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Types of Baby Formula

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages exclusive breastfeeding for baby, but many families rely on formula feeding for various reasons. This makes it important to know which type of formula is best for your baby.

All formulas offered in the United States are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with respect to their nutritional value and ingredients. For this reason, it’s best to stick with FDA-approved formulas instead of “alternative” formulas, such as barley-based drinks or other homemade formulas.

Cow’s Milk-Based—The majority of formula on the market is based on cow milk, but it has been modified and fortified to more closely resemble breast milk. All formulas, whether generic or brand name, have to contain certain minimum levels of nutrients, per FDA requirements. Cow milk formulas are sold as powders, liquids, and concentrates. Special formulas are also available for lactose-intolerant babies.

Soy-Based—Some babies are allergic to or intolerant of cow’s milk, so parents may turn to soy-based formulas. Soy formulas are also popular with vegetarian parents who don’t want to provide animal products. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises, however, that if your baby is intolerant of cow’s milk, there is a chance that soy-based formulas may also pose a problem. Per the AAP, there are few reasons a baby should be given soy formula over cow’s milk formula. These include a couple of rare diseases in which the infant is unable to digest the cow’s milk formula or vegetarianism.

Hypoallergenic Formulas—This group of formulas, known as extensively hydrolysed protein formulas, are created from cow’s milk that has been modified to contain only very small particles of protein that are less likely to trigger an allergic reaction. They should only be given to babies with a confirmed milk allergy or under the supervision of a pediatrician for other gastrointestinal problems. They are sometimes given to premature babies who have a hard time digesting cow’s milk formula. Keep in mind that these formulas are very expensive and often are not covered by insurance so talk to your pediatrician about your options.

Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, December 2018


  • American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Nutrition, Hypoallergenic Infant Formulas.
    National Health System, UK
  • Type of Infant Formula.
  • Use of Soy Protein-Based Formulas in Infant Feeding.

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