Baby Formula 101

Most experts will agree that breast is best when it comes to feeding your baby. Often, for a variety of reasons, breastfeeding is not an option. So what’s a mom to do? Luckily, baby formula is readily available, but one look at the formula aisle at the market and it is easy to become overwhelmed. With so many different formulas, how do you go about choosing one that is best for your baby? Your pediatrician is the best source for deciding on a formula, but follow these simple ideas and you’ll soon be a formula pro.

Age of Baby

During the first few months, breast milk or formula is the only nutrition your baby needs. Make sure when choosing a formula that it is specially designed for children who are newborn to 12 months of age and not labeled as a “Step Two” formula.

Cow Milk vs. Soy

Always choose cow milk-based formula first for your baby. Cow milk protein-based formulas are designed to mimic breast milk and have similar nutrients. Sometimes, cow’s milk protein can make a baby, fussy, gassy, develop a rash or cause reflux (spitting up). Although rare, your baby may have an allergy to cow milk protein. Always consult your pediatrician before switching to soy or other hypoallergenic formulas. Do not feed your baby cow milk or soy milk until at least 1 year of age or under a doctor’s advice.

Powdered, Concentrate or Ready-to-Feed?

Powdered formula must be mixed with water and is typically the least expensive. Concentrate is found in liquid form, but also must be mixed with water. Ready-to-feed formula does not need to be mixed, but is the most expensive. Choosing among powdered, concentrated or ready-to-feed formula really comes down to preference, cost and ease of use.


One look at the long list of ingredients in baby formula and you may wonder if it is safe. The short answer is yes. Baby formula, like all foods sold in the United States, is monitored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and in Europe by the centralized European Food Safety AuthorityEurope actually has incredibly high standards when it comes to monitoring food safety, so it may be helpful to look toward ingredients that it deems safe to feed baby.

One such ingredient that has received some negative press is carrageenan, often used as a thickener in place of petrochemical and animal-based products. But the European Food Safety Authority has determined that carrageenan in follow-on formula (formula for infants under 12 months of age) is acceptable to use as a thickener.

Some additives that you may not want in your baby’s formula include gellan/guar gum, pectin, gum arabic, xanthan gum and tara gum. When in doubt, ask your pediatrician for advice.

Next Steps

Once your baby is old enough, you can start to feed him or her some solid food. Check out our handy guides on how to make your own baby food and ingredients that you don’t want in commercially available baby food.

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