Types of Baby Formula: Understanding Your Options

Updated February 18, 2021
Mother feeding her adorable infant daughter at home

Once you've made the decision to formula feed your baby, it's important to consider several factors before choosing one brand or type. Take a step back and consider the various types of formula, as well as the brands and their associated costs. With a little research, you'll find the right formula for you and for your baby.

Types of Formula

There are three types of formulas: soybean-based formula, cow's milk-based formula, or protein hydrolysate formula. If you have just given birth to or adopted an infant, your pediatrician will suggest what type of formula is best for your baby.

Cow Milk Protein-Based Formulas

Cow milk protein-based formulas are made to emulate mother's milk. These formulas aim to create a nutrient balance that is easily digestible for little ones. While most babies easily consume this type of formula, those with cow's milk allergies will need an alternate diet.

Soy-Based Formulas

Babies who are intolerant to cow's milk formulas may benefit from a soy-based formula. These formulas exclude animal products, making them good options for families who do not consume animal product diets.

Protein Hydrolysate Formulas

This type of formula contains proteins that have been broken down into smaller sizes than the proteins found in cow and soy formulas. Infants with cow's milk and soy milk allergies would be good candidates for this type of nutrition.

In addition to "the big three," special blend formulas are made for premature babies and for babies who are born with medical conditions or needs.

Forms of Formula

Infant formula comes in three basic forms: liquid concentrate, powder, and ready-to-use liquid.

Powdered Formula

Cannisters of powder formula are cost effective and will last much longer than the other options. Parents use a measuring scoop to obtain a perfect power to water ratio.

Mother preparing baby formula

Concentrated Liquid Formula

This also needs to be mixed with the right amount of water. It's less messy than the powder form, making it more appealing for many parents who need to prepare bottles while on the go.

Ready-to-Use Formula

This formula is typically the most expensive form of formula to purchase, but oh so convenient. If you are on the go, there is no need to measure or mix. You just pop the nipple on the bottle and get feeding!

All forms of formula must be thrown away when the baby has consumed part of a bottle. Whether there is one ounce left in the bottle or your baby only took one sip and then fell asleep, formula that has been in the bottle and in your baby's mouth must be thrown away within one hour of preparation. The powder-format formula should also be thrown away 24 hours after you mixed it, even if your baby has not sipped from the bottle.

Baby Formula Brands

The following brands of baby formula lead the American market and conduct extensive research on the elements that baby formula should include, and in what amounts, in order for babies to grow and develop in a healthy way. The ongoing research of these brands is on the cutting edge of baby nutritional needs and baby development. These top brands are available in most grocery stores, some pharmacies, and super shops like Target and Wal-Mart. For best pricing, look at bulk stores for oversized packages, or clip coupons for shopping at your local grocery shop. You can also shop online and have these formulas sent to your home.

All formula brands, including store, organics, and generics, must meet FDA guidelines for nutrition; however, different brands contain different amounts of various ingredients. Talk with your pediatrician about your baby's health needs before choosing a brand of formula, as many of the specialty formulas are not available in-store brands. Premature babies, for instance, can greatly benefit from having a specialized formula specific to their needs.

Mother carrying baby girl and looking at a variety of baby formula


Similac: The parent-company of Similac was the first American company to make a milk-based formula for babies, back in the 1920s. Since that time, Similac has engaged in extensive clinical research in order to offer the very best in infant formula. The latest development is Similac Advance, which contains several elements found in breast milk. The special ingredients include the following: lutein (for eye health), DHA/ARA for brain development, immune-supporting nucleotides, probiotics (for digestion), fat blend to support calcium absorption. According to Dr. Greene, DHA and ARA (fatty acids found in breast milk) are critically important for baby development.

Similac is sold in a wide array of plastic containers, convenient for countertop storage and features a snap-lock cover for freshness. The price of Similac ranges depending on the type of formula (standard or a special blend), and whether you choose for powder in bulk, single-serving powder sticks, or ready-to-use liquid. The cheapest option is bulk powder Similac Advance (sold in 34 ounce bin).


Enfamil: Another well-known name in the formula world, Enfamil, has tested and put several types of baby formula on the market. Whether you need a standard formula for your baby or a special mix, such as one for babies allergic to cow's milk or babies who have frequent colic, Enfamil has a formula option just right for your baby.

The price of this brand also spans a wide range, depending on the exact formula recipe and type that you choose. For example, formula for babies under one year of age is a bit more expensive than a formula for babies older than one year. Enfamil comes in a sturdy plastic box with a scoop in the top for power types as well as ready-to-use forms. Enfamil has created formulas for so many babies with varying needs including:

  • Premature babies
  • Rapidly growing low birth weight babies
  • Full-term infants with high caloric needs
  • Babies with sensitive tummies
  • Babies with gassiness, fussiness, and crying
  • Infants with cow's milk allergies
  • Spit-up Prone Babies
  • Non-dairy needs infants
  • Severe allergy infants
  • Babies who struggle to absorb fat.

Organic Baby Formula

In addition to the market leaders, a few organic brands are gaining in popularity.

  • Earth's Best: One of the leading brands in organics for babies, Earth's Best offers a milk-based as well as a soy-based formula option. For those who strive for superior health for both their family as well as the earth, this formula brand is a good option.
  • Nature's One: A leader in medical nutrition, Nature's One offers three types of organic formula: dairy, soy, and lactose-free. According to their website, this brand of organic formula is not only organic but also the healthiest option when formula-feeding a baby.
  • Happy Baby Organics: This organic formula brand boasts four times the amount of probiotics currently found in the competing brands. Parents also appreciate the affordability of this formula but have made note of an unpleasant smell.

Formula Allergies

Babies can develop allergies to certain formulas, especially those that are cow's milk-based. If your baby develops the following symptoms, he may have a formula allergy.

  • Continuous diarrhea or unusually hard stools
  • Blood or mucus in stools
  • Abnormal vomiting or spitting up
  • A skin rash, hives, or eczema
  • Unusual tiredness and lethargy
  • Chronic stuffy nose, cough, runny nose

Always discuss health concerns with your baby's pediatrician. If you are considering a switch in your current formula, consult a professional before making any moves.

Baby girl with allergies

Using Whole Milk

Finally, most pediatricians believe that it is perfectly fine to give your baby whole cow's milk once he has turned one-year-old, but not earlier. For infants up to one year of age, breast milk and a baby-appropriate formula are the only two options.

Keep discussing your baby's needs after the one-year mark. Depending on your baby's height and weight, your doctor may recommend 2% or skim milk. Always seek advice on this question, as the answer will depend on your baby's size, growth rate, and development.

If you were using a soy-based formula, it is a good idea to check with your doctor before beginning on cow's milk at one year of age. According to the Baby Center, true milk allergies are rare (only two or three percent of children), but your child could be among them.

Choosing Nutrition

Ultimately, parents are most concerned about one aspect when it comes to feeding their babies: nutrition. While the convenience factor may weigh heavily on parents' minds, always keep the nutritional value of your baby's food at center stage. Follow the directions for storage, preparation, expiration dates, and leftovers of formula that are on the package to ensure that bottle-feeding your baby lives up to your nutritional expectations.

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Types of Baby Formula: Understanding Your Options