Trying to find simple, concise information about what baby formula you should buy can be frustrating with so many different options online.
Should I use powdered, liquid, or ready to go formulas? Which brands offer the best products for my baby’s health?
This guide offers in-depth information on the advantages and disadvantages of each type of baby formula and a list of the top formulas in each category.
By the time you’re finished with this article, you’ll be an expert at buying top-notch baby formulas.
The Top 5 Choices of Baby Formulas:
- Enfamil Infant Formula
- Similac for Supplementation Non-GMO
- Gerber Good Start Soy Non-GMO Powder
- Earth’s Best Organic
- Gerber Good Start Soothe Non-GMO Powder
The 3 Types of Baby Formula
Baby formula comes in three different forms, each with their own set of benefits and drawbacks.
1. Powdered Baby Formula
Powdered baby formula is a dry powder that dissolves in water. This makes it best for storage as it requires less space for more servings of formula.
To use powdered formula, all you have to do it mix with water and give it a good shake.
Making sure all of the powder is dissolved before feeding can be tedious as undissolved chunks can block the opening in the bottle.
One of the main benefits of powdered formula over other types is its cost — powdered formula is the cheapest option, and has the longest shelf-life, allowing you to buy more in bulk than other baby formulas.
Premixing bottles ahead of use is allowed but should be used within 24 hours of mixing if stored in a fridge. However, you can also pre-fill the bottles with the right measurements of powder for convenience away from home. Just don’t add water to the bottles until you’re ready to use them.
2. Liquid Concentrates
Similar to evaporated milk or juice concentrate, liquid concentrates are the “just add water” version of powdered formula. No hassle dissolving powder.
Liquid concentrate is slightly more expensive due to the fact it’s heavier, making it just a little more expensive to ship and store.
Liquid concentrate containers can be awkward to carry in public and even harder to prepare bottles outside of the home.
Top choices for powdered baby formula include:
- Enfamil Instant Formula, Liquid Concentrate
- Gerber Good Start Gentle Concentrated Liquid Infant Formula
Ready-to-feed is the only formula that doesn’t need to be mixed prior to feedings and, as such, are considered the most convenient form of formula.
They come in single-use bottles, making them the most expensive and environmentally wasteful.
Still, parents can benefit by purchasing limited amounts of ready-to-feed formula to supplement powdered or liquid concentrate formula, either for late night/early morning feedings or for trips outside the house.
Top choices for ready-to-feed baby formula include:
- Enfamil Infant Formula
- Gerber Good Start Gentle Ready to Feed Infant Formula
Top 10 Baby Formulas Reviewed
A) Dairy Based Formulas
Dairy-based formulas are going to offer the closest resemblance to the contents of breast milk. They’re often made by extracting the proteins and fats from milk and enriching the formula with other nutrients like folate and other B vitamins.
The only downside of dairy-based formulas is that some babies are either lactose intolerant or allergic to milk (more on this later).
1. Enfamil Infant Formula – Best Overall
Enfamil is a large provider of infant formula — known for providing products that prevent spitting up.
It’s often recommended by pediatricians if a child is spitting up their food often with the inclusion of rice cereal to give the formula more substance. The danger in spitting up mainly lies in babies not getting enough bulk in their bellies from the formula. This option provides additional bulk to keep meals down.
- Formulas are categorized by development, including newborns, infants, and toddlers for detail-oriented formula.
- The only formula containing Milk Fat Globule Membrane (MFGM), which used to only be found in human breast milk
- Enfamil also offers alternative formulas, like dairy-free
- Only slightly more expensive than other formulas
- Has a more bitter taste than the liquid formula
2. Similac for Supplementation Non-GMO – Best for Breastfed Babies
They’ve provided support for babies and their families for over 90 years and have shown dedication in bettering their formulas as time goes on.
- Good for supplementing breast milk
- It provides the needed vitamins, as well as beneficial prebiotics
- Helps ease babies into drinking formula
- Can be bought in 2 oz. pre-measured bottles for quick and easy formula mixing
- Should only be used if you are supplementing it with breastfeeding
3. Earth’s Best Organic Dairy Infant Powder – Best Organic Formula
Earth’s Best is dedicated to using what nature provides in their goal of sustainably sourced food and other products. Earth’s Best strives to give families a variety of organic options for food and formula.
All their products are GMO-free, and kosher.
- Guaranteed to be GMO-free, as certified by the Non-GMO Project
- Certified by OU (Orthodox United) to be considered kosher. Mazel tov!
- Great price compared to its closest competitors
- The brand itself supports sustainable farming!
- Difficult to fully dissolve in water
4. Gerber Good Start Soothe Non-GMO Infant Formula – Best On a Budget
- Gerber offers good coupons and discounts, especially for first-time customers
- Can be found in nearly every store
- Expensive without using discounts and coupons
This baby formula is specifically designed to accommodate babies with dairy allergies and difficulty absorbing nutrients in the gut.
The formula contains a proprietary blend of amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. It’s like a nutritional protein shake for your baby.
The simplified amino acids are beneficial for babies with poor absorption in the gut because they’re already provided in the most bioavailable form possible. Other proteins need to be broken down by enzymes in the stomach and lower digestive tract first — which can be a problem for some babies.
Alfamino Infant Amino Acid-based Formula is made for toddlers (12 – 36 months).
- Alfamino utilizes medium chain triglycerides (MCT) to help with fat absorption
- Also comes in a toddler version called “Alfamino Junior”
- Higher price range than other dairy-free formulas
6. The Honest Co. Organic Premium Infant Formula – On-Demand Organic
This formula was created with the intention of providing toxin-free products that would be safe for her and her baby.
This premium infant formula is made using a blend of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), arachidonic acid, iron, vitamin D3, calcium, choline, folic acid, and fructooligosaccharides to promote the growth of beneficial microbes in the gut.
The company provides detailed guides to using their products, including storage and preparation of the formula.
- Premium baby formulated with high-grade ingredients
- Contains prebiotics to support a healthy microbiome
- Made from certified organic ingredients
- Expensive compared to other OU certified kosher baby formulas
A more accurate brand name would’ve been “Toddler’s Only,” considering their formula is geared to children between the ages of 1 and 3.
Even though it’s designed for older babies, this is a great formula to use as your baby reaches the 12-month mark.
- Certified organic formula
- Can be used like cows milk with cereal or porridge as well
- Great price — especially for an organic formula
- Not meant for children under one year of age
- Contains dairy (some kids may be allergic)
8. Similac Go & Grow – For Toddlers
Go & Grow, however, is formula specifically for toddlers (12 – 36 months old).
Similac, like other premium baby formulas, contains the entire nutritional range needed for your child to thrive, with a special focus on dairy-based fats and proteins, DHA for brain development, trace minerals, and vitamins including vitamin E, D, and folate.
Also included in the formula is a host of beneficial bacterial cultures to support the development of a healthy immune system and microbiome from an early age.
- Great for toddlers over the age of one
- Good for supplementing once they’ve been started on soft and solid foods
- Easy way to provide nutrients found in foods that toddlers stick their noses up at
- Not meant for babies under 12 months of age
B) Hypoallergenic/Lactose-Free Formulas
For babies that have dairy allergies or lactose intolerance, hypoallergenic or lactose-free formulas are the best option.
Since these formulas aren’t made from milk, more additives need to be incorporated to make the formula resemble human breast milk.
Most hypoallergenic formulas use soy as the base, but other ingredients like MCT oil or coconut oil can also be used.
9. Gerber Good Start Soy Non-GMO Powder – Best Soy Formula
This soy-based baby formula contains the same variety of nutrients common in other premium baby formulas. The only difference is the source of protein — which comes from the legume Glycine max (soy) instead of cow’s milk.
There are some key differences in the proteins from plants like soy and milk, so Gerber has supplemented this formula with additional amino acids to make it a more complete source of protein for a growing baby.
The company has also added DHA and folate for brain development, as well as iron for red blood cell production.
- Affordable soy formula
- A good alternative for vegan families
- Lactose and dairy protein-free
- Various discounts available
- If your baby isn’t lactose intolerant, there’s no real benefit to using soy formula
- The non-GMO claim isn’t supported by Non-GMO Project
Similac— one of the brands recommended in the dairy-based formula section — also offers an alternative option of a formula for babies that are allergic to cow milk. It’s important to remember that lactose intolerance and dairy allergies are two very different things.
Allergies to dairy involve an immune reaction to the proteins in milk rather than the lactose sugars.
This formula by Similac is made for babies with lactose intolerance. This means it still contains the proteins found in dairy, but have all the lactose sugars removed.
If either of the babies parents is lactose-intolerant, it’s worth considering as the genes responsible are often passed on to the baby.
This formula contains all the other added ingredients commonly found in premium baby formulas — such as folic acid, iron, and DHA.
- This is a pretty affordable hypoallergenic formula.
- Can be used on its own or to supplement breastfeeding by mothers that don’t consume dairy.
- The affordability comes from buying in bulk.
When Should I Buy Baby Formula?
Keep in mind that all baby formula has an expiration date that should be followed as an important safety precaution. Don’t stock up several months before the baby is due just because you’ve decided on the formula you plan to use — by the time you’re baby is ready to use them, they may be nearing their expiration date.
Even powdered formula, though dry, has an expiration date.
You can fridge and freeze breast milk for later dates for short periods of time. However, it’s not recommended you do the same for formula unless it’s specifically mentioned that this is okay on the formula bottle. Freezing can damage the formula by causing the constituents to separate.
Buying just before your expected due date may seem like a reasonable compromise, but there have been cases where a baby doesn’t come until much later. So by the time baby is born, most of your stock will be nearing its expiration date.
If you know you’ll be giving birth at a hospital, they’ll provide you with some formula to take home. This gives you time to send your partner or loved one off to get formula or to buy it yourself.
However, if you plan on home birth, buying formula close to your due date is more than fair; just make sure to check the expiration date.
Important Tip: You Either Use it or You Lose it
For those that intend to supplement their breastfeeding with formula, the biggest concern isn’t the formula itself – but rather the rate at which you breastfeed.
If you stop breastfeeding completely and start using formula exclusively, your breast milk production will begin to slow — eventually stopping completely.
Keep a schedule when breastfeeding or pumping, so you can keep the production of breast milk active.
Much like learning languages, you either use it or lose it.
The longer you breastfeed, the longer it will take for your body to stop the production of breastmilk.
How to Assess the Nutritional Profile of Baby Formulas
The components that make up baby formula are carbs, fats, proteins, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals.
Over the decades, researchers have developed an in-depth analysis of the nutritional requirements of humans in all stages of life. We now have access to highly specific nutritional recommendations for each life stage of your baby — starting from birth.
If you’re interested in the specific numbers the FDA considers safe ranges for the various nutrients in formula look at the Code of Federal Regulations.
Basic Nutrient Requirements as Per the FDA:
|Protein||1.8 – 4.5 g|
|Fat||3.3 – 6 g|
Formula is Designed to Mimic Human Breast Milk
There’s a small difference between protein content from human breast milk and cow milk that’s been made into formula. Human breast milk is much higher in whey than cow milk — the difference being 50 – 80% whey in human milk compared to 18% whey in cow milk.
1. The Ideal Protein Content of Baby Formula
The higher the whey content in your formula, the better. That being said, the “Nutrition Facts” on the bottle will only show you how many grams of protein there are per serving — not the percentages of whey.
Just make sure the protein is between 1.8 and 4.5 grams per 75 mL of formula.
2. The Ideal Fat Content of Baby Formula
For fats, you want something around the 3.5 – 4.5% range. This places it closest to the makeup of human breast milk. Formulas make up the difference in fats by using oils.
Try to select formulas that use oils like coconut oil and sunflower oil to help the fats from the cow milk to match the fatty acid profile expected in human breast milk. Avoid palm and palm olein oil as they can impede the digestive process and cause indigestion.
Really, all baby formulas you find will likely meet the FDA requirements for being safe and healthy to feed to your baby. The rest is small potatoes.
Dairy Allergies & Lactose Intolerance
1. Dairy Allergies
You won’t know about this until your baby first breastfeeds or drinks formula. But they may be allergic to cow-based dairy.
Symptoms of Dairy Allergy May Include:
- Excessive crying after feeding
- Bloody stool
- Skin rashes
- Excessive mucus production
- Difficulty breathing
The proteins from cow milk can be passed through breastfeeding from the mother, so if you suspect that your child has a dairy allergy, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician to confirm the presence of the allergy.
If it isn’t life threatening, simply stop consuming dairy products if you’re breastfeeding or switch to a soy-based formula while you wait on the doctor’s appointment.
If the symptoms are life-threatening, like having trouble breathing, take them to the ER immediately to get checked out.
2. Dairy Intolerance
While rare, there is the possibility of congenital lactose intolerance.
Lactose intolerance is more common in older kids, as babies are supposed to consume milk.
Think about it – no other species drinks milk past infancy.
I’m not saying we should be like all other animals. I’m just saying that lactose intolerance is normal. Except in babies. Babies can pretty much only drink milk.
When a baby is lactose intolerant, it means they lack a particular enzyme needed to break down the lactose sugars in milk. These sugars ferment in the digestive tract to cause severe gastrointestinal upset.
Lactose intolerance usually runs in the family, so if one of the parents or extended family members is lactose intolerant — be on the lookout for signs of it in your baby.
Signs of Lactose Intolerance Includes:
- Excessive crying
Organic & Non-GMO Baby Formulas
Is there a difference between regular formulas and formulas that are organic and/or non-GMO?
1. Organic Formulas
To be officially organic, a product must meet requirements set forth by the United States Department of Agriculture. They can’t be genetically modified, come from animals that were provided growth hormones, or be grown with certain pesticides. There are other, more specific requirements as well, including such things as the cows diet or the processing techniques used during production.
If all of the boxes are ticked, the USDA will certify the product as organic.
There’s a limited number of studies that prove a nutritional difference between organic and non-organic food.
2. Non-GMO Formulas
By extension of the rules set forth to be considered organic, anything that’s been certified by the USDA as organic is automatically verified as non-GMO.
The only group to provide a stamp of certification for being non-GMO is the Non-GMO Project, marked with an iconic butterfly stamp to signify their approval. If it doesn’t have the Non-GMO Project stamp, it’s not certified by this organization.
There is no evidence that non-GMO products are actually better for your health.
If you’re on the fence and feel you may not be giving your kid the best if you don’t go the extra step, know that there is no nutritional difference.
Key Takeaways: The Best Baby Formulas
When it comes to deciding what baby formula is best, there is no one clear answer.
The “best” baby formula will depend on your child and, in some cases, you. What one person will swear by as the best baby formula could be something your child just refuses to drink. Babies can be picky, but you have enough options to find a formula they’ll accept.
For most general purposes, the Enfamil formula provides a great formula for the price, even when compared to established formulas like Gerber. Enfamil seems to pay attention to the little details when making their formulas, like how it’s the only formula to provide the fat-protein blend of MFGN. It’s designed to better simulate human breast milk.
Gerber is another excellent choice for parents on a budget. If you have any trouble with a product, you can bet someone else has already had the problem and posted their questions online for an answer on how to proceed.
No matter which formula you choose, make sure to double check the expiration date, and remember that if you stop breastfeeding for too long while using formula, you’re going to stop producing milk altogether.