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Bottle Feeding

Baby Formula Brands - Which is Best?

The manufacture of baby formula is highly regulated.  And different brands [eg SMA, Heinz, Aptamil, Milupa] are sometimes made by the same manufacturer.  But their actual differences are in the source of their proteins or carbohydrates, or both.  But there is a bewildering list of ingredients on the tin - which you would only really understand if you were a nutritional scientist - so hopefully this article will help you make an informed choice.

Types of formula

Standard newborn formula (whey-based)

Most first stage formulas (that is, formulas suitable from birth) are made from cow’s milk, which is adapted for newborn babies. These milks have a whey to casein ratio similar to breast milk (60:40). They have low sodium and potassium levels, making them better for newborns, who have immature kidneys.

Whey-based formulas are the first choice if you don’t breast feed. Examples include (listed alphabetically):

  • Cow & Gate Complete Nutrition 1 First Infant Milk
  • Heinz Nurture Stage 1
  • Hipp Organic First Infant Milk
  • Milupa Aptamil 1 Easy Digest First Milk
  • SMA 1 First (previously SMA Gold)

Hungry baby formula (casein-based)

You can use these from birth. They’re adapted from cow’s milk, but contain more casein than first stage formula because it’s more filling. The whey to casein ratio of these milks is closer to cow’s milk than breast milk (20:80). You would usually only opt for hungry baby formula if your baby still seems hungry after full whey-based formula feeds. Or you might find hungry baby milk helpful if you want to delay the introduction of solids before 6 months, which is recommended.

These milks they contain roughly the same energy, sugars and fats as first stage milks, so you needn’t worry about them causing more weight gain than first stage milks. Available brands include:

  • Cow & Gate Complete Nutrition 2 Infant Milk for Hungrier Babies
  • Heinz Nurture Stage 2
  • Hipp Organic Second Infant Milk
  • Milupa Aptamil 2 Extra Hungry
  • SMA Extra (previously SMA White)

Easier-to-digest formula (from birth)

Easier-to-digest versions of some formulas are also available. These contain lower levels of lactose and partially “pre-digested” whey proteins, and are slightly thicker to help them stay down. You might need to use faster flowing or special thicker formula teats to allow your baby to suck the milk through.

These formulas might be worth a try if your baby seems very unsettled and colicky, sick or windy or is constipated with standard milk. It’s best to talk to your doctor or health visitor about your baby’s feeding problems before switching milks, just to be sure there isn’t a more serious health problem. If your baby is diagnosed with an allergy or intolerance, easier-to-digest milk will still cause problems, and you’ll need to use specialised milk (see below). Available brands are:

  • Aptamil Easy-Digest
  • Cow & Gate Comfort
  • Heinz Nurture Gentle Infant Milk

Soya-based formula (from birth)

In soya-based infant formula, the proteins come from soy beans. These milks don’t contain any ingredients from cow’s milk so they are an option for vegan families. They are sometimes recommended for babies who are allergic to cow’s milk proteins or intolerant to lactose, although they’re not the first choice for these babies – around 1 in 10 babies who are allergic to cow’s milk are also allergic to soya milk.  See our article on Specialised Baby Milks for more information on the milks available for these babies.

Soya-based baby milk is not usually recommended as a sole source of nutrition for babies under 10 months, and you should only use it after talking to your health visitor, GP or dietician. This is because soya-based formulas contain natural plant oestrogens called phyto-oestrogens, and doctors don’t know the long-term effects of these hormones on babies. Research is ongoing and so far there’s no evidence of harmful effects in humans. However, experts also believe that soya may make your baby more likely to develop peanut allergy.

Examples of soy-based formula include:

  • Cow & Gate InfaSoy
  • Heinz Nurture Soya
  • Isomil
  • SMA Wysoy Soy

Follow-on formula

From 6 months, you can use follow-on formula, which is cow’s milk-based formula adapted to meet the nutritional needs of a weaning diet. It has higher iron compared to infant formula.  But you don’t have to make the switch if you don’t want to or if you find follow-on milks don’t suit your baby. Standard formula is still nutritionally fine for older babies, as long as you begin to introduce a varied diet of solid foods. Babies don’t need any vitamin supplements as long as they are getting at least 500ml of formula per day.

The follow-on milks available are:

  • Aptamil 3: Follow-On Milk
  • Cow & Gate 3 Follow-On Milk
  • Heinz Nurture 3 Follow-On Milk
  • Hipp Organic Follow-on milk
  • SMA 2 Follow-On Milk (previously SMA Progress)

There are also easier-to-digest versions of follow-on milk for babies from 6 months with digestive problems. Again, it‘s best to talk to your health visitor or GP before opting for these. Available brands are:

  • Cow & Gate Comfort Follow-on Milk
  • Heinz Nurture Gentle Follow-On Milk

Night-time follow-on milk

You can get milks designed to help babies older than 6 months to sleep well. They aim to help keep your baby going all night because they contain a higher proportion of casein, which is more filling than whey, as well cereals such as rice or buckwheat and potato or corn starch. Available brands are:

  • Cow & Gate Good Night Follow-on milk
  • Hipp Good Night Milk

Which brands of baby formula are the best?

The European regulations are tight, and all formula that is sold as a suitable alternative to breast milk is legally required to meet the specific nutritional needs of babies. This means, as long as your baby has no specific needs, it doesn’t matter which of the brands you go for.  You don’t need to pay more for expensive brands. Just make sure you choose one that’s right for your baby’s age – check the packaging carefully. 

If your baby has minor digestive problems, it might be worth trying other brands because they do have slightly different ingredients. For example, Heinz Nurture includes a mix of fats cit calls Betapol, which are claimed to reduce constipation.  This is a similar ingredient to the structured vegetable oils used in the easier-to-digest milks, designed to reduce colic and constipation (see above).

If your baby has more serious symptoms, such as regular diarrhoea, especially if it irritates her skin, regular vomiting after feeds and poor weight gain, painful trapped wind or is very unsettled after feeds, it could be that your baby has a milk allergy or intolerance , such as lactose intolerance. Talk your health visitor or GP – your baby may need a referral to a specialist for diagnosis

Why can’t my baby just drink cow’s milk?

Life would be so simple if we could just use cow’s milk straight from the fridge, wouldn’t it? Sadly we can’t – pure cow’s milk contains too much protein and cannot be digested properly by babies under about 12 months. Also, it doesn’t contain the right levels of nutrients such as iron. That doesn’t mean you can’t use it for cooking once you start weaning at 6 months though, so bring on the macaroni cheese!

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