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Best Baby Formulas of 2023
April 13, 2023

Best Baby Formulas of 2023

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Best Baby Formulas of 2023

There are many benefits to breastfeeding, and it’s recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) as the optimal source of nutrition throughout your baby’s first year of life. But breastfeeding doesn’t work for every family, and you may need or choose to use formula full-time or give it in addition to breast milk.

In this article:

Types of Baby Formula

There are four main types of formula for babies:

  • Cow’s milk formula, as its name implies, uses cow’s milk as its main ingredient, but the milk has been treated to make the protein more easily digestible. According to the AAP, cow’s milk formula is the most prevalent type of formula on the market and makes up about 80% of all formulas sold.
  • Hydrolyzed formula contains protein that has been broken down (hydrolyzed) into smaller proteins, making it more easily digested. Hydrolyzed formulas may be either partially or exclusively hydrolyzed and are often marketed as “calm” or “gentle.” These types of formulas are designed for babies who can’t tolerate cow’s milk or soy-based formulas or for babies with a protein allergy.
  • Soy formula is made from soy and contains a protein source (soy) and a carbohydrate. Soy formulas may be recommended if you’re looking to exclude animal products from your baby’s diet or if your baby is allergic or intolerant to cow’s milk formula or lactose.
  • Specialized formula is designed for babies who have particular medical needs or medical conditions, such as premature babies or babies with a high risk of developing allergies.

Baby formula comes in three forms:

  • Powder formula that you mix with water;
  • Concentrated liquid formula, also mixed with water;
  • Ready-to-feed formula, sometimes called ready-to-use, that is premixed and doesn’t require adding water.

How to Choose the Best Baby Formula

According to Kelly Fradin, MD, a pediatrician, writer and New York City-based public health advocate for evidence-based information, there are a few things to consider when choosing the best formula for your baby.

  • Accessibility. “I recommend families prioritize having an infant formula that’s accessible,” says Dr. Fradin. “If it’s hard to obtain from a local store or if you travel, that may cause unnecessary stress.” And don’t spend too much time stressing over a store brand formula versus a name brand, or whether or not the formula is organic. Store brand formulas, according to Dr. Fradin, are essentially the same as name brands, since all infant formulas marketed in the US must meet the nutrient specifications listed in FDA regulations. And while organic formulas may be less likely to contain traces of pesticides or growth hormones, the evidence for benefit from organic baby formula is slim. “Certainly I would prefer a baby be fed non-organic formula than a family be stressed and rationing a more costly organic formula.”
  • Cost and convenience. Choose a baby formula that fits most easily into your budget. Powdered formula is the least expensive type of baby formula and the most convenient to store. Concentrated formula is more expensive, but is a bit less messy to prepare than powder. And ready-to-feed is the most expensive and has the most waste, but it’s also the most convenient.
  • Use science, not marketing. Take marketing claims like “boosts brain development” or “helps soothe a fussy baby” with a grain of salt, says Dr. Fradin. “Many of these claims are based in scientifically valid theories,” she says. “However, at best, there is indirect evidence of benefit.”

Check out How to Choose a Baby Formula for more information on selecting the best formula for your baby and your family.

What to Know About European Baby Formula

Since the formula shortage began, the FDA has approved several European formulas and additional formulas made outside of the United States: Kendamil (UK), Bubs (Australia), Nestle (Gerber/Germany), and a version of Similac produced for Spain. These formulas meet US safety standards for production and labeling and are valid options to feed your baby.

“The biggest difference between these formulas versus the formula produced in the US is iron content; formula produced abroad contains about half of the iron content as its US counterparts,” explains Dr. Fradin, although she also notes that different preparations of iron may predispose to better absorption.

“We know iron is a critical nutrient for brain and liver growth in babies, especially for babies born preterm or after pregnancies with certain complications like preeclampsia. If you’re using one of these formulas and are worried about anemia or iron deficiency, talk to your pediatrician,” she says.

How We Chose Our Best Baby Formula

  • We consulted experts Kelly Fradin, MD, a pediatrician, writer and New York City-based public health advocate and Rebekah Wheeler, Certified Nurse-Midwife and Lead Family Guide at Cleo, an online health and wellness service.
  • We analyzed results from Babylist’s Best Baby Products survey, which polled almost 3,000 Babylist users and asked them to share the baby products they love the most and why.
  • We researched information on formula and formula safety from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.

Best Baby Formulas

Best Organic Baby Formula

What Our Experts Say

Earth’s Best should be on your list if organic ingredients are an important factor for you when selecting a baby formula. Certified USDA organic and non-GMO, this formula is designed to be as similar as possible to breast milk. It contains high quality protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids and no added corn syrup solids.

What’s Worth Considering

The brand also makes a gentle formula for babies with sensitive tummies and a low-lactose sensitive formula.

Best Store Brand Baby Formula

What Our Experts Say

Since generic baby formulas must meet the same FDA-regulated nutrient specifications as their name-brand counterparts, this affordable formula is a solid choice. Like many baby formulas, it’s designed to mimic breast milk and contains HMOs to support your baby’s immune system and digestive health. There’s also DHA, Lutein, Vitamin E and Choline for brain and eye development and

What’s Worth Considering

There’s no palm oil in this baby formula, which may cause constipation in some babies. (Although most experts say this isn’t an issue for the majority of babies.)

Best Name-Brand Baby Formula

What Our Experts Say

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to choosing the right baby formula, and this one covers all the bases. It’s made with an exclusive blend of five HMO prebiotics similar to those found in breast milk. (Human Milk Oligosaccharide—HMO for short—is an immune-system nourishing prebiotic that’s important because it feeds good bacteria to the gut, where the majority of the immune system exists.) There are also nutrients that support brain development, eye health and your baby’s immune system. It’s non-GMO and made with no artificial growth hormones.

What’s Worth Considering

In February of 2022, Abbott Nutrition recalled certain lots of Similac powdered infant formula produced at a Michigan facility. (You can find more information on how to check a formula’s lot number on Abbott’s recall notice page.) Since that time, the FDA has launched and closed an investigation surrounding the recall and continues to work on supply chain and food safety issues.

Best European Baby Formula

What Our Experts Say

Relatively newly approved for the US market, Kendamil is a European Certified Organic formula from the UK designed for infants from birth to 12 months. It contains whole milk fats (similar to those found in breast milk) from grass-fed cows combined with a whey-to-casein protein ratio that supports softer stools and less stomach discomfort. It also includes DHA and ARA for healthy brain and vision development and a custom prebiotic blend of HMOs to support a healthy immune system.

What’s Worth Considering

Kendamil doesn’t contain palm oil, soy, corn syrup, gluten or GMOs.

Best European-Style Baby Formula

What Our Experts Say

Modeled on breast milk and designed to support digestion, this formula was founded by moms and a team of food scientists and medical experts and is the only USDA and EU Certified Organic Formula on the market. Bobbie uses lactose as the sole carbohydrate (not corn syrup) and contains a whey-to-casein ratio designed to be gentle on your baby’s stomach. It’s also the only formula made in the US that meets EU requirements for DHA, a nutrient that plays a key role in brain and eye development. Bobbie is gluten-free, non-GMO and made from organic, grass-fed cows.

What’s Worth Considering

Want to check “buy formula” off of your to-do list? Opt for Bobbie’s subscription service. Formula ships monthly right to your front door, and you can choose from a four, eight or ten-can bundle.

Bobbie makes an Organic Gentle Infant Formula, too, a partially hydrolized protein formula that supports easy digestion.

Best Formula For Breastfed Babies

What Our Experts Say

Enfamil’s NeuroPro line is backed by years of research on breast milk and clinical studies around its brain-building nutritional qualities. The formula is the only one to contain milk fat globule membrane (MFGM), a three-layered membrane previously found only in breast milk and that’s been proven to support brain development. NeuroPro also contains DHA, proteins and baby probiotics for immune support. Parents love the gentle formula that helps reduce fussiness, colic and gas.

What’s Worth Considering

If a sensitive belly isn’t an issue, the brand also makes a standard Enfamil Neuro-Pro formula, as well as the Enspire line, the first and only formula to contain MFGM and Lactoferrin (two components of breast milk that support brain and immune development).

Best Organic Formula for Breastfed Babies

What Our Experts Say

Fed is best, so if you’re looking for an organic formula that closely mimics breast milk, Happy Baby is a good choice. This formula is designed to meet all of your baby’s nutritional needs over their first year and is made with ingredients similar to those found in breast milk such as prebiotics and key vitamins and minerals like calcium, vitamin D, DHA, zinc, choline and organic lactose. The lactose is made from cows raised on organic farms and the formula is non-GMO and free of corn syrup.

What’s Worth Considering

Once your little one is ready to move on from formula to solid foods, Happy Baby also has a huge variety of organic purees, pouches, snacks and more.

Best Formula For Gassy Babies

What Our Experts Say

When it comes to babies who have extra-sensitive tummies, finding the right formula can be a bit of trial and error. Some parents find that this formula helps with fussiness and gas, especially for babies who are sensitive to lactose. It contains dual HMOs for immune and digestive system support, DHA and Lutein, and it’s non-GMO and free of artificial growth hormones.

What’s Worth Considering

Because it’s a store brand formula, it’s significantly less expensive than many comparable name-brand options.

Most Affordable Baby Formula

What Our Experts Say

If you love Costco as much as we do, it will come as no surprise to you that the brand’s generic formula stacks up nicely against major brands—and at a price that’s much more affordable. Modeled after breast milk, the Kirkland formula is non-GMO, has no artificial growth hormones, and contains 2’-FL HMO for immune support as well as DHA and Lutein for brain and eye development. It’s most likely aligned to Similac Pro-Advance and Enfamil formula if you’re looking to do a side-by-side comparison with major brands.

What’s Worth Considering

You’ll have to be a member of Costco to unlock these great deals, but who are you kidding—what else are you doing on a Saturday afternoon, anyway?

Best Hypoallergenic Baby Formula

What Our Experts Say

If your baby has a milk protein allergy, you’ll need a hypoallergenic formula such as Nutramigen. This lactose-free specialized formula contains hydrolyzed protein to provide colic relief and probiotics for immune support. It’s easy to digest, is designed to support brain development and immune support and has been proven to provide fast relief for infants with cow’s milk allergies.

What’s Worth Considering

Milk protein allergies do occur but are fairly rare among infants. (Studies show about a 2-3% prevalence rate.) Milk sensitivities and intolerances, however, are more common. These intolerances don’t always require a hypoallergenic formula, so always talk to your pediatrician before making the switch.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is baby formula FDA-regulated?

Yes, the FDA regulates both the production and sale of infant formulas in the US. That’s because infant formula is food, so the same laws and regulations that govern food production and sales also govern infant formula. (There are even additional safety requirements on baby formula since it’s used for a very vulnerable population.) The FDA also has requirements around nutrients in infant formulas, including minimum amounts of 29 nutrients and maximum amounts of 9 of those nutrients.

What baby formula is most recommended by pediatricians?

There’s no one formula that pediatricians recommend across the board. Instead, talk with your pediatrician about which brand and type is best for your baby. The best choice will be the formula your doctor supports and that your baby accepts.

What water is best for baby formula?

In most cases, tap water is usually fine for mixing baby formula—but always check with your pediatrician first about your town or city’s water just to be sure.

“In most parts of the U.S., tap water works great to mix formula,” she says. Some water labeled “baby water” doesn’t contain fluoride, and may actually do more harm than good.

What formula is best for breastfed babies?

If you’re breastfeeding your baby and looking to supplement with formula, or trying to make the switch altogether, you’ll probably notice lots of formula marketed toward breastfed babies with claims like “closest formula to breastmilk.” According to Dr. Fradin, that type of messaging is just that: marketing.

“Formulas marketed for supplementation purposes are essentially no different than other infant formulas,” she says. “This is because the nutrient requirements for all formulas are the same, so supplemental formula doesn’t have special ratios or different nutrients. Because of this and because “supplemental” formulas are typically less accessible, I’d recommend you choose the formula you use based on other qualifications.”

What do I do if I can’t find my baby’s formula?

In general, try to stick with a formula that is similar to the one that you’ve been using, advises Rebekah Wheeler, Certified Nurse-Midwife and Lead Family Guide at Cleo, an online health and wellness service. If you can’t find your favorite formula, it’s safe to switch formulas unless your child requires a special type of formula (in that case, check with your pediatrician first).

The FDA and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) do not recommend making infant formula at home, as this can lead to serious health problems for your baby. 

What about toddler formula?

Toddler formulas are not necessary and don’t meet the nutritional needs of young children, per the CDC. You should never give toddler formula to infants under 12 months of age.

This information is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. We do not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Babylist may earn compensation from affiliate links in this content. Learn more about how we write Babylist content and review products, as well as the Babylist Health Advisory Board.