Choosing which formula to feed your baby can be baffling and you may feel overwhelmed by the choice. Our guide to formula milks will help you to choose the right type for your baby.
What types of formula milk are there?
There are four different types of formula:
cow’s milk-based formula
goat's milk-based formula
hydrolysed protein formula
Cow’s milk-based formula
Most baby formula milks are based on modified cow's milk. You can also get special types of formula manufactured for premature babies.
Milk can be broken down into two types of protein, which are curds (casein) and whey. Casein is lumpy and whey is watery. The ratio of casein to whey can vary according to the type of baby formula milk. There are two main types:
First milks. These milks are based on whey, with a casein:whey ratio of 40:60, which is about the same as breastmilk. They are suitable for your baby from birth up to about a year, and are thought to be easier for your baby to digest than casein-based milks.
Milk for hungry babies. These milks consist of mostly casein, with a casein:whey ratio of 80:20. Manufacturers claim that the higher casein content means that the milk takes longer to digest, keeping your baby fuller for longer.
However, your baby will only ever need first milk to get all the nutrients she needs. So you don't need to worry about switching to another milk if you don't want to.
If you are changing your baby's milk, be careful to follow the instructions and use the measuring scoop that comes with the new milk. Using too much powder could make your baby constipated. Although many milk manufacturers market their hungry baby milk as suitable from birth, the higher concentration of casein means that a young baby may find the milk hard to digest. It is therefore best to not give this type of formula to a young baby.
If your baby doesn’t seem content with the formula you first started her on, talk to your health visitor before changing formulas.
When your baby’s a year old, you can move her from formula milk to cow's milk. Cow’s milk is not recommended as a main drink for babies under the age of one because it’s lower in iron and nutrients, such as vitamin E and has too much of some other minerals, such as sodium and potassium . However, you can use small amounts in cooking or preparing food for your baby when she’s six months or older and has started solids.
Goat's milk-based formula
Both goat's milk infant formula and goat's milk follow-on formula are available to buy in the UK. They are produced to the same nutritional standards as cow's milk formula.
Goat's milk infant formula and follow-on formula is not a suitable alternative to cow's milk formula for babies with an allergy to the proteins in cow's milk. This is because the proteins in cow's and goat's milk are so similar that a baby with an allergy is likely to react to goat's milk, too.
Babies and children with cow's milk allergy can go in to anaphylaxis after ingesting goat's milk, so it is best avoided in these circumstances, unless a health professional advises you otherwise.
When your baby's a year old, you can move her from goat's milk formula to goat's milk. Goat's milk is not recommended as a main drink for babies under the age of one year old because it’s lower in nutrients and minerals, such as iron. However, you can use small amounts in cooking or preparing food for your baby when she’s six months or older, and has started solids.
There are two versions of hydrolysed milk available:
fully hydrolysed formula
partially hydrolysed formula
Fully hydrolysed formula is specially designed for babies with an allergy or intolerance to cow's milk. It is only available by prescription.
If your baby has a cow’s milk allergy, the protein in the milk will cause an allergic reaction. And if she has an intolerance to cow’s milk, she will have difficulty digesting the sugar, called lactose, in the milk.
Fully hydrolysed formula milks are based on cow's milk and have the same nutrients as standard formula milk. But the protein in the milk is hydrolysed, which means it is broken down so your baby is less likely to react to it. These milks are also generally lactose-free, so babies with an intolerance to cow’s milk can digest them easily.
If you think your baby has a cow's milk allergy or intolerance, always see your doctor or health visitor before changing your baby's milk. If your baby is diagnosed with an allergy to cow's milk protein, your doctor can prescribe a fully hydrolysed-protein formula. However, if your baby is only intolerant to cow's milk, your GP may suggest simply buying a lactose-free formula instead. You can buy these over the counter.
Partially hydrolysed formula
This type of formula milk is made completely from whey protein. It is marketed as being easier to digest, and as suitable for babies suffering from colic, wind, and stomach pain. They are also sometimes promoted as being good for babies with allergies.
However, there's no firm evidence that this milk is easier to digest. It is also best to not give this milk to a baby with a cow's milk allergy as not all of the milk proteins in partially hydrolysed milk have been broken down.
If you think that your baby may have a milk allergy, take her to your GP.
Soya-based formula is made from soya beans. It is modified with vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to make it suitable for formula milk.
Only give your baby soya-based formula on the advice of your doctor, health visitor, or paediatrician. Even though manufacturers market their soya formulas as suitable for babies from birth, health professionals don't recommend them for babies under six months.
Soya formula is also not recommended if your baby has a cow’s milk allergy. Up to six in ten babies who are sensitive to cow's milk are also sensitive to soya, too.
If you decide to move your baby on to soya milk once she is six months old, make sure that you take extra care with her growing teeth. Soya formula milks can damage your baby’s teeth over time, because they are often sweetened with glucose syrup.