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Best baby formula 2022: The best infant formula, including vegetarian and soya-based formula

Steven East Rachel Erdos
26 May 2022

Our pick of the best baby formula, from affordable options to vegetarian, organic and soya-based options

Whether you've decided not to breastfeed, are struggling with it or feel it's simply time to move your baby onto formula milk, trying to choose the best baby formula for your little one can be overwhelming.

Beyond different brands, available at varying prices, there are also organic, vegetarian and halal options to get your head around. That's not to mention if your child has an intolerance to cow’s milk or you want to bring them up vegan. The good news is that baby formula is one of the most strictly controlled products on the market.

This means the core ingredients of every formula milk are identical because they all have to provide the same mixture of nutrients demanded by the UK Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 2007.

In addition to these core ingredients, you'll also see references to LCPUFAs (long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids), nucleotides and prebiotics. Different brands offer different combinations, but it's only an LCPUFA called DHA that has been proven to contribute to visual development in babies. As a result, spending less on formula won't mean your baby is missing out on what it needs, neither does spending more guarantee a significant boost in nutrients.

Best baby formula: At a glance

How to choose the best baby formula for your baby

Is there such a thing as organic baby formula?

Under UK regulations, all formula milks are limited to 0.01 milligrams of pesticide residue content per litre. So if it’s a dislike of putting pesticides in your body that makes you buy organic, rest easy. However, non-organic cattle may also be given antibiotics to prevent mastitis, which is often caused by intensive milking.

What’s the difference between standard formula and follow-on milk?

Follow-on milk basically adds in iron and vitamin D, which are required in greater amounts in older babies, but the government advises that follow-on milk is not necessary, as these will be provided by a healthy diet and the infant formula. You can also give your baby vitamins if you're worried they're not getting enough vitamin D from their diet, or simply want to make sure that they continue to get the benefits of breast or formula milk when it's time for weaning.

Does specific hungry baby formula actually make a difference?

Many brands offer milk for babies who aren’t satisfied by standard infant formula and need extra feeds or larger bottles. However, the evidence provided in support of these brands comes from small sample sizes and on infants with digestive problems. You're not advised to move your baby onto hungry milk without guidance from your health visitor or GP. Some babies, just like some adults, have larger appetites.

Is all baby formula vegan-approved?

No. Babies need vitamin D3, which cannot always be provided by a vegetarian diet. Most brands get D3 from lanolin, the oil found in sheepskin, where vegans use trace amounts of lichen.

What’s the closest formula to breast milk?

As mentioned above, the vast and changing number of ingredients in breast milk means that any such claims are meaningless. In addition to this, any ingredients wouldn’t survive in powder form even in the fridge so any claim to be close to breast milk should be treated with scepticism.

For an in-depth breakdown of all the brands mentioned, we’d recommend The First Steps Nutrition Trust’s downloadable booklet, Infant Formula: An Overview, which is an exhaustive but invaluable guide if you want an objective summary of ingredients, analysis of the claims made by various brands and comparisons between them.

The best baby formula to buy

1. Aptamil Stage 1 First Infant Milk Powder

Price: £12 for 800g | Buy now from Boots

Aptamil is the most widely available formula on the market and does the job. The pack is easy to use and comes with a spoon and is foil-packed. It advertises a unique blend of ingredients but, as mentioned above, it has what’s required by the state. It comes in a cardboard box with a foil lining.

Aptamil changed its formulation in 2019 and it led to a number of complaints from parents. We've been using Aptamil since our baby was a newborn and have not noticed any adverse effects since this change.

Key specs – Form: Powder; Weight: 800g; Gluten-free? Yes; Vegetarian/vegan-friendly? No; Organic? No; Halal-approved? Yes; Recyclable container? Yes (but must be broken down into card, foil and plastic)

Buy now from Superdrug

2. SMA Pro First Infant Milk Powder

Price: £11 for 800g | Buy now from Boots

SMA is probably the main competition and comes from the Nestlé company. Again, it has all the required ingredients and promises to be nutritionally complete, which the law demands it should be. It comes in a metal tin.

Key specs – Form: Powder; Weight: 800g; Gluten-free? No; Vegetarian/vegan-friendly? No; Organic? No; Halal-approved? Yes; Recyclable container? Yes (steel)

Buy now from Boots

3. Hipp Organic Combiotic First Infant Milk Powder

Price: £11 for 800g | Buy now from Boots

Don’t be put off by the rather annoying gentle in gentle milk substitute or the irritating æ in its boast of being Præbiotik as this brand’s heart seems to be in the right place. As mentioned above, all formula milk must be by law 99.9% organic and this product merely makes the last 0.01% organic. The box is cardboard and reusable.

Key specs – Form: Powder; Weight: 800g; Gluten-free? Yes; Vegetarian/vegan-friendly? No; Organic? Yes; Halal-approved? No Recyclable container? Yes (card)

Buy now from Boots

4. Holle Organic Infant Formula 1

Price: £11 for 400g | Buy now from Planet Organic

Holle achieves vegetarian status by using vegetable oils rather than fish oils, with seemingly no adverse effects. Like Hipp’s product, it’s also 99% organic and uses biodynamic milk, meaning that the cattle-rearing is designed to work with the environment rather than at its expense, antibiotics are only used to treat illness and a biodynamic calendar is used to take into account the movement of the sun, moon and stars.

Key specs – Form: Powder; Weight: 400g; Gluten-free? Yes; Vegetarian/Vegan-friendly? Vegetarian; Organic? Yes; Halal-approved? No Recyclable container? Yes (card)

Buy now from Planet Organic

5. SMA Wsoy Soya Infant Formula

Price: £14 for 800g | Buy now from Amazon

In the UK the use of soya-based infant formulas for children under six months is not recommended with medical advice. This is because the state believes there are a number of risk factors associated with soya use. These include allergies, future reproductive health of the infant, tooth decay in later life and higher aluminium content.

However, if your doctor agrees with your child having soya milk because of either a perceived cow’s milk intolerance or because you want your child to have a vegan diet, your choice is severely limited. And SMA’s brand is likely the only one you will be able to get. However, as with all the other milks, it does have all the nutrients required by law so your child won’t miss out on anything important.

Key specs – Form: Powder; Weight: 860g; Gluten-free? Yes; Vegetarian/vegan-friendly? Vegetarian and 99.9% vegan; Organic? No; Halal-approved? Yes Recyclable container? Yes (steel)