So, you’ve decided to feed your baby formula. Whether exclusively or alongside breastfeeding, the next decision is what type of formula to use. Simple, right? Well, the sheer number of options out there may lead you to believe otherwise! Don’t worry: it doesn’t need to be overwhelming. While there’s a lot of choice out there, we’re here to help with our handy guide to different types of baby milk formula.
What is formula?
In a nutshell: formula is milk which has been treated to make it more similar to breast milk. It contains all the nutrients your baby needs, however it is worth noting that it does not offer all of the same benefits as breast milk - for example, protection against infections.
Why use formula?
There's plenty of reasons to use formula milk; and opting to use it instead of, or alongside, breastfeeding is a choice many new parents make. Breastfeeding or formula feeding are both healthy choices, and whichever you choose, trust that you are doing the best for your and your baby.
There are a number of reasons to choose formula. Partners can share night feeding duties; breastfeeding parents can be more relaxed about what they eat; it affords a higher level of flexibility as anyone can feed your baby; and plenty more.
If you have any questions, it’s always a good idea to speak to a health professional for advice.
Dry or liquid formula?
- Ready to feed liquid formula
Ready to feed formula does exactly what it says on the tin: this is formula which is ready to be decanted into a sterilised bottle, and fed to your baby! It has the benefit of convenience, and the disadvantage of being more expensive; with a shorter shelf life once opened.
- Concentrated liquid formula
This type of formula is a concentrated liquid, which needs to be added to water. It is more convenient, but often more expensive, than dry powder.
- Dry power
This is formula in powder form, which needs to be mixed with water to create a liquid formula you can feed to your baby. While it is less convenient, it is more cost effective; and has a longer shelf life, making it the preferred option for most families.
What types of formula are there?
There are a number of different types of baby milk formula available, and it can be hard to know where to start! Seeing all the different types of formula available can be overwhelming, however it doesn’t have to be.
Most formulas are made from cow's milk, which contains two different types of protein: whey and casein. Whey protein is easier for babies to digest, and as a result, it’s recommended that you opt for a whey dominant formula for your newborn.
- First infant formula
First infant formula (first milk) is a whey dominant formula which is suitable for your baby from birth. First milk is the only formula your baby needs for the first year of their life, unless a health professional like a GP or midwife suggests otherwise. It is typically based on cow's milk, and can be used throughout your baby’s first year, with no need to switch to a follow on formula.
- Goat’s milk formula
First infant formula based on goat’s milk as opposed to cow’s milk is available; and is produced to the same nutritional standard as cow’s milk formula. However, it’s important to note that it is no less allergenic than cow’s milk formula, and babies with a cow’s milk allergy should not be given goat’s milk formula either. Why, we hear you ask? Simply because the proteins in both are very similar.
- Follow on formula
This type of baby milk formula is aimed at babies over the age of six months, and should never be given to babies under this age. However, if feeding first infant formula, there are no known health benefits to switching to follow on milk; instead, first milk can be used throughout the first year of your baby’s life.
What about special formulas?
- Hungrier baby formula (hungry milk)
Often, your baby may seem extra hungry - and you may want to feed them accordingly. Hungrier baby formula, or ‘hungry milk’, is more dominant in casein protein rather than whey - and as a result, is harder for babies to digest.
This type of milk is suitable from birth, however the advice is to speak to a health professional first. A whey based formula is recommended for the first year of your baby’s life, and there is no evidence that hungry milk will help your little one to settle or sleep better.
- Anti reflux (stay down) formula
With a thicker consistency, this type of baby milk formula aims to prevent reflux in babies. It can be fed from birth, however it is important to seek medical advice before feeding to your baby, and only use it under medical supervision.
It’s also important to follow the instructions for preparation carefully, as this type of formula is often mixed up differently to others.
- Partially hydrolysed formula
Baby milk formula which has been partially hydrolysed is formula in which the cow’s milk proteins have been broken down, effectively into smaller pieces. The aim is to make the formula easier to digest: Comfort Formula falls under this category.
- Lactose free formula
This type of baby milk formula is for babies who are lactose intolerant. This is a rare intolerance in babies, and it is important to speak to a health professional like your GP to get a proper diagnosis, and feeding guidance alongside this.
- Fully hydrolysed formula
This type of baby milk formula contains proteins which have been fully broken down, to make it easier for babies to digest. Hypoallergenic formula is fully hydrolysed, and is an option for babies with a cows’ milk allergy. Speak to your GP for advice, and only feed under medical supervision.
- Soya formula
Sometimes used as an alternative to cow’s milk formula, soya formula is made from soya beans. However, there are concerns that soya can have an impact on the reproductive system as it contains phytoestrogens, which mimic the hormone oestrogen. Therefore, it is very important to seek medical advice before feeding your baby soya formula.
Can I switch brands while feeding formula?
There is no evidence to suggest that it is a problem to switch brands. If you ever have any concerns, or want to chat it through, get in touch with your GP or midwife who will be happy to help.
When can I feed my baby whole cow’s milk?
From the age of one, your child is ready to drink whole cows’ milk! Once they’re two years old, they can also have semi-skimmed milk as part of a healthy diet. If in doubt, get in touch with your GP.