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By Agustina Fernandez January 17, 2023 9 min read
Reviewed by Dr. Po-Chang Hsu, MD, MS
Infant feedings aren't one size fits all, and parents all over the world are using different techniques to ensure that their children receive adequate nutrition at all stages of growth. What works for one baby may not work for another, so the first year of life is likely to be a period of trial and error.
Many new mothers aim to exclusively breastfeed their children, as this is recommended by both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization for the first 6 months of life.
Although, this is not always possible, as many babies have unique nutritional needs which may require breast milk alternatives. Luckily there are many suitable and widely used infant formulas on the market, which come very close to having the same nutritional benefits as breast milk.
In this article, we will be highlighting some of the best baby formulas available today, while answering some of the most frequently asked questions about how the formula can be used to supplement or replace breast milk when necessary.
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Feeding your little one isn't always going to be a straightforward experience, and in some cases, to ensure that your baby is getting adequate nutrition, you may have to supplement with formula, otherwise referred to as "mixed feedings". In most cases, mixed feedings are a temporary solution and are only needed for short periods of time to supplement breast milk.
Circumstances, where mixed feeding could be beneficial, include:
If your baby has a very low birth weight (under 1500 gm)
If your baby is born premature (at less than 32 weeks of gestational age)
If your baby is experiencing a severe illness
If your baby is struggling to gain weight
There are also circumstances where a mother may be dealing with her own health complications, which could impact her ability to produce breast milk or breastfeed. Keep in mind that low supply can happen to anyone, and isn't necessarily indicative of a medical issue. These circumstances can include:
Recent breast surgery
Low body weight
Besides health complications related to the mother or baby, there are everyday life circumstances that can make breastfeeding more difficult. These situations can include:
Returning to work
Regardless of how you choose to feed your little one, the top priority should always be their health and happiness. Supplementing with formula is extremely common and a safe alternative to breastfeeding.
There are some less common situations where formula feeding would be the only safe option, as breastfeeding could be harmful to the health of the baby or mother. Depending on the reason, formula feeding may be a long-term or short-term solution.
Circumstances, where breastfeeding is not recommended long-term, include:
Child is diagnosed with classic galactosemia, which is a rare genetic disorder
Mother is diagnosed with HIV
Mother is infected with human T-cell lymphotropic virus (type I or type II)
Mother is using an illicit street drug
Mother has been infected with Ebola
Circumstances, where breastfeeding is not recommended short-term, include:
Mother is infected with untreated brucellosis
Mother is taking certain medications (Some of these include: antiretroviral medications, birth-control medications containing estrogen, cancer chemotherapy agents, medications prescribed to treat migraines, mood stabilizers, and sleep-aid medicines)
Undergoing radiation therapy (this may be long-term or short term depending on the type of therapy)
Undergoing diagnostic imaging with radiopharmaceuticals
Mother has an active herpes infection with lesions on the breast
Mother has varicella (chicken pox)
Mother has tuberculosis
It is important to discuss any medications that you are taking with your healthcare provider prior to breastfeeding. If you have the flu, you should continue feeding your little one with breast milk, although if possible, your baby should be fed by someone who is not currently sick, as to minimize the risk of them getting infected with the virus.
As mentioned above, exclusively breastfeeding your little one for the first 6 months is ideal, but not always possible. For this reason, many parents are quite successful with mixed feedings. There are a few ways to go about doing this.
Some babies do well with a supplemental nursing system, which is when the formula is delivered through a small tube that is placed on the mother's nipple while breastfeeding.
Bottle feeding is another great option, and can include pumped milk or baby formula. Although, it is recommended that you wait until your little one is 3-4 weeks before introducing any artificial nipples.
Learn More: Best Bottles for Breastfed Babies
Many formulas on the market do their best to mimic breast milk and choosing one of these products is a great place to start if you are looking to introduce infant formula to your little one, as they have many of the same nutritional benefits as breast milk.
Each organic baby formula discussed below has lactose as its only source of carbohydrates, just like breast milk, although the benefits of each formula do differ slightly so let's take a look at what they have to offer. Here are some of the best baby formula products on the market:
This organic cow's milk formula contains natural probiotic lactic acid cultures originally extracted from real breast milk. It is made using chemical-free agricultural practices that respect animal welfare and environmental sustainability.
It contains beneficial ingredients such as probiotics and prebiotics, essential fatty acids (DHA and ARA), minerals, and vitamins A, D, and C.
On top of containing many nutritious ingredients, it is also free from artificial sweeteners and GMOs, and common allergens including gluten, soy, peanuts, and eggs.
This organic baby formula is another great product containing natural probiotic lactic acid cultures originally extracted from real breast milk.
It is enriched with probiotics and prebiotics, essential fatty acids (DHA and ARA), minerals, and vitamins A, D, and C while following environmentally sustainable practices that respect animal welfare.
This organic goat's milk formula is great for sensitive tummies as goat’s milk has proven that it is digested up to 2x faster and more easily by babies than cow’s milk.
It is made without harmful chemicals, pesticides, antibiotics, or GMOs. It contains fatty acids (DHA & AA), lutein, medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), and added prebiotics to support bowel health.
This goat's milk formula is produced at Demeter-certified organic farms and is free of artificial sweeteners and GMOs.
It is made with a short list of simple ingredients that support development and is enriched with vitamins A, D, and E, minerals, and essential fatty acids (DHA and ARA).
It is similar to breast milk by containing milk fats that imitate the naturally occurring carbohydrates in breast milk that work to keep your baby full.
This organic formula has a base of organic skim cow’s milk, whey, vegetable oils, and lactose. It is free of artificial sweeteners and GMOs and is packed full of nutrients like vitamins A, D, and E.
It also contains long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPs) and lactose as the main carbohydrate to imitate the naturally occurring energy sources in breast milk and keep your baby full.
Löwenzahn Organics formulas have a base of EU organic skim milk, milk proteins, lactose, and vegetable oils. Similar to mature breast milk, this formula has a 60:40 whey-to-casein ratio that optimally balances milk protein digestibility.
It also contains ARA (Omega-6) & plant-based DHA (Omega-3) and prebiotics, while being free from GMOs, antibiotics, pesticides, chemicals, artificial sweeteners, and preservatives.Learn More: Baby Formula Ingredients
Regardless of whether you are feeding your little one with powdered formula, liquid formula, or ready-to-feed formula, choosing cow's milk formulas or goat's milk formulas is a great choice as they have many of the same benefits as breast milk.
Additionally stage PRE or stage 1 formula tend to be closer in composition to breast milk as these formulas tend to use lactose as the main or sole carbohydrate akin to human milk.
To ensure that your baby feels full after feedings, you can choose an organic formula that contains starch or maltodextrin such as the following formulas:
Holle Stage 1 Organic Infant Formula
HiPP Stage 1 Organic Bio Combiotic Formula - German Version
Premibio Organic Premilait Infant Cow Formula- Stage 1
Premibio Organic Premichevre Infant Goat Formula- Stage 1
If your baby has a sensitive tummy, they may benefit from formulas made from goat's milk, such as Premibio Premichevre Formula listed above, as they tend to be easier to digest. Alternatively, if your little one has a sensitivity to milk (not a diagnosed or suspected cow's milk protein allergy), they may do well on one of the following HiPP formulas:
HiPP HA Stage 1 Hypoallergenic Formula
HiPP Comfort Special Formula
All of the infant formulas previously mentioned have many of the same qualities as breast milk, but if we were to narrow down the top three organic formulas that most closely resemble breast milk, these are the products we would recommend:
HiPP Stage PRE Combiotic Infant Formula - German Version
HiPP Stage 1 Combiotic Infant Formula - Dutch Version
Jovie Stage 1 Organic Goat Milk Formula
First and foremost, if you find yourself struggling to produce enough breast milk for your baby, know that you're not alone and you have options. Before turning to formula feeding, we encourage you to consult a health professional for assistance on how to increase your milk production.
However, if you've consulted a health professional and jointly agreed to begin supplemental feeding, we've got some tips to make the transition smoother. We have already mentioned a couple of methods above like using a supplemental nursing system or bottle feedings to nurse your little one, but here are a few more guidelines to follow when introducing formula to a breastfed baby.
• If you're using formula because you're not producing enough milk to breastfeed exclusively, it's best to offer your baby any pumped milk you have first and then make up the difference with formula as needed.
• If you are aiming to stop breastfeeding altogether, begin by replacing breastfeeding with bottle feeding. To reduce any discomfort, during this weaning time, it is beneficial to continue pumping. This is done to avoid uncomfortable engorgement, which can result in plugged ducts or mastitis.
Learn More: How to Stop Milk Production if Not Breastfeeding
• Your milk supply will naturally decrease once your nursing session decrease.
• When you first introduce bottle feeding, it can be beneficial to begin by getting someone else such as a partner or caregiver to give your little one their bottles. The mother may need to go as far as being out of the house or out of sight during the first couple of bottle feedings.
• Be patient, any change to your little ones feeding routine may take some getting used to. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your baby's diet, it is best to consult your pediatrician.
As mentioned above, there are a number of reasons why someone may not physically be able to breastfeed or may make the choice not to breastfeed. Factors such as health conditions, medications, lifestyle, and medical treatments can impact the decision to breastfeed.
This is a deeply personal choice and affects each mother differently. The health of the mother and baby is a top priority, and the best feeding routine is the one that accommodates the emotional and physical well-being of the mother, on top of the health of the baby.
Learn More: How To Transition From Breastmilk To Formula?
The most important thing is that your little one is getting all the nutrients they need either through breastfeeding, mixed feedings, or exclusively formula feeding. Each of the infant formulas discussed in this article is designed to meet your little one's dietary needs. Plus, these formula brands have taken care to try and replicate some of the same qualities and benefits found in breast milk.
Please be aware that this information is based on general trends evidenced in babies, it is in no way medical advice. Your baby's doctor should be your first source of information and advice when considering any changes to your child’s formula, and when choosing your child’s formula. Always consult your pediatrician prior to making any decisions about your child’s diet or if you notice any changes in your child.
Disclaimer: Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby because breast milk provides your child with all the essential nutrients they need for growth and development. Please consult your pediatrician if your child requires supplemental feeding.
Agustina Fernandez is a medical doctor, who graduated from Universidad Nacional de Cordoba, in Argentina. She has experience working in an emergency room of a public hospital, where she helped many patients with urgent diseases. However, her true passion are children and she is planning on doing her specialization degree in Pediatrics soon. In the past year, she has become interested in researching about infant nutrition, including breastfeeding, infant formula and food in the first years of little ones' lives.
March 27, 2023
I understand European baby formulas have stricter guidelines than the US. So why is palm oil included in the ingredients? I believe it is not a good ingredient.
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Dr. Hsu received his medical degree from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, and holds a Master’s of Science degree from both Harvard University and Tufts University.
Dr. Hsu did research in MRI neuroimaging research of fetal brains at Boston Children’s Hospital, an affiliated hospital of Harvard Medical School. Dr. Hsu is currently a full-time medical writer and consultant.
Outside of the medical profession, Dr. Hsu loves to write, learn new languages, and travel
Organic's Best Shop
March 27, 2023
Thank you so much for your comment! Palm oil is an ingredient that can bring up a lot of strong feelings as it’s widely used by food manufacturers in environmentally damaging ways. However, not all palm oil is the same, and there is a way to use this ingredient responsibly.
First, we’d like to explain why palm oil is valuable to infant nutrition. Palm oil is a natural source of palmitic acid, an abundant component in breast milk. Thus, palm oil is added to baby formula to reflect the fatty acid profile of breast milk and achieve comparable levels of palmitic acid.
Our two most popular brands, HiPP and Holle, use organic sustainability-sourced palm oil in their products. However, Holle also offers palm oil-free options like their goat milk-based formulas. Lowenzahn Organics, a leading German formula brand we carry, also uses organic RSPO-certified palm oil in their formula.
If you prefer milk without palm oil, we recommend choosing a formula based on whole milk powder or goat’s milk. Both options contain naturally high levels of palmitic acid, so adding palm oil can often be avoided. Our palm oil-free options include all stages of Jovie, Premibio Premichevre goat’s milk formula, and Holle’s goat’s milk-based formulas.
We hope that helps clear things up for you :)