During your baby’s first year of life, odds are feeding them will be the task you and your baby will spend the most time doing. Feeding your baby is the most crucial factor for your baby’s growth, development, nutritional status. With so many different types and forms of formula, it is essential to know the different purposes and benefits of each.  

There are three different kinds of commercial instant formulas. Commercial instant formulas are approved and consistently regulated by the Food and Drug Administration to ensure infants are getting the correct amounts of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.   

Cow’s milk protein-based formulas 

This is the most used and preferred formula on the market. Cow’s milk formula is made to highly resemble breast milk. Manufacturers and producers have researched, studied, and altered ingredients for decades to match the nutrient content, color, and texture of breast milk as closely as possible. 

The specific proteins and nutrients added to formula also ensures your baby is getting the proper amounts that they need to grow and thrive. Some of these nutrients include calories that come from protein, fats, and carbohydrates or sugars. Other nutrients include calcium, which is essential for bone growth, and vitamin A, which is important for brain and eyesight development.  

Some babies may have difficulty digesting the proteins or lactose and galactose sugars in cow’s milk-based formulas. Thankfully, there are other formulas that do not include these ingredients. 

Soy milk-based formulas  

Soy-based formulas lack certain ingredients such as animal proteins and sugars that are found in regular formulas. Soy-based formula is a safe alternative for babies who may have allergies to these ingredients or if you prefer to exclude animal products from your baby’s diet.  

Just as other commercial formulas, soy-based formulas are also supplemented with the essential vitamins and minerals that your baby needs to grow and be healthy. So, there is no need to give additional amounts of nutrients unless advised by your baby’s doctor. It is essential that you check with your baby’s healthcare provider that soy-based formula is the right choice for you.  

Although soy-based formulas are a better alternative for protein or lactose-sensitive babies, some infants may still have a hard time digesting the proteins within soy milk. This is where the third type of commercial formula comes in.  

Protein hydrolysate formulas  

This type of formula contains broken down proteins (or hydrolysate proteins), which makes digestion easy for babies with protein allergies or intolerances. There are different levels at which the proteins in the formula are broken down. Some formulas have partially broken-down proteins, others have excessively broken-down proteins, making the proteins finer and smaller and therefore the easiest to digest. It will depend on the severity of your baby’s digestive problems as to which level of hydrolysate formula you may need.  

Be sure to discuss this formula option with your baby’s healthcare provider as hydrolysate formulas can be more expensive than cow’s milk-based or soy-based formulas.  

Now that you have learned the different types of commercial formulas that are available, it is important to also know the different forms that all of these formulas are available in.  

Powdered formula  

This is the most used form of formula, mainly because it is the least expensive. Powdered formula is when you prepare a bottle by scooping the powdered formula in water and mixing well.  

Concentrated liquid formula 

This form of formula is used by adding water to a set amount of the formula. While this form is easier and faster than powdered formula, it is also more expensive.  

Ready-to-use formula 

This form of formula is the easiest type of formula to use. There is no preparation by mixing in formula or adding water. The downside to the convenience ready-to-use formula provides is that it is the most expensive form of formula.  

Once you and your baby’s healthcare provider have decided what type and form of formula is best, there are some other questions that you may have when purchasing formula as there are so many different brands and advertisements that can be misleading or confusing. Here are some tips for when you are purchasing formula for your baby:  

  1. Both name-brand and generic formulas are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are closely monitored by manufacturers and researchers. So, both name-brand and generic formulas contain almost identical ingredients and nutrients that your baby needs.  
  2. Iron-fortified formula is especially beneficial when you are not breastfeeding your baby or if your baby is consuming solid foods. Iron is one of the most important nutrients in infancy, especially during their first year of life. If possible, try to purchase iron-fortified formula as much as possible to ensure your baby is receiving enough iron.  
  3. Enhanced formulas contain additional amounts of select nutrients that can benefit your baby during growth and development. Majority of the time, your baby will not need additional amounts of these nutrients, as formulas usually contain enough.  
  4. If you are unsure about if your baby needs one of these formulas or needs additional nutrients within their diet, discuss all your questions with your baby’s healthcare provider.