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How to choose the best formula milk for your baby

We help you make an informed choice about which formula milk is best for your baby.
If you've decided to bottle feed your baby there is lots more to think about, not least which type of formula milk you're going to use.

To begin with, there are so many different brands on offer that choosing the right type of formula milk for your baby can seem like a somewhat overwhelming task. So, to help make your decision easier we explain how to choose the best formula milk for your baby....

Which type of formula?

There is an ever increasing selection of formula milk appearing on the supermarket shelves so rest assured you'll have plenty of choice.

You'll find that most brands will base their formula on a form of cow's milk that has been modified to resemble breast milk as closely as possible. While none have yet managed to reproduce the exact qualities of breast milk that make it the best source of nutrition for young infants, most do contain a balance of nutrients, vitamins and minerals that are more than capable of meeting your growing baby's needs.

The variety of formula milk that will be most suitable at any one time will depend on the age, stage and appetite of your baby. Your options are...

  • Preterm formula milk -
    Designed to meet the unique needs of premature or low birth weight babies, preterm formula milk is nutrient dense so that all the nourishment your baby needs to thrive is contained in a smaller amount of feed.
  • First stage formula milk -
    Suitable from birth, first stage formula milk is designed to provide your baby with a viable alternative to breast milk. It will contain all the nutrients you need for healthy development and is designed to be easily digested by a young baby. Most will be based on a modified form of cow's milk and can be used right through until your baby reaches 12 months.
  • Second stage formula milk -
    Designed to meet the needs of a hungrier baby, second stage formula milk contains a different balance of proteins that are designed to keep your baby feeling full for longer. While not suitable for all infants, second stage milk can be a good solution for infants who don't appear satisfied by first stage milk but are too young to start weaning.
  • Follow on formula milk -
    Suitable for infants over the age of 6 months, follow on formula milk is designed to support your baby's nutritional needs as they begin weaning. Again, most are based on modified cow's milk and are enhanced with added protein, vitamins, minerals and prebiotics to encourage healthy digestion.
  • Soya-based formula milk -
    Formula milk produced using soya beans and modified with proteins, vitamins and minerals is designed specifically for infants who are allergic to cow's milk. However, it should only be used under the guidance of your doctor or health care visitor.

    If you suspect that your baby may have an allergy or intolerance to cow's milk it's important that you seek medical guidance. In all likelihood you'll be referred to a nutritionist who will be able to advise you on the best course of action. Soya based formula isn't suitable for all infants with allergies and specially modified cow's milk is sometimes recommended instead.
  • Cow's milk -
    Current medical advice recommends that you wait until your baby has reached their first birthday before you begin to introduce regular cow's milk into their diet. Before this age your baby's digestive system is not sufficiently developed to cope with the complex balance of proteins it contains.
Which brand of formula milk?

Within the UK, the production of formula milk is strictly regulated so you can be confident that whichever brand you choose your baby's nutritional needs will be met.

Finding your baby's 'favourite' formula milk will largely be down to trial and error. However, once you've found a brand that your baby is happy with you should try not to change to regularly as they will get used to the taste and consistency.

You'll find that some formula milks are designed to be thicker than others so that less air is taken on board when your baby feeds, these can be a good option for infants who suffer badly with wind. Others have added fatty acids that the manufacturers say help to boost brain development, although there is little in the way of concrete evidence to support this. Some formula milks are organically produced so this can be a good option if you're particularly concerned about the additives and chemicals used in standard food production.

In terms of cost, most major brands of formula milk don't differ too far from one another. However, this is something else you'll need to take into consideration when choosing a brand.

Generally, if you're having any difficulty choosing a formula milk for your baby, are worried that the formula milk you're using isn't satisfying your baby's hunger, or have any other concerns, the best course of action is always to discuss your options with your midwife. They will be the best person to make a recommendation based on your baby's health and unique nutritional needs.

Did you have trouble deciding which formula milk to use? Whether you have advice you can share with others, have a question about formula milk or fancy a chat about something else entirely, why not visit the AskBaby forums and meet other members.

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my baby is one year old and i decided its time to wean him from breastfeeding and im still confuse what formula milk will start to give him.a lot of brand of formula milk so confusing...can anyone help me..pls thanks
by keenten 14th May 2010, 5:25pm
Is it true that Enfalac is the best formula milk for newborn? According to others Enfalac is good for newborns because babies become intelligent, more active, and may become more advance in dealing with others.
by khim 8th Feb 2010, 9:27am
My baby is 3 months old and is not comfortable with austrailian made Meiji FMT formula she often has cramps with tightness in the tummy. Dr had advised this formula on her birth and has not changed since then but i feel that baby is not comfortable with the formula. any one having any experience or advicea? thanks
by chuni 19th Nov 2009, 9:25am
I will be weaning my 7 week old onto bottles in a few weeks, I have loved breastfeeding but I am totally exhausted and I always said I would only do it for the first few months. I just dont know what formula to put him on? he has terrible wind problems (he is now on gripe water) suggestions anyone? cheers xxx
by clairejb08 7th Oct 2009, 10:41am