From milk-based, vegetarian friendly and soya-based options, find the best baby formula to meet your baby’s nutritional needs
Baby formula is a great way to help your baby get all the nutritional requirements they need to grow and develop if breastfeeding is not an option. Typically formula comes in powder form and contains cow’s milk. Other variations on the market are designed for babies with lactose deficiencies, soy allergies and to help with reflux.
For the first six months, all a baby needs is milk and the NHS recommends breast milk for those first six months. However, this is not always possible for a number of reasons, and some parents choose to formula feed their little ones instead, from birth to 12 months. Of course, a lot of parents also combination feed, helping alleviate some of the pressures of breastfeeding.
There is a wide range of baby formula on the market to choose from, with plenty of variations such as soya-based, powder form, and ready-made liquid options. Below, we take a look at some of the best baby formulas and also go through what to look out for when shopping around for the most suitable formula for your tot.
Best baby formula: At a glance
|Best overall baby formula||SMA PRO Breast Milk Substitute (~£14)||Check price at Boots|
|Best gluten-free and halal||Aptamil 1 First Infant Milk (~£87)||Check price at Amazon|
|Best liquid baby formula||SMA Pro Ready-to-use Infant Milk (~£1.05)||Check price at Boots|
|Best organic baby formula||Kendamil Organic (~£15)||Check price at Boots|
How to choose the best formula for your baby
Since all baby formula has to have the same amount of nutrients to comply with regulations, there is no one particular brand that is best for all babies. So, knowing which one to buy at first can prove overwhelming, even if this isn’t your first child.
The good thing about choosing a baby formula is that it is one of the most strictly regulated products on the market. If a substance is proven to be of benefit to a baby’s health, it is a legal requirement to be added to all formulas. So whether you’re thinking about buying a more expensive brand or a lower-priced baby formula, you can have peace of mind in knowing that each one will contain the optimum nutrients available for your baby, and that these ingredients are regulated by the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 2007.
What are the types of baby formula available?
There are a variety of infant formulas on the market. It is advised that a baby should start with a “first” infant milk, whether bottle or combination fed.
Types of formula include:
- First infant milk: This is suitable from birth and contains two types of proteins: whey and casein.
- Goats’ milk formula: This is suitable from birth but not suitable for infants with cow’s milk allergies, as goats milk protein and cows’ milk protein are similar. This means that the immune system can sometimes mistake the two, causing an allergic reaction in someone with cow’s milk allergies.
- Anti-reflux formula: This is also recommended from birth and, as with all formulas, it’s important to only use this type on the advice of a health professional.
- Lactose-free formula: This is suitable for little ones with a lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance, although rare in babies, can cause diarrhoea, wind, bloating, and abdominal pain.
- Follow-on formula: This formula is suitable from six months on but not any younger. However, 6-12 month olds can continue to drink first infant milk.
Baby formula comes in two types. Perhaps the most common is a dry powder that is mixed with water. Once opened, it can last around three weeks. The other comes in a ready-to-feed liquid formula, which can be more expensive and needs to be used up in 24-48 hours. Ready-made formula is also less likely to be Halal, so check the product label before purchasing. Regardless of whether baby formula is powdered or ready-made, the basic components remain the same: they’re made up of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
For any questions, and for more details on what each manufacturer claims about its baby formulas, composition and cost information, the First Steps Nutrition Trust website is an excellent resource.
Baby formula vs. breastfeeding: Which is best?
Baby formula does not provide the same benefits as breast milk for mum and baby: this can protect against infections and help reduce the likelihood of diseases in both mother and child.
However, when formula is prepared correctly, it can provide the right balance of nutrients your baby needs. Some parents also decide to combine feed which provides a lot more options: the baby still gets all the breastfeeding nutrients and mum can take a rest while someone else feeds the baby. The pressure to breastfeed is enormous and each mum deserves the guilt-free choice on how to feed her baby. At the end of the day, it’s a personal choice, and the important thing is that the baby is fed and healthy, and both mother and baby are happy.
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How do I prepare powdered baby formula?
Baby formula should be mixed with boiled water that has not cooled for more than 30 minutes. Once the mixture has cooled, you can then feed it to your little one. As formula powder is not sterile, it is important that the water used is at least 70°C. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on the ratio of powder to boiled water as each will have a slightly different method of preparation.
What milk should I avoid giving my baby?
Not all milk is suitable for a baby and, as a result, it is advised by the NHS that you do not give your baby any of the following milks:
- Condensed milk
- Evaporated milk
- Dried milk
- Goat’s or sheep’s milk
- Soya, rice, oat or almond milk
- Cows’ milk as a main drink (this can still be incorporated in baby’s meals)
Is there anything else I should consider?
Breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months of a baby’s life. However, this isn’t always possible for everyone and so many parents choose a formula for their baby. Before giving a formula to your baby for the first time, or when switching to a different formula, it’s best to get the advice of a midwife or GP to help feed your baby and to keep them as safe and healthy as possible. This advice goes for all formulas in our roundup below.
For more information on formula, as well as advice on bottle feeding, sterilising equipment and making up bottles for your baby, see the NHS website.
How we test baby formulas
We test every product that we recommend to provide the most honest and reliable information about it. While all baby formula has to include identical nutrients to comply with government regulations, we consider a range of options to suit different needs such as soya-based, powder form, and ready-made liquid options. You’ll also find anti-reflux and goat’s milk alternatives.
During testing, we considered how easy each formula was to make and how the powder broke down in water, as well as each product’s value for money. Each of the formulas was tried further to paediatric consultation and clearance, and our honest findings were reported. When it comes to baby formula, as with most other products for babies and children, you should always consult your GP before using.
At the end of a review, in the key details section, we provide a snapshot of each product. This includes the type of formula, specific ingredients it contains, whether or not it’s suitable for vegetarians or vegans, and any other notable details of which you should be aware.
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The best baby formulas you can buy in 2023
1. SMA Pro Breast Milk Substitute
Price when reviewed: £14 | Check price at Boots For babies that are not being breastfed, or those that are combination feeding, SMA has developed this milk to help provide them with all the necessary nutrients. It has a whole range of vitamins including Omega 3 (DHA), which is also a legal requirement for all manufacturers.
If your household has special dietary requirements, it’s worth noting that this formula is not vegetarian, vegan or Halal approved. As part of SMA’s baby formula range, this particular version is Stage 1, which is suitable from birth, but there are also two other options: Stage 2, which is made for 6 months onwards, and Stage 3 for 12 months to 3 years.
Key specs – Form: Powder; Contains: Lactose; Vegetarian/vegan friendly? No; Halal-approved? No; Other details: Once open, use within four weeks; Recyclable packaging
2. Cow & Gate Comfort from birth
Price when reviewed: £14 | Check price at Boots The formula in this Cow & Gate milk contains reduced lactose and is easier to digest, making it a bit more suitable for babies who suffer from colic and/or constipation. There are no artificial preservatives and it also includes calcium, Omega-3, vitamin D and iron. The Cow & Gate First Infant milk liquid bottle is also available, with teats included to aid feeding while on the go. This contains lactose (reduced), fish oil, soy and, as with all the baby formulas on this list, it is advised that Cow & Gate is only used on the advice of a healthcare professional.
Key specs – Form: Powder; Contains: Lactose, fish oil and soy; Vegetarian/vegan friendly? No; Halal-approved? Yes; Other details: Do not refrigerate; Once opened, use within four weeks
3. Kendamil Organic First Infant Milk
Price when reviewed: £15 | Check price at Boots This certified organic powder formula contains no palm oil and is made from a whole milk recipe. It’s 100% British, promising organic full cream, plant-based DHA and HMOs (key nutrients found in breast milk) to help little ones’ immune systems grow and develop.
This is the stage 1 milk from the brand’s range and is suitable from birth. Once a bottle is made up using hot water to mix the powder in, the feed is suitable for use within two hours.
Key specs – Form: Powder; Contains: Lactose; Vegetarian/vegan friendly? Vegetarian; Halal-approved: Yes; Other details: Formula includes plant-based DHA, Organic certified
4. Hipp Organic Combiotic First Infant Milk
Price when reviewed: £14 | Check price at Boots By law, baby formula must be 99.9% organic and this formula is organic-certified, created with ‘gentle’ ingredients, meaning there are no pesticides used in the manufacturing process. The 800g box contains organic skimmed milk, organic whey protein, fish oil and vitamin D, and one scoop of the Hipp Organic Combiotic first infant milk is approximately 4.3g of powder.
Key specs – Form: Powder; Contains: Whey, fish oil; Vegetarian/vegan friendly? No; Halal-approved? No; Other details: Gluten-free; Once open use within three weeks; Recyclable packaging
5. Aptamil 1 First Baby Milk
Price when reviewed: £87 | Check price at Amazon As one of the longest standing baby formula creators on the market, Aptamil is backed by over 50 years of experience and research. This dairy-based blend includes lactose, vegetable oils, coconut oil, fish oil and soy.
It comes in a typical cardboard box with foil lining which is recyclable; however it must be broken down into card, foil and plastic. In February 2022, the Aptamil 1’s ingredients changed to remove palm oil from the recipe and was substituted with vegetable oils instead.
Key specs – Form: Powder; Contains: Lactose, fish oil, soy, vegetable oil; Vegetarian/vegan friendly? No; Halal-approved: Yes; Other details: Gluten-free; Recyclable packaging
6. SMA Pro Ready-to-Use First Infant Milk
Price when reviewed: £1.05 | Check price at Boots For on-the-go feeding, SMA has developed a ready-to-use milk that is enriched with the same formula as the powder format. It can be stored in the fridge for up to 24 hours but, once opened, any unfinished formula must be discarded within one hour. Other ingredients in this formula include vitamin D and vitamin K, as well as all the other nutrients that are legally required to be in baby formulas. This is one of the UK’s most widely available ready-to-use liquid milks and is excellent for in-the-night feeds too.
Key specs – Form: Liquid; Contains: Lactose, soy and fish oil; Vegetarian/vegan-friendly? No; Halal-approved: Unspecified