Follow on milks - to feed or not to feed?

I often get asked whether a baby who is happily feeding on a ‘first infant milk’ needs to change onto a follow on milk when baby reaches 6 months, or if a baby is switching from breastmilk to formula at 6 months or older whether they should use an infant milk or a follow on milk. There usually isn’t a straightforward answer to this, it will depend.

Generally, if a bottle fed baby is happy on their infant milk there is usually no reason to change them onto a follow on milk just because they’ve reached the age of 6 months. Infant milks are perfectly suitable for babies from birth up to the age of 1 year and beyond, and they will provide valuable vitamins and minerals as well as energy and protein needed by babies throughout the weaning process. However, some parents seem keen to move their babies onto the next stage of formula at this age and there is no harm in doing so.

Follow on Milks are intended for use from 6 months onwards when a baby has moved onto a mixed diet including a range of foods. If parents choose to switch their babies onto a follow on formula at this stage they will generally not have any problems with this, and the formula along with a variety of foods will meet the nutritional requirements of babies at this age.

A key nutritional difference with follow on milks compared with infant milks is that they contain significantly more iron than infant milks (HiPP Organic Follow on milk contains twice as much iron as the first infant milk - 1mg vs 0.5mg iron per 100ml) and it is this characteristic of follow on milks that might lead me to encourage some parents to considering using a follow on milk at 6 months onwards. Babies are born with a store of iron that generally lasts about 6 months (longer if baby is formula fed from an early age) and once this is depleted then external sources of iron (i.e. foods in the diet that are a good source of iron, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, pulses) are needed. In the absence of enough iron in the diet a baby is likely to become iron deficient which can make them tired and irritable and more susceptible to infections. A baby who doesn’t eat many iron-containing foods may benefit from this extra iron in a follow on formula.

For babies that have been exclusively breastfed up to 6 months there is a chance their iron stores may be very low. Weaning foods containing iron must be actively encouraged at this stage. If a mum wants to introduce a formula at this stage either to replace breastmilk or to supplement it, I would say an infant milk, which is closer to the composition of mature breastmilk, would be fine if sufficient iron sources are present in the weaning diet. However, choosing a follow on milk might on the other hand offer greater assurance that her baby’s iron requirements are being going to be met and she might want to consider this instead.

So, if you’re in the situation of not knowing which formula to choose for your baby, I hope this helps, but as always, if you are in doubt about how to feed your baby you should discuss this with your healthcare professional.