What Formula Milk Should I Choose?

All baby formulas meet strict regulations to make sure they are nutritionally adequate for your baby - but choosing one can still be complicated. Here's what you need to know.

If you decide to use baby milk to feed your little one (either as a supplement to breastmilk or as a substitute), choosing a formula will be a big decision. Today’s milks offer high-quality nutrition for babies (they're required by law to meet some very strict guidelines). They’re based on either cows’ milk or goats’ milk, with carefully adjusted carbohydrate, protein and fat levels, and are enriched with specific levels of vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

Why do milk packs all have strong statements on breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding is best for babies, and although the Government and health authorities recognise that not all babies can be breastfed, they want to ensure that parents planning to bottle feed have considered their decision very carefully. All baby milk manufacturers are therefore required by law to also provide information about breastfeeding.

Milks in the first year

You'll generally find there are four types of milk available for different stages of your baby’s development. These are:

  • First infant milk 1 - suitable for use from birth onwards
  • Hungry infant milk - may help delay the early onset of weaning for hungrier bottle fed babies - suitable for use from birth onwards
  • Follow on milk 2 - for use from 6 months
  • Growing up milk 3 - from the 12 month onwards 

Healthy Start vouchers

‘Healthy Start' vouchers can be used to buy infant milks (those that say they are suitable from birth), but not follow on milk or growing up milk.

Should I use the same stage of formula milk throughout my baby's first year of life?

If your baby is happy, healthy, gaining weight steadily and has regular bowel movements, you don't need to change the milk you are using in this first year. If you have any concerns about your baby's feeding, or if you are thinking about changing the brand or type of milk you use, it's best to speak to your health visitor or GP about it first.

Your baby should drink either breastmilk or infant milk for at least the first year of life. From 6 months, however, you may choose to use a follow on milk. These milks, which are usually labelled as stage 2, are formulated to be used alongside a varied weaning diet and are higher in iron than first infant milks.

From 12 months, when babies become active toddlers, you may wish to switch to a growing up milk. Growing up milks are specially formulated to provide the extra iron and vitamins that whole cows’ milk may be too low in to fully meet a baby’s needs at that age, and can provide the nutrition needed to support growth and increased activity.

Are there any special milks I can use for my baby?

Specific formulas are available for babies with special dietary needs, such as allergies, intolerances or feeding problems such as colic, constipation or reflux, but you should only use these on the advice of your GP or healthcare professional. If you think your baby needs a particular type of special milk, you should always discuss it with them.

Soya-based formula, in particular, should only be given to babies if recommended by your healthcare professional (read more about this on the NHS Choices website).  They state: For the first six months, it's best to give your baby only breast milk or infant formula. Breastfeeding is recommended because breastmilk provides all the nutrients that a baby needs for healthy development during this time.  There is no health benefit in giving soya-based infant formula to a healthy baby.

When is it safe to introduce cows' milk?

Babies shouldn’t have cows' milk as a main milk drink until after age one. However, once you’ve started introducing solid foods at around 6 months old, it’s fine to use small quantities of whole cows' milk to mix your baby's foods, as long as there's been no evidence of an allergy.

It's best not to give semi-skimmed cows' milk as a drink before age 2; it doesn’t contain enough vitamin A, and your growing toddler needs the fat and calories whole milk contains. After age 2, it's fine to switch to semi-skimmed if your child is eating well and growing well. Skimmed milk is best avoided until age 5 or later, because it doesn't provide enough calories for young, growing bodies.

Organic milk has been shown to have higher levels of some essential nutrients, including omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants, compared with non-organic milk.

Taking baby milk on holiday

It’s worth doing some research before you travel to see whether your baby's usual formula milk will be available at your destination (and whether it's got the same ingredients as it does at home). To be on the safe side, it’s often best to take all the formula you'll need along with you, making sure you have enough to cover any delays. You’ll also need to pack your feeding equipment, including something to sterilise all the bottles and teats.

Remember that tap water should always be boiled before you prepare a feed. If you're not sure the local tap water is safe to use, you can make up your baby's formula using boiled bottled water; just choose a brand that has no more than 200 mg per litre of sodium (‘Na’), and no more than 250mg per litre of sulphate (‘SO’ or ‘SO4’)