Baby formula - not all are created equal

You may choose to give your baby formula for several reasons, and with so many options and brands on the market; it’s hard to choose which one to buy. 

No one formula fits all, you may have to go through a few options before you find one that works. And that’s ok, it’s normal. 

Note - there are other options available. Gaining access to 
donor breast milk for your baby is one of them. You can learn
more in our ‘How to donate breast milk’ blog. 

What to avoid in baby formula

Large formula companies spend millions of dollars marketing to new parents; they want you to think that their product is the best. It’s important to sift through the shiny marketing ploys and look into each formula carefully.

Ingredients to look out for and avoid include:

  • Corn Maltodextrin is a cheap food additive, likely sourced from GMO corn found often in snack foods. 
  • Soybean oil is found in pretty much all processed foods and likely comes from GMO sources. And its usually altered chemical structure turns to trans fats. 
  • Palm oil is hard for babies to digest and can react with calcium leading to hard stools and lowered bone mass. It’s unsustainable, destroying animal habitats and the environment. 
  • Partially hydrolyzed whey protein is a common food allergy for children causing diarrhea, hives, and swelling.
  • High oleic safflower oil or high oleic sunflower oil is common in packaged foods. They are also highly processed with contaminants and pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. These tend to be harmful to adults, so it is not good for babies. 
  • Aluminum is a weird ingredient to look out for. But a study carried out in the UK found that some formulas have high levels of aluminum, which can increase the risk of neurological diseases.
  • Nanoparticles are tiny engineered particles and their health implications are yet to be understood. Studies that have been carried out on animals suggest that nanoparticles can cause DNA damage, inflammation, and impaired immune cell function. 
  • Mortierella alpine oil and crypthecodinium cohnii oil– are arachidonic acid (ARA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which are both important for babies' growth and development. But, forms found in many branded formulas are synthetic and not the same as in breast milk. They can be harmful to babies and cause diarrhea, vomiting and gastrointestinal pain. 

What to look out for

  • Organic means that ingredients will be mainly non-GMO with fewer contaminants. Even if a formula is labeled s organic, you should still check the ingredients list for added sugars, palm and canola oil, etc. 
  • Non-synthetic ingredients. Many ingredients in baby formula have been processed, but make sure they are natural and non-synthetic. 
  • Goat Milk is closer to human breast milk than cow’s milk so it’s easier for baby to digest.

European vs. American baby formula

Baby formulas are intended to mimic breast milk as closely as possible. Lactose is the main carbohydrate in breast milk. Some US formulas contain cheap processed sweeteners like corn syrup, maltodextrin, and even table sugar.

Formulas produced and made in Europe have different regulations from those in the US, but nearly all of them do include some palm oil. European formulas however contain less. 

In the US, the FDA sets basic guidance about nutrients that should be in the formula. As long as these are safe and free from contamination, any carb, protein, and fat can be included. That means inexpensive processed sweeteners like corn syrup and glucose syrup are added in abundance. Often they are first or second on the ingredients list. 

In contrast, the European Commission has far stricter and higher standards for acceptable ingredients in formula. And any baby formulas with intact milk proteins are not allowed to contain any sucrose. Their carb content must also consist of at least 30% lactose. 

Lactose is the main carbohydrate in breast milk and babies can naturally break it down. Corn syrup and other processed sweeteners have a high glycaemic index which makes it more difficult to regulate blood sugar levels. 

Introducing formulas to babies with such high quantities of sugar could contribute to future health impacts such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, and type 2 diabetes. 

Tip - Some great European formula brands include HiPP
Holle (which is what I gave my son), and Lebenswert.
All of these formulas are made from biodynamic farms which
means they are organic and completely free from pesticides
and genetically modified ingredients. The milk also comes
from grass-fed cows on sustainably operated farms. 

Best for baby

Like I said above, the first formula you try to feed your baby may not work, neither may the sixth. If breastfeeding is not an option, then persevere to find the perfect formula for you. European formulas are healthier and are easy to purchase online. But they are expensive. 

Whatever you choose to do, do your research, understand why and be confident in your decisions. If you need further information about European formulas, there is a HiPP and Holle Formulas parent support community on Facebook that has over 24,000 members and is a great resource for parents who want to learn more from people who have tried them first hand.