When it comes to feeding baby, we know that breastmilk is ideal. But what if it’s not an option and you want to find the best baby formula for your child?
If you’re having trouble with nursing, always check in with a lactation consultant (or at least a La Leche League meeting!) before you throw in the towel. Breastfeeding is hard in the beginning for almost everyone, but it does get easier so hang in there!
But, try as they might, breastfeeding simply isn’t an option for some moms and babies. Some babies have anatomical issues (lip/tongue ties or cleft palate) that make breastfeeding very difficult. Some moms don’t have enough glandular tissue, have low milk supply, are on a medication that is not breastfeeding friendly, or have another health issue. Some moms may have work conflicts and can’t find the time to pump their breast milk. And finally, some moms don’t want to breastfeed for personal or emotional reasons. But, all moms want to give their babies the very best nourishment.
Is Conventional Formula the Only Option?
In this post, we’ll explore all of the options so you can decide which is the best baby formula for you and baby.
Best Baby Formula: Donor Milk
If mom can’t provide breastmilk for baby, the next best baby formula may be milk from another human mama.
One of the biggest benefits to breastmilk is that it is a living food. (In contrast, most formulas are shelf stable and don’t “go bad” after a few weeks.) Breastmilk is brimming with live beneficial bacteria, antibodies and enzymes so it’s always best to use unpasteurized.
You can get live (unpasteurized) donor milk from organizations like:
Is donor breastmilk safe?
There are always risks involved with feeding baby anything but his own mom’s breastmilk via direct breastfeeding. Parents have to weigh the benefits of optimal nutrition (which can have lifelong health benefits) with the possibility of disease or pathogen transmission.
That said, any form of feeding besides direct breastfeeding (even feeding mom’s breastmilk via a bottle) has the potential to introduce pathogens, since contamination can happen at any point in the pump, store, bottle feeding cycle.
Pasteurized breastmilk may be even more problematic because it doesn’t have as much good bacteria left (it was destroyed by the pasteurization process) to fight off possible contamination. In other words, bad bacteria can proliferate faster in pasteurization versus unpasteurized milk, because it doesn’t have as much beneficial bacteria to crowd out the bad bacteria.
This study shows that babies fed unpasteurized donor milk were frequently exposed to a lot of bacteria but had no adverse outcomes because of the protective qualities of live milk.
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If you don’t feel comfortable making your own formula (or don’t want to bother with it!), let’s talk about the store-bought options. Unfortunately, the FDA mandates certain nutrients, even in organic ones, which can only be created synthetically. (Interesting to note: None of these ingredients are legal in the European Union. More on this later.)
Here are some of the problematic ingredients:
- Lutein, which is hexane-extracted from marigolds,
- Lycopene, which is produced with toluene, a neurotoxic benzene derivative,
- Nucleotides, which is produced from chemically treated yeast,
- Taurine, which is processed with carcinogenic sulfuric acid,
- and L-Carnitine, which was banned by the National Organic Standards Board because of concerns over carcinogenic properties.
If you’d like the convenience of store bought formulas, here are a few options that are more ideal than others on the market.
ByHeart Whole Nutrition Powder Infant Formula
ByHeart Whole Nutrition Powder Infant Formula (where to buy) is the first US-based formula to feature whole, organic milk. Its patented protein blend makes this formula as close to human breast milk as possible. This formula is certified pesticide-free, non-GMO, and did we mention, it’s available at Target!?
The Whole Nutrition Infant Formula ingredient list is as follows:
Organic whole milk, lactose, organic vegetable oils (organic high oleic sunflower, organic low erucic rapeseed, organic coconut, organic sunflower), organic galactooligosaccharides, organic lactose, alpha-lactalbumin whey protein, whey protein hydrolysate, less than 1%: lactoferrin, dha algal oil8 (schizochytrium), mortierella alpina oil¥, vitamin a palmitate, vitamin d3, vitamin e acetate, vitamin k1, thiamine hydrochloride, riboflavin, vitamin b6 hydrochloride, vitamin b12, niacinamide, calcium pantothenate, folic acid, biotin, ascorbic acid, mixed tocopherols, ascorbyl palmitate, l-carnitine, inositol, calcium phosphate, sodium citrate, calcium carbonate, potassium citrate, ferrous sulfate, potassium chloride, magnesium phosphate, calcium chloride, zinc sulfate, cupric sulfate, manganese sulfate, potassium iodide, sodium selenate, potassium bicarbonate, choline chloride.
It’s free from corn syrup, soy, palm oil, maltodextrin, gluten, artificial growth hormones, and hexane-extracted DHA.
Healthy Alternative: Online European Formulas
If I went with a powdered formula, I’d look into the following European formulations, which don’t have to include various synthetic ingredients per the FDA but are still safe and qualified as baby formula.
They don’t contain funky ingredients or as many artificial nutrients. They don’t contain brown rice syrup either.
Kendamil (where to buy) is an organic, whole milk formula produced in-house with local, grass-fed cows in Great Britain. Kendamil is the only formula made in England, and it’s received the seal of approval from the Royal family — if that’s not a ringing endorsement!
This formula contains prebiotics, vegetarian-friendly sources of DHA, and all of the vitamins and minerals your baby needs. This “farm to formula” design is free from all of the nasty ingredients like GMO’s, added sugars, and synthetic fillers. It’s even free from soy and palm oil. Choose stage 1 or stage 2 for a more precise nutritional content for your baby.
The Kendamil formula ingredients include:
Whole Milk , Demineralized Whey Powder enriched in alpha-lactalbumin (from Milk), Vegetable Oils (Sunflower, Coconut, Rapeseed), Lactose (from Milk), Galacto-oligosaccharides (from Milk), Skimmed Milk Powder, Calcium Citrate, Potassium Chloride, Calcium Lactate, Sodium Citrate, Choline Bitartrate, Magnesium Chloride, Docosahexaenoic Acid, Sodium Ascorbate, Potassium Hydroxide, Inositol, L-Tyrosine, Arachidonic Acid, Taurine, Nucleotides (Cytidine-5’-monophosphate, disodium Uridine-5’-monophosphate, Adenosine-5’-monophosphate, disodium Inosine-5’-monophosphate, disodium Guanosine-5’ monophosphate), L-Phenylalanine, Iron Pyrophosphate, L-Carnitine, Zinc Sulphate, Vitamin E, Niacin, Calcium Pantothenate, Copper Sulphate, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Manganese Sulphate, Folic Acid, Potassium Iodide, Sodium Selenite, Vitamin K, Vitamin D, Biotin, Vitamin B12
Kendamil Goat Milk Formula
For babies that need a goat milk option, Kendamil provides an organic goat milk option. The Kendamil Goat Milk Formula (where to buy) features the same high-quality clean ingredients as the cow milk formula but with goat milk instead. This formula features 100% full cream goat’s milk that is loaded with prebiotics — and all of their goats are fully loved and cared for without any antibiotics or hormones.
Full ingredient list includes:
Whole Goat Milk, Demineralised Goat Whey Powder (from Milk), Vegetable Oils (Sunflower, Coconut, Rapeseed), Galacto-oligosaccharides (from Milk), Lactose (from Milk), Calcium citrate, Choline bitartrate, Potassium chloride, Calcium lactate, Sodium citrate, Magnesium chloride, Sodium ascorbate, Docosahexaenoic acid, L-Tyrosine, L-Phenylalanine, L- Tryptophan, Potassium hydroxide, Inositol, Arachidonic acid, L-Isoleucine, Taurine, Calcium phosphate, Nucleotides (Cytidine-5’-monophosphate, disodium Uridine-5’-monophosphate, Adenosine-5’-monophosphate, disodium Inosine-5’-monophosphate, disodium Guanosine-5’ monophosphate), Iron pyrophosphate, L-Carnitine, Zinc sulphate, Vitamin E, Niacin, Calcium pantothenate, Copper sulphate, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Manganese sulphate, Folic acid, Potassium iodide, Sodium selenite, Vitamin K, Vitamin D3, Biotin, Vitamin B12.
And finally… the best commercial formula…
A2 Whole Milk Toddler Formula
A2 Whole Milk Toddler Formula (where to buy) is by far the best commercial formula, but keep in mind that it is only for toddlers. As the name suggests, A2 Whole Milk Toddler Formula contains A2 beta-casein, which is far easier to digest than the A1 casein that’s found in most cow milk formulas. A2 beta-casein is also less inflammatory than A1 casein. All of the milk comes from a family farm in northern California.
Its ingredients include:
Organic Lactose, Organic A2 Whole Milk Powder, Organic Galactooligosaccharides, Organic Whey Protein Concentrate, Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Palm Oil, Organic Cocoa Butter, Less Than 2% of: Human Milk Oligosaccharides (2′-Fucosyllactose, Lacto-N-Neotetraose), Organic Inulin, Algal Oil, Organic Sunflower Lecithin, Organic Egg Lecithin, Calcium Carbonate, Sodium Chloride, Potassium Chloride, Nucleotides (Adenosine-5-Monophosphate, Cytidine-5-Monophosphate, Disodium Guanosine-5-Monophosphate, Disodium Inosine-5-Monophosphate, Disodium Uridine-5-Monophosphate), Choline Bitartrate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Magnesium Phosphate, Inositol, Natural Mixed Tocopherols, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Methylcobalamin, Alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate, Zinc Sulfate, Calcium Pantothenate, Niacinamide, Ferrous Sulfate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Copper Sulfate, Ascorbic Acid, L-Methylfolate, Kelp Powder, Manganese Glycinate, Phylloquinone, Sodium Selenite, Biotin, Vitamin D3, Vitamin D2.
CONTAINS: Milk, Egg
Homemade Baby Formula Recipes
If donor milk or store-bought formulas don’t sound appealing, know that some parents make their own “live” formulas. These parents tout that DIY formula is better than conventional pasteurized formula because the milk is raw and alive, just like breast milk. Homemade formula can also be less expensive than store-bought options.
You can find recipes for both cow milk and goat’s milk formulas:
Before creating your own formula, you should always talk with your pediatrician as DIY formulas have inherent risks that could be harmful to baby.
Breastmilk and Homemade Formula Nutrient Comparison
You may be wondering how these homemade formulas match up with breastmilk. Here’s a great chart that compares nutrients of all the Weston A. Price formulas.
These nutrient comparison tables were derived from standard food nutrient tables and do not take into account the wide variation in nutrient levels that can occur in both human and animal milk, depending on diet and environment.
* Vitamin A levels in human milk will depend on the diet of the mother. Nursing mothers eating vitamin A-rich foods such as cod liver oil will have much higher levels of vitamin A in their milk. Commercial formulas contain about 2400 IU vitamin A per 800 calories.
** Calcium and sodium values for homemade broth are not available.
*** Vitamin E values are derived from commercial vegetable oils. The vitamin E levels for homemade formulas will be higher if good quality, expeller-expressed oils are used.
What About the Dangers of Homemade Formula?
As with drinking raw milk, kombucha, or other fermented or natural products, there are risks associated with homemade formula.
You do not want to experiment or try to devise your own, as this can be very harmful for baby. Homemade formulas have led to nutritional deficiencies, dehydration, and even death.
However, the three Weston A. Price Foundation formulas mentioned above were specifically and carefully designed to recreate (as closely as possible) the nutritional composition of breastmilk. One of the formulators of the recipes was Dr. Mary Enig, who had a Ph. D in Nutritional Sciences. Over the 20 years these formulas have been in print, it is estimated that 10,000-20,000 babies have drunk these formulas safely.
Healthy Formula Supplement: Ready, Set, Food!
A host of new studies suggest early introduction is key when it comes to preventing food allergies in babies. But what’s the best way to introduce your little one to foods like eggs, peanuts, and cow’s milk?
I recommend a program, like Ready, Set, Food!, an allergist-developed system that allows you to gradually and gently introduce your baby to the most common allergens—peanuts, eggs, and cow’s milk—before they’re ready for solids, as early as four months.
You simply mix the pre-portioned powder into baby’s formula. It couldn’t be easier—there’s no concern about whether you’re introducing the right amount and there’s no need to calculate your own timeline.
Ready Set Food reduces the risk of developing food allergies by up to 80%
Steer Clear of Soy Formula
Regardless of which formula you chose for baby, just say no to soy-based formula. These formulas consist of soy protein isolates and include significant amounts of phytoestrogens of the isoflavone class (source).
Total isoflavone concentrations of soy-based formulas ranges from 32 to 47 mg/L, versus only 5.6 +/- 4.4 microg/L in human breastmilk. Infants fed soy-based formulas are exposed to 22-45 mg of isoflavones compared with barely any in breast milk. So, this makes me pause, if breast milk doesn’t have it, why are we including it?
Soy is problematic for so many reasons but the top few include:
- Over 90% of the soy produced in the U.S. contains GMO’s
- Soy is extremely high in anti-nutrients like saponins, phytates, protease inhibitors, oxalates, and goitrogens. Some of these can interfere with enzymes that help baby breakdown protein.
- Soy is also high in phytoestrogens which mimic the hormone estrogen in our bodies. There haven’t been enough studies to show how this can affect a baby’s developing reproductive health.
Even the American Academy of Pediatrics states “In term infants, although isolated soy protein-based formulas may be used to provide nutrition for normal growth and development, there are few indications for their use in place of cow milk-based formula.”
If your child is sensitive to dairy, you can try the homemade Liver Based formula mentioned above or a lactose-free formula.
Weaning Off Formula
You can start slowly weaning your baby off of formula starting at around 6 months. For each child, it will be slightly different. If you make the homemade formulas, after 6 months, you can be more flexible about adding all of the ingredients (like acerola), as long as baby is eating solids and getting a nutrient-dense diet from other sources.
Here are some great ideas for baby’s first foods.
Wait until baby is 6 months old before adding in solids, especially egg yolks which can set up allergies. If you’re doing baby led weaning, you will want to add in some smoothies, shakes, and soups to be sure they’re getting extra nutrition if you’re cutting way back on formula. Most doctors agree that once baby reaches one year old, he can go onto plain milk. Once my daughter Paloma was one year old, she just drank plain, raw cow’s milk. Some children do better on goat’s milk. And some, just get their nutritional needs from food. You can experiment to see which is best for your child.
Best Baby Formula: Bottom Line
Though your breastmilk and colostrum is a perfect food for your baby, sometimes it’s not possible to exclusively breastfeed. That’s when donor milk, homemade formula, and as a last resort, certain organic formulas, can help you keep baby thriving.
How About You?
If you had to supplement, what was the best baby formula for you? Share with us in the comments below!
- The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. 6th Revised Edition. La Leche League International. 1997. 340 – 341