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Parents and caregivers can attest: feeding your baby is no easy feat, and often comes with a learning curve.
Not to mention, understanding which formula they’ll take to learning about everything from Enfamil to Similac isn’t exactly a cakewalk, either, especially if it’s your first time feeding a newborn.
While you should always speak to your baby’s pediatrician, New York Post Shopping consulted a medical expert skilled in pediatric nutrition to put together an in-depth FAQ section detailing what to know when shopping for formula, deciphering a product label and more.
“Every company has its unique spin on formula (marketing factors, of course),” Mark R. Corkins, MD, division chief of pediatric gastroenterology and professor of pediatrics at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Le Bonheur Children’s in Memphis — and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics on nutrition, told the New York Post. “There is the form in which they are sold: powder, liquid concentrate and ready to feed.”
Medically, the typical way to divide formula is by the protein source, per Dr. Corkins. “Cow’s milk-based, soy protein-based and a host of special formulas for medical uses are examples,” he adds. “The formula companies, of course, have ones with the sources of all of the contents are ‘organic,’ or they add certain probiotics, while others have a thickener for spitting up.” In short, the subtle variations are endless.
Ahead, New York Post Shopping did the research and listed the best baby formula of 2023, referencing Corkins’ expertise while outlining various types. After combing through scientific studies and journal articles, our takeaway is this: all FDA-approved baby formulas were designed to help nutritionally aid in your baby’s development during their first year; it’s just a matter of which one may be best for them.
For more of an overview of the best baby formulas on the market, browse our easy-to-read table comparing our top recommendations.
Our Top Picks, at a Glance
Please note some formula brands are offered in buy-in-bulk packs and different types of formulation (ready-to-feed, powder, etc.). Because every baby reacts to formula differently, we omitted a pros and cons section as we can’t speak on benefits and detriments without first-hand product testing.
The Happy Baby Milk-Based Organic Infant Formula is certified USDA-organic, which correlates to Corkins’ recommendation to discern if a formula is truly “organic.” Modeled after breast milk and derived from organic lactose, the principal carbohydrate in breast milk, it also delivers two probiotics, GOS and FOS (fibers that mimic the functions of prebiotics) — without the use of corn syrup solids.
All ingredients are non-GMO, grown without the use of toxic pesticides and is within packaging that’s BPA-free. As its formulation is concerned, you’ll find a thoughtfully formulated blend of iron, folic acid, choline, vitamin D and calcium, along with DHA and ARA for eye and brain development.
To bundle and save, shop the four-pack of this formula on Amazon for $120.
For a formula that was designed to be easier on the GI tract, the Similac 360 Total Care Sensitive Infant Formula is a wonderful option to also buy in 24-pack bulk. Especially great for babies with a lactose sensitivity, this non-GMO formula is ready-to-feed, contains a blend of five HMO prebiotics that are structurally identical to those found in breast milk and holistically designed for immune support, brain development and digestive health.
Additionally, because this formula is convenient (aka, the name ‘ready to feed’), it’s perfect for on-the-go use or late-night feedings. This formula contains DHA, lutein and vitamin E, too, all of which help to support your baby’s natural devlopment.
As one of the most-raved-about baby formulas, the Enfamil Nutramigen Hypoallergenic and Lactose-Free Formula also met our requirements for an FDA-approved, iron-enriched baby formula that contains a healthful ingredient blend while also being offered in a variety of size options to meet your budget and current feeding needs. The difference between sensitive and hypoallergenic? Sensitive is designed to be easier on the GI tract, while hypoallergenic helps target possible allergens.
Namely, this formula was designed to help ease colic due to cow’s milk allergy. The addition of extensively hydrolyzed proteins help lessen the trigger of an allergy response, too. This particular formula also includes LGG, the most widely studied probiotic for allergy management and supporting the digestive health of your baby.
Its keen eye to brain support adds to this formula’s acclaim, thanks to its addition of omega-3 DHA, ARA and choline that help aid in healthy brain development. If your baby is more prone to allergies (or, if your doctor recommends staying on the anti-colic, hypoallergenic-specialty side), this one’s a top choice.
The Enfamil NeuroPro Gentlease Infant Baby Formula is one our nieces have personally used to help with digestion (similar to taking a daily, digestive health-focused probiotic) and have paved its way to being a No. 1 Amazon best-seller because of its widely loved, exclusive HuMO6 blend — including vitamins C and E, and selenium — that centers on immune health.
For fussiness, crying, gas and spit-up, Enfamil truly focuses on a gentle, easy-to-take, non-GMO formula (which we’ve seen in effect firsthand). Plus, it contains brain-boosting DHA to make this a holistic formula worth picking up — either singularly or in bulk.
The Pure Bliss by Similac Infant Formula Milk-Based Powder is wonderful if you’re looking for a well-made infant formula (with iron!) that was modeled after breast milk, made with no antibiotics, artificial growth hormones or GMO and provides much-needed immune support. There’s also a well-balanced mix of vitamins A, C,D and E, along with calcium.
Made from grass-fed cows on family-owned Irish farms, this milk-based powder also contains brain- and eye-boosting DHA and ARA without the use of corn syrup solids. For just $30, this pack contains nearly 25 ounces to support your baby for plenty of feedings (which will depend on your baby’s weight) before you’ll need to add another one to your cart.
We’ve all heard of the Gerber Baby, and the brand’s Good Start Gentle Soy Complete Nutrition Baby Formula Powder is one of the best soy protein-based blends you’ll find, thanks to its milk- and lactose-free formulation, easy-to-digest ingredients and inclusion of iron for healthy development.
In our books, this formula receives a green check for including calcium and vitamin D for healthy teeth and bones, which is imperative for babies who may have a lactose allergy and require additional means of supplementation. Its plant-based proteins are also said to be gentle on a baby’s stomach for easier digestion.
An FAQ on baby formula
Ahead, Corkins shares the 411 on baby formula, including how to understand a nutrition label, what’s actually inside baby formula (and what to look for) and more.
How can I tell which baby formula to use?
The golden question, right? With an overwhelming amount of brands and formula types on the market, Corkins assures that there are strict protocols surrounding approval and testing before they hit the supermarket shelves.
“Baby formula is one of the most tightly regulated foods by the FDA by congressional mandate,” Corkins tells The Post. “They are must meet a basic set of nutritional content standards.”
That said, if you’re using a U.S.-approved formula, “it has the nutritional content to support your babies growth,” Corkins says. After that, a lot of the subtle variations are “window dressing,” he notes, although there are some variations like the “spit-up” formulas that can be helpful in certain situations.
As always, the best source of information is to discuss it with your pediatrician who knows you and your baby and give specific guidance.
Should I switch my baby formula?
The quick answer is — not immediately.
“It takes a while to know how the baby is going to tolerate a formula and that cannot be ascertained in a day or two — that is, unless there are dramatic symptoms,” Corkins explains, “If that occurs, you need to see your pediatrician anyway.”
If there is some sort of formula intolerance concern, you should probably be in contact with your doctor anyway and not changing formulas without some direction. “You may need one of the special formulas but would need medical direction to know which one to choose,” he adds.
What does it mean for a baby formula to be “organic”?
If you’re seeing “organic” on a baby formula product label, this means that the content is all derived from sources that meet the the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA’s) guidelines that allow them to be labelled as organic.
“Remember that all standard infant formulas must meet the FDA’s nutrition standards, so nutritionally, they are all the same,” Corkins says.
What does it mean for a baby formula to be “sensitive”?
If a baby formula is labeled as “sensitive,” it means the company is using a term in the title to imply that it is “easier” on the GI tract, according to Corkins.
“There have been some company sponsored studies that found that ‘fussy’ babies were less fussy on the formula,” he shares. “Again remember, the basic nutritional content must meet the basic nutritional requirements.”
When do babies typically stop drinking baby formula?
“In the U.S., it’s rare for infants to continue formula beyond a year of age,” Corkins says. “The diet expands to the point that they can meet their nutritional needs through the variety in their diet.”
So, babies no longer need the complete nutritional content that comes from infant formula.
What’s in baby formula?
Of course, baby formula is a popular option (aside from using a breast pump and breastfeeding) to provide your baby with much-needed nutrients essential for their growth. But, let’s dial down baby formula to the basics.
“The majority are based on cow’s milk protein and a small percentage on soy proteins with an even smaller percentage on other protein sources,” Corkins explains. “The majority of them also contain lactose as the carbohydrate source. Human breast milk has lactose as the main carbohydrate source, as do most mammals, not just cows.”
More, lactose intolerance develops after weaning age when the sugar digesting enzyme lactase fades to a lower level, according to Corkins. “The fat content tends to be added vegetable oils since the ‘butter’ fat of cow’s milk is harder to digest,” he explains. “There are a variety of added vitamins and minerals to meet the nutritional standards, many of which are based on what breast milk supplies.”
How to safely feed your baby, according to an expert
Ahead, Corkins shares some vital tips to read through before feeding your newborn:
- Feed when the baby is awake; never prop a bottle in the crib.
- Never overfeed: When the child is done, quit.
- Everybody should be in a relaxed and comfortable position and environment during feedings.
- Avoid other distractions and focus on feeding and interacting with each other.
Additionally, younger and smaller infants take less formula at a time and have to feed more often. So, how much formula to administer is dependent on the child’s age and size. To Corkins’ point, never overfeed.
Do I need a bottle warmer when using baby formula?
Conveniently, you can warm a bottle just by using warm water.
“Never use a microwave it leads to a super heated core and has led to reported mouth burns,” Corkins warns. “Bottle warmers are a luxury item; pop the bottle in and it warms the bottle to a nice, warm, never too hot temperature.”
Our top formulas compared, at a glance
|Happy Baby Milk-Based Organic Infant Formula||Best Organic||Certified USDA-Organic, delivers both prebiotics and probiotics, contains iron, folic acid, choline, vitamin D, calcium and DHA and ARA for eye and brain development|
|Similac 360 Total Care Sensitive Infant Formula||Best Sensitive||Contains a blend of five HMO prebiotics that are structurally identical to those found in breast milk, contains DHA, lutein and vitamin E for brain and bodily development|
|Enfamil Nutramigen Hypoallergenic and Lactose-Free Formula||Best Hypoallergenic||Contains iron, LGG, (the most widely studied probiotic for allergy management) and DHA for brain development|
|Enfamil NeuroPro Gentlease Infant Baby Formula||Best for Gassy Babies||Contains iron, an exclusive HuMO6 blend — including vitamins C and E, and selenium — that centers on immune health for easier digestion and DHA for brain development|
|Pure Bliss by Similac Infant Formula Milk-Based Powder||Best Milk-Based||Contains iron and DHA and ARA for brain and eye development, along with a balanced mix of vitamins A, C, D, E and calcium|
|Gerber Good Start Gentle Soy Complete Nutrition Baby Formula Powder||Best Soy Protein-Based||Contains iron, along with vitamin D and calcium to help aid in healthy bone development, especially with the exclusion of lactose; contains DHA for brain development|
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