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Choosing baby formula

Although breast milk offers newborns all the nutrition they need, there are reasons some mums choose to use formula instead.

Mums who do breastfeed may find that supplementing with infant formula when a baby gets older is a practical alternative if they go back to work, or when it is dad’s turn at feeding time. Babies should not drink whole cows' milk until they are one year old.

Commercially prepared baby formulas are regulated to provide babies with all the nutrients they need. They come in different forms:

  • Powders. The least expensive option, usually mixed with freshly boiled drinking water following the manufacturer's instructions, then allowing the milk to cool enough for the baby to drink.
  • Ready-to-use baby formulas. Often the most expensive but convenient. Ready-to-use formulas can be poured straight into a sterilised baby’s bottle.

Formula facts: What’s in it for baby?

For babies under 6 months, first infant formula is all your baby needs, unless your GP, midwife or health visitor recommends an alternative. A baby can stay on this up to one year old, although a variety of 'follow on' formula is available for babies over 6 months.  

Milk-based baby formulas

Based on modified cow’s milk, milk-based formula provides all the protein, calories, vitamins, minerals and other ingredients considered necessary for growth and development of a healthy baby.

Other baby formulas

Some babies can’t tolerate cows' milk or the lactose it contains. If you think your baby is reacting badly to a cow's milk-based formula, seek medical advice. Breastfeeding is best for babies who cannot tolerate cow's milk and substitute formula should not be used unless medically recommended.

Although soya protein-based feeds are available, they are not recommended for babies with cow's milk allergy as they may have unwanted effects and better alternatives are now available. Experts recommend that soya-based formulas should not be given to a baby unless you have been medically advised to do so. In exceptional circumstances soya-based infant formulas may be given to infants, for example those infants who can’t or won’t drink any other type of formula or babies whose parents want them to have a vegan diet.

Formula based on goats' milk is also available and produced to the same nutritional standards as cow's milk formula. It is not suitable for babies with cow's milk allergy as the proteins are very similar to those in cow's milk so a baby allergic to one is likely to be allergic to the other. Goats' milk formula should not be given in these cases unless your GP or another health professional recommends it.

Specialist baby formulas

This is a big category, with infant formulas for low birth weight babies, specialist formulas can be prescribed for babies with genetic conditions, and ‘pre-digested’ protein formula for babies who can’t tolerate, or have allergies to, the whole proteins in cows' milk-based formulas. Specialist milks may be prescribed by your GP or hospital.

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