Baby Formula Buying Guide

We all know that mother's milk provides all the nutrition your baby needs. If you can breastfeed you should because breast milk is what nature intended for ideal infant feeding. If you are among the 85% of new moms who eventually use infant formula,* however, we put together a brief "Baby Formula Buying Guide" to help you navigate the differences among the different types of formula on the market today.

The Only Other Safe Infant Feeding Option

Formula is the only safe alternative to breastfeeding…period. Any other unregulated concoction, including homemade formula and even whole cow's milk, is a recipe for disaster for infants under 12 months.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding and recognizes iron-fortified infant formula as the only other safe infant feeing option. Healthychildren.org, an AAP educational resourced offering pediatrician-approved health information and advice for moms and dads, reinforces the importance of federal oversight and compliance when it comes to infant nutrition:

  • Congressional legislation governs the ingredients used in infant formula.
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations implement the Infant Formula Act.
  • FDA monitors the quality and safety of all formulas sold in the United States and conducts routine inspections of all manufacturing facilities in the country.

Unfortunately, some well intentioned – albeit misguided – moms whip up their own formula recipes in their kitchens. Homemade baby formula is very dangerous and can have long-term consequences on a baby's health and well being. Homemade concoctions lack important nutrients and/or have amounts of certain ingredients that are too high for infant consumption. Homemade formula can negatively impact growth and development and cause a number of health complications, including kidney problems and iron-deficiency anemia.

Bottom line: homemade formula is unregulated and unsafe and cow's milk should not be fed to infants younger than one year of age. If there is one takenaway from this baby formula guide, it's to never attempt to make homemade formula.

Infant Formula Manufacturers

Infant formula manufacturing is a heavily regulated industry. Manufacturers must comply with the requirements of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The FDA implements the regulations of the act and has the authority to stipulate all requirements involving infant formula:

  • Nutrient quality control procedures
  • Records and reports
  • Submission requirements
  • Labeling
  • Nutrient specifications
  • Current good manufacturing practices

The agency routinely inspects domestic facilities operated by the only approved formula manufacturers in the United States:

  • Abbott Nutrition – the maker of Similac®
  • Mead Johnson Nutrition – the maker of Enfamil®
  • Nestlé Infant Nutrition – the maker of Gerber®
  • Perrigo Nutritionals – the maker of Store Brand Formula

These companies and the formula brands they manufacture comply with the same regulations; one brand cannot be better than another. There is no best baby formula – only the one that's right for you after consulting with your baby's doctor.

All infant formulas sold in the United States are required to be manufactured in accordance with, and meet the nutritional requirements of, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act for infant formula under the regulation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Types of Baby Formula Guide

Below is a chart** of the standard types of infant formula available on the market. This chart shows overall categories based on main protein ingredients, which is how most formulas are categorized.

Types of Infant Formulas Use Protein Ingredients
Routine Formulas Cow's Milk Based Routine Infant Formulas (Including Tolerance/Sensitive Routine Infant Formulas)
  • Appropriate for most normal healthy term infants who are not exclusively breastfed
  • For otherwise healthy infants who may experience fussiness, discomfort, crying, spit up or gas
    • For tolerance issues associated with intact or whole cow protein
    • For tolerance issues associated with lactose
  • Intact cow milk proteins (Whey/casein)
  • Partially hydrolyzed (partially broken down) cow milk proteins (whey and casein)
  • Partially hydrolyzed protein formulas (partially hydrolyzed casein and intact whey)
  • 100% whey protein partially hydrolyzed
Soy Based Routine Infant Formulas
  • For healthy full term infants with sensitivity to milk-based formula
  • May be appropriate for infants with galactosemia or lactase deficiency
  • May be a vegetarian choice
  • Soy protein
For Use With Hypoallergenic Infant Formulas
  • For infants with documented cow milk protein allergy or other food protein allergies
  • Extensively hydrolyzed or free-amino acid protein sources
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Infant Formulas
  • For premature infants or low birth weight infants; for use under medical supervision
  • For premature infants after hospital discharge to help support "catch-up" growth; for use under medical supervision
  • Intact cow milk proteins (casein/whey)
  • Partially hydrolyzed cow milk proteins (whey)
Special Medical Needs Formulas
  • Special formulas for metabolic diseases
    • For infants with special dietary needs due to inborn errors of metabolism or enzyme deficiency; use under medical supervision
  • Includes infant formulas which are milk-based or amino acid modified (e.g., free of a certain amino acids such as phenylalanine).

Infant formulas are manufactured to meet exacting quality standards and with the exception of specialized metabolic formulas, contain all the nutrients needed to support the healthy growth and development of newborn and young infants. Formulas must meet the levels of specific nutrients that are mandated by the federal law governing infant formulas. All ingredients in infant formula have been thoroughly tested and approved for use.

Talk to your baby's doctor or health-care professional about what type of infant formula is recommended and best for your baby.

Three Forms: Powder, Liquid, and Ready to Use

Baby formulas are available in three forms, depending on the brand and type of infant formula. Read the label and follow the exact mixing instructions on the package to make certain the product is prepared safely and correctly to provide all the nutrition your baby needs.

  • Powdered formula is the most economical and must be mixed with water.
  • Concentrated liquid formula also must also be mixed with water.
  • Ready to use formula is more expensive and does not need to be mixed with water.

Always consult with your physician to select the best baby formula for your little one.

Ask Your Doctor about Switching Formula to Parent's Choice

Is switching formula ok? You bet it is. According to recent findings by medical researchers at the University of Virginia, switching formula brands is safe and well tolerated by infants. This new research also revealed there is no difference between gradually or immediately switching formula brands.

Health-care professionals know that store brand over-the-counter (OTC) products are similar to name brands in efficacy and active ingredients. As more health care professionals learn about the benefits of store brand formulas, doctor recommendations are increasing. In fact, according to a recent report from Source Health Analytics, the share of weekly recommendations for store brand formulas grew 42% in the second quarter of 2013. This is same report revealed that average weekly recommendations for Store Brand Infant Formulas increased 68% among office-based, practice-based pediatricians in the same time frame.***

More pediatricians know that store brand formulas are required to meet the same standards and guidelines as the name brands, so moms and dads can rest easy knowing there is no compromise in quality or safety. Side-by-side comparisons and label information reveal little, if any, difference in nutrient levels or ingredient listings.

Ask your baby's doctor about Parent's Choice and switching formula brands. Print out the chart below so your physician can review the product descriptions, nutritional highlights, and ultimately compare Parent's Choice to its name brand counterpart. Your pediatrician will be able to recommend the best infant formula to meet your baby's infant feeding needs.

Overview of Parent's Choice Infant Formulas and Comparable Name Brands

Name of Formula Description Nutritional Highlights Compare to the Nutrition of
Milk Based Infant Formula Infant is a complete, milk-based formula with prebiotics to support baby's immune system.
  • DHA & ARA
  • Beta-carotene and nucleotides
  • Iron fortified
  • Prebiotic (GOS)
Enfamil® Infant
Advantage® Formula Advantage® is a milk-based formula featuring galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), a prebiotic found in breast milk.
  • Prebiotics for immune system support
  • DHA & ARA
  • Iron fortified
  • Prebiotic (GOS)
  • Nucleotides
  • Lutein
  • 75 IU of vitamin D
Similac® Advance®
Tender™ Formula For babies with fussiness or gas.
  • 100% partially hydrolyzed whey protein
  • DHA & ARA
  • Prebiotics (GOS)
GERBER® GOOD START® Gentle
Lactose Reduced Gentle® Formula Gentle® Formula is formulated for babies experiencing fussiness or gas.
  • Partially broken-down whey protein
  • DHA & ARA
  • Iron fortified
Enfamil® Gentlease®
Sensitivity® Formula Sensitivity® is an easy-to-digest milkbased formula with lower lactose‡ levels than standard milk-based formulas.
  • Low lactose‡
  • DHA & ARA
  • Iron fortified
  • Prebiotic (GOS)
  • Nucleotides
Similac Sensitive®
Soy-Based Soy-Based Formula Soy is lactose-free and contains soy in place of the proteins found naturally in cow's milk.
  • Developed for babies when soy protein is preferred
  • DHA & ARA
  • Iron fortified
Enfamil® ProSobee® & Similac® Soy Isomil®
Specialty Formula Added Rice Formula Added Rice Starch is designed for babies that spit-up frequently.
  • Thickened with rice starch, which helps keep formula down
  • DHA & ARA
  • Iron fortified
  • Nucleotides
Enfamil A.R.®
Organic Formula Organic Milk-Based Infant Formula is a complete, balanced alternative for parents who choose to feed their babies formula from certified-organic food sources.
  • Certified Organic in accordance to USDA regulations
  • DHA & ARA
  • Iron fortified
  • Nucleotides
Similac® Advance® Organic
Toddler Formula Nutrition designed for infants aged 9 months or older.
  • DHA & ARA
  • Calcium for strong bones
  • Prebiotic (FOS)
Similac Go & Grow® & Enfagrow® PremiumTM Toddler

Enfamil® is a registered trademark of Mead Johnson & Co.
Similac® is a registered trademark of Abbott Laboratories.
Gerber® is a registered trademark of Société des Produits Nestlé, S.A.
Parent's Choice Infant Formula is not made by or affiliated with Mead Johnson & Co., Abbott Laboratories, or Société des Produits Nestlé, S.A.
*Source: Parents magazine. Accessed August 5, 2013, from http://www.parents.com/baby/feeding/formula/formula-questions/
**Source: International Formula Council
***Data on file. Perrigo Nutritionals 2013.