Which is the best formula milk for my baby?
If expressing isn’t for you or you’ve decided to give your baby a mixture of breast & formula milk known as combination feeding) then you’ll want to avoid the following scenario.
You find yourself down the baby isle, staring at the variety of baby formula on offer, it’s daunting, confusion and uncertainty sets in. There are lots of colours and numbers and references to newborn, infant, anti-this and anti-that. Where do you begin? Which is the best formula milk? You could read them all of course but time is important to you. What if there was somewhere that summarised the details contained in the small print on each of the wonderfully colourful containers? If this is you then read on.
I’ll guide you through the options available to you so that when you walk down the same isle on your next trip, you can do so with confidence. You will be able to add your chosen baby formula to your trolley as triumphantly as you did when you went through the process with nappies!
Formula Milk Fundamentals
The most important thing to know about all formula milk is that they are required to meet legal requirements to support sufficient growth and nutrition for babies. For this reason they will all contain similar (if not identical) levels of fat, protein, carbohydrate, vitamins & minerals.
Some brands claim their product supports your baby’s immune system whilst others state their milk is gentle on baby’s digestion, however, the evidence for this is debatable.
Once decided on a particular formula milk for your baby, it is not recommended to change very often unless recommended by your GP or Health Visitor. Should your baby have regular diarrhoea or frequent sickness then this may prompt the suggested change by your GP/Health Visitor. The reason for this is because it can take several days to notice an improvement and so changing too often wouldn’t give sufficient time to notice the changes.
There are several types of formula milk and the ingredients change slightly as your little one gets older. Below is a brief summary of the different formula milk you are likely to use.
Stage 1 / Newborn Formula Milk (0 – 6 months)
These are known as whey dominant formula milk due to the ingredients being based on the whey of cow’s milk. They tend to be easier for your baby to digest that the other formula milks and as close to breast milk too. Unless acting under medical advice, this is the best type of baby formula milk for your baby. The stage 1 milk will be all that your baby needs for the first six months from birth.
Once your baby reaches the 6 month mark, you should continue to use this milk as you begin to introduce solid foods to their diet. When your little one reaches 12 months their digestive system will be advanced enough to process ordinary full-fat cow’s milk. Up until now your baby’s kidneys haven’t been up to the job and also the level of nutrients in cow’s milk is less that that of formula milk.
Stage 2 / Follow On / Hungry Baby Milk (6 – 12 months)
This milk is known as casein dominant formula milk, casein is the main protein found in regular milk. There are claims from the manufacturers that these milks will help baby to settle easier and sleep for longer but there is little evidence to support this.
You may find that your baby isn’t satisfied after feeds and if so it is possible that moving onto a Stage 2 milk is the solution. If you are concerned that your baby doesn’t appear to be satisfied after feeds then consult your GP or Health Visitor. It is possible they will suggest making the switch from Stage 1 to Stage 2 formula. If you do this, don’t forget that it could take a few days before baby is used to the new milk before dismissing that you’ve solved the problem.
Although these milks are marketed for babies aged 6 months plus, it isn’t necessary to move your baby away from a Stage 1 formula milk. Whilst they do contain additional iron, once you introduce solid foods at 6 months, baby should be getting enough iron and nutrients from the solid foods.
This milk is not suitable for newborns due to the lack of required nutrients that are found in the Stage 1 formula milk. It’s worth noting that these Stage 2 formula milks have raised concerns that they may lead to babies becoming obese.
Goodnight Formula Milk (6 months – 3 years)
This milk is marketed in such a way as to make you think your baby will sleep better and for longer if drinking this particular formula milk. There is little independent evidence to support these claims and therefore this milk is not necessary for your baby.
The formula itself contains both follow on milk and cereal, making this more difficult to digest. This milk is also the most calorific of the formula milks available. Due to this there is concerns that these types of formula milks may lead to babies becoming obese.
This milk is specifically designed for premature babies and is made to help with weight gain. In low birth weight babies this is of course essential. The formula is high in calories and made to be easily digested by immature digestive systems. At the time of writing this, there are only two pre-term formula milks available in the UK, namely SMA Gold Prem 1 and NutriPrem 1.
These formula milks are designed to be thicker so they are less likely to come back up in babies with Reflux. If your baby has been prescribed with milk thickeners or anti-reflux medication such as Gaviscon, do not mix them with this milk. This can lead over thickening and make swallowing and digesting difficult for your baby. Always seek medical advice if you are unsure. For more information on Reflux see this article.
If you’re in the market for a regular Stage 1 milk then simply choose any of those available. No one type has been proven to be better than the other. This is due to the legal requirements for nutrition making them all similar. One useful thing to note is that both Cow & Gate and Aptamil is manufactured by the same company. Aptamil is the more expensive of the two as it is marketed at a different audience. There are subtle differences between the two but not enough to warrant the additional expense.
Ultimately, your baby will decide for you if they don’t enjoy the formula milk you are giving them. My advice would be to start on Cow & Gate. I’ve never had any trouble with them and they are a long term trusted brand.
So, you’ve discovered which formula milks are available for your baby, have you looked into baby bottles yet? Read my guide on the best anti colic bottles now!