What type of baby formula should I use?

January 10, 2011, 11:37 am Dr Ginni Mansberg practicalparenting

Choosing what type of baby formula to use can be mind-boggling! Practical Parenting looks at what infant formula's are out there.

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Having worked out that breastfeeding just isn’t going to happen, you might find yourself standing in the supermarket staring at the zillions of formula choices trying to work out which one will be best. Here’s what you’re looking at…

The basic infant formulas

This is the plain-Jane, no-frills variety that every brand produces. To be honest, they’re all much of a muchness.

The super-charged formulas

These ones are often known as the ‘gold’ formulas and are supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids. These are the wonder fatty acids found in fish that do fab things for adults and littlies, including promoting healthy brain development in children. If you can bear the extra expense, these get my absolute seal of approval.

The luxe version

Containing lutein on top of the standard gold elements, the theory is that these formulas will keep bub’s eyes healthy for life. Age-related macular degeneration is the number one cause of blindness in older Australians and lutein is used to help with the condition. The makers claim you can get in early to delay or even prevent blindness when bub is older with these formulas. If you can cope with the cost, they can’t hurt.

The HA tag

HA means hypo-allergenic and these formulas are given to bubs that are at high risk of allergies (usually because Mum, Dad or a sibling are highly allergic). They’re more expensive than other formulas, so ask your early childhood nurse or GP before giving these to your baby.

The follow-on version

Devised for babies over six months and containing higher protein and often extra iron too, follow-on formulas are really not necessary. If your baby is having solids, he’ll be getting the extra protein and iron from his food.

The soy and goat varieties

Expensive and less like breastmilk than a cows’ milk formula, these formulas are very trendy but rarely enjoy the support of doctors, except in cases of allergies. The bottom line is they won’t harm your baby, so if you believe they work for your little one, go for it.

The specialty brands

There are soy formulas for bubs who can’t tolerate cows’ milk protein, lactose-free formulas for lactose intolerant bubs, formulas for reflux that have a thickener, constipation formulas for babies with a tendency to get blocked up, low-allergy formulas for truly allergic babies, colic formulas with low lactose, and short-term diarrhoea formulas for babies with the runs. These should only be given on advice from your GP, health nurse or paediatrician. They’re available over the counter but can be cheaper if prescribed by a doctor.

Does my baby really need a special formula?

Babies with reflux can be very unsettled, especially around feeds. Then there’s the vomiting. Most babies spit up a bit, but reflux babies tend to send back a large amount at every single feed. As we have no good non-invasive tests, sometimes the best way to work out whether bub has reflux is (in consultation with your GP) to try some Mylanta before and after feeds. If reflux is diagnosed, then go to a special formula.

Lactose intolerance is another reason a special formula may be needed, but is rare in babies. It can be a genetic problem from birth, but this is an extreme situation and bub will be very sick and won’t be putting on weight. The more likely scenario is a temporary lactose intolerance following a gastro bug, but always check with your doctor.

Formula hints & tips


1. Bub might get blocked up.
Many babies get a bit constipated when they first switch to formula. This usually settles down after a couple of weeks but if not, see your healthcare provider.
2. Every formula is unique.
This means the scoop size and ratio of formula to water will differ between formulas. Follow the directions to the letter and don’t swap scoops between formula tins if you’re chopping and changing.
3. Don’t alter the formula.
Don’t water down formula or thicken it up by changing the ratio of powder to formula. While parenting is all about being flexible, this is something that calls for rigidly adhering to instructions.
4. Change away
You can change formula at any time without problems, at least in theory. Some parents report bub getting more constipated after a change or being less settled.
5. Some things are guides only

Those amounts of formula per bottle and the number of bottles your baby will drink per day on the side of the tin are a guide, but not the bible. If your baby is gaining weight and has plenty of wet nappies, he might be happy with less than the amount advised. Similarly, he might down a bottle in no time and seem to want more. Follow his lead and don’t expect two days or two weeks to be the same!


The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends babies be exclusively breastfed until around 6 months of age, with breastfeeding to continue alongside appropriate first foods until at least 12 months of age. While breastfeeding is the ideal way to nourish your baby, we recognise that not all mums are able to do so. If you have any concerns about your breastfed or bottlefed baby, see your child health nurse or GP.

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* More bottle and breastfeeding articles
* 5 tips for healthy bottle feeding

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