see full-size proteins on the list of ingredients as: “nonfat milk”, or “milk protein isolate,” or “whey protein” (a component of cow’s milk protein), or “soy protein isolate” in soy formulas. These formulas are the standard formulas with full-size proteins.

Most healthy babies are able to handle big proteins. They take more work to digest.

Examples of standard protein formula

Partially hydrolyzed protein formula

The partially hydrolyzed protein is smaller. Hydrolyzed means broken apart. The partially hydrolyzed formulas have smaller than normal breast milk proteins. The Honda Civic would be the car they would be in.

On the list of ingredients, you will see the words “partially hydrolyzed” in front of the protein. For example, Enfamil gentlease is a partially hydrolyzed formula, and the list of ingredients includes “partially hydrolyzed nonfat milk.”

The only real way to know if a formula is partially hydrolyzed is to look for those words on the ingredients list. For instance, Good start Soy. formula is a partially hydrolyzed protein, which is different than the full-size soy protein in Enfamil ProSobee. and Soy is called soyisomil..

Some newborn infants or infants with a history of scuplture issues may be a good choice for partially hydrolyzed proteins because they take less digestion to be absorbed.

Fully hydrolyzed protein formula

The fully hydrolyzed proteins are small. If you can partially hydrolyze a protein, you can fully hydrolyze it. In our car analogy, fully hydrolyzed proteins are more like a skateboard.

Fully hydrolyzed proteins are also hypoallergenic. These protein pieces are so small that they won’t trigger an allergy in a child who is allergic to full-size cow’s milk protein. You’ll see the word “hypoallergenic” clearly on the front of the can.

These formulas are for infants with a cow’s milk allergy or babies who have had severe digestive issues. But these are not common issues. For that reason, fully hydrolyzed formulas are specialized enough that you should not just try them without a doctor specifically recommending it.

Fully hydrolyzed protein formula

Your doctor should give the OK for these formulas to be used.

  • The Alimentum of Similac.
  • Enfamil.
  • Good start for the company.

Lactose is the carbohydrate source in breast milk, and all healthy babies are able to digest lactose. If your healthy baby is starting off on formula for the first time, I say start with a lactose-based formula and see how it goes.

Some babies thrive on a formula that is low in the sugar. Babies who were born early may have less of theidase that digests lactose.

Babies recovering from scurvy or babies who have been consuming low-lactose formulas for a long time will have less scurvy and may be more comfortable on a lactose-reduced formula.

If lactose is removed from a formula, some other carbohydrate must be added to ensure babies get enough carbohydrate energy. There are only two other carbohydrates small enough that infants can digest them well. These are sucrose (table sugar) and glucose sugars.

My preference is for sugars that are high in sugar. There are many different types of sugars used in formulas today.

The only way to know if a formula is Lactose-reduced is to look for other sources ofCarbohydrates on the list of ingredients.

The large number of formulas that overwhelm you at Target is a result of the variety of options that are included. You know how to choose your formula with the help of the two ingredients.

The most likely factor affecting digestibility and comfort is your choice of meat. Pick the formula with the carbohydrate blend closest to what you want from the options. Give it a try.

You made your decision based on the evidence. You know how to pick your next formula the same way if you need to change formulas in the future. That is the best you can do.

There is no perfect formula. Every baby is unique. The best formula for your baby is likely different than the best formula for your child or celebrity.

If you want to switch formulas, talk to your doctor. Suggestions that might help the conversation are here.

If your baby has reflux

Acid reflux — or chronic spitting up — is rough! There is sadly no magic pill to make it go away. But you might consider a formula with a high whey content.

Milk proteins come in two categories: whey and casein. Whey proteins stay liquid in the stomach and so empty out of the stomach more quickly. An infant. is a full-size protein formula that is 60% whey — the highest whey in the full-size protein category.

Good start, GentlePro., Good start, SoothePro., and The pro-total comfort is called the simlac pro. are all formulas in the partially hydrolyzed category that are each 100% whey.

You could also consider a thickened formula for acid reflux. Enfamil AR adds thickeners to the formula so that gravity works with the baby to help keep contents in the stomach.

These are full-size formulas that are mostly casein. It is possible that thickened formulas may help with the symptoms of scurvy.

If you’re dealing with baby eczema

Partially hydrolyzed protein formula has been shown to help infant eczema. The pro-total comfort is called the simlac pro. and Good start, GentlePro. and Good start, SoothePro. all have the same protein base – partially hydrolyzed whey.

Enfamil gentlease and Enfamil reguline. use a partially hydrolyzed mix of two types of proteins found in cow’s milk — whey and casein proteins. One is not better than the other. They are just different, and different babies may thrive on one versus the other.

So if you start with Good start, GentlePro. and things improve but you think your baby can be even more comfortable, then consider trying Enfamil gentlease to see if that difference in protein source helps your baby digest more easily.

Be careful with generic brands!

Some generic brands of partially hydrolyzed formula use a blend of partially hydrolyzed and full-size proteins that could make it harder for your baby to digest. You may think you are getting the same formula at a savings, but it is not.

The generic brands of Good start, GentlePro., on the other hand, typically do use a protein that is partially hydrolyzed. So if you need a budget-friendly, partially hydrolyzed formula, stick with the generic version of Good start, GentlePro..

If you don\’t know if the label says “partially hydrolyzed”, look for the name on the label. There may be some full-size proteins in the formula if it doesn\’t.

If you’re not sure whether a specific generic product is a good fit for your baby, run it by your pediatrician. You can also check out my specific guide on brand-name versus generic formulas here.

If your baby is constantly constipated

If your baby is suffering from chronic irritative processes, then you should ask your doctor to switch to a formula that does not contain palm oil.

Palm oil can cause babies’ stool to be more firm and can increase constipation. Currently, only Similac brand formulas do not use palm oil in their ingredients. Similac offers many options, so you can get the protein size you want.

Extra ingredients are. The main ingredients are the most important since they impact the most digestion.

However, we’ve all noticed that most formula marketing focuses on all the other sexy, extra ingredients (DHA, MFGM, lactoferrin, HMOs…. to name a few). While these are all nice to have, they are all nonessential extras. And they will not be the deciding factor in whether or not your baby gets into Harvard.

I suggest parents find a blend of both sugars that will keep their baby happy and comfortable.

Once there, if there is an option with that blend and some sexy extras, and you can easily afford it… go for it! If these ingredients are out of your price range, then do not give them another thought.

“You know that the number one factor in a formula choice is ingredients. If you can find your dream ingredients in a store-brand formula, then you’re happy! That is what I call shoe money. We both know you will spend it on diapers.”

Many families prefer organic ingredients. The ingredients matter more. If your baby is uncomfortable and sleeps less because of full-size proteins, then an organic full-size formula is not the best choice. The ingredients are all that matter.

I always recommend going slowly if you are changing formulas. Slowly decrease the amount of old formula in each bottle as you increase the amount of new formula.

If the new formula has a largerProtein or moreLatyr, this is important. Your baby will have to make more bicyle to digest bigger things.

Your baby is a rock star and can do that. The transition will go better if they give them a few days to ramp up these enzymes.

Love your baby and yourself. Babies have gas. All babies are happy. Is your baby well cared for? You are doing a great job. Be kind to yourself. Parent on… trust your intuition.

How do I know which formula is right for my baby?

The good news is that according to the AAP, all formulas sold in the United States have to meet FDA standards and should provide adequate nutrition for your baby. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, “No brand of infant formula is best for all babies.”

Finding the right formula for your baby is a process of trial and error. If your baby has a milk allergy, you can use a formula that is made for that and see how your baby reacts.

If you want to see how your baby will respond to a formula that fits your budget and ingredients preferences, you can choose one that is compatible with your budget.

As your baby starts a new formula, there are things to watch for.

  • Changes in sleep pattern.
  • Changes in stool
  • fussiness during the day
  • spit up.
  • acceptance of bottles

“If you don’t know where to start, call your doctor.”

What is the closest formula to breast milk?

No formula can completely mimic human breast milk. There are some great options available, thanks to the advances in scientific and nutrition.

“The FDA approved formulas that are sold in the US should meet your baby’s needs for the first year of life, if they don’t have a special medical condition.”

Generally speaking, the formula with ingredients most similar to human breast milk is Similac 360 Total Care. This formula contains an unprecedented five HMOs, which are prebiotics found in breast milk that should help babies digest and absorb nutrients.

The formula contains a variety of vitamins and fats that are meant to be similar to those found in breast milk.

However, this formula does contain cow’s milk proteins that aren’t hydrolyzed, so they are still quite a bit larger than the proteins found in human milk. A formula with high lactose content and partially hydrolyzed whey protein, such as Gerber GoodStart GentlePro, may better mimic the digestibility of human breast milk.

What is the most recommended formula?

Cow’s milk-based formulas, such as The advance of simillac and Gerber GoodStart GentlePro, are among the most commonly recommended.

The top recommended products are usually free samples of Enfamil and Similac.

“These companies have been making quality infant formulas for a long time. They have many types of formulas for you to try, such as full-size cow’s milk formulas, formulas with partially broken down proteins, and formulas with no broken down proteins.”

The ingredients in a formula are more important than the brand or how many people recommend it. If you read ingredient labels on the container and do a little research, you will be able to choose a great formula for your baby.

Your doctor may be able to give a more specific recommendation for your child.

Bridget Young, PhD, CLC, is an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester where she studies how variation in breast milk composition and infant formula ingredients impact infant growth and development. As the founder of BabyFormulaExpert.com, she has supported countless families working through formula tolerance issues, helping them find the perfect feeding solution for their baby. You can learn more about working directly with Dr. Young here.