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Pregnancy and baby

Types of formula milk

Formula milk, also known as baby formula or infant formula, is usually made from cows' milk that has been treated to make it more suitable for babies.

There's a wide range of different formula brands and types in the shops. Always check labels carefully to make sure you're buying a suitable milk for your baby.

Formula comes in two different forms: a dry powder you can make up with water and ready-to-feed liquid formula. While ready-to-feed liquid formula can be convenient, it tends to be more expensive and, once opened, needs to be used more quickly.

Formula milk provides babies with the nutrients they need to grow and develop. However, your breast milk will always be best for your baby. It contains hundreds of unique ingredients and living cells to protect them from infections as well as being perfect for their growth and development.

First infant formula (first milk)

Goats' milk formula

Hungrier baby formula (hungry milk)

Anti-reflux (staydown) formula

Comfort formula

Lactose-free formula

Hypoallergenic formula

Follow-on formula

Good night milk

Soya formula

Growing-up milk (toddler milk)

First infant formula (first milk)

Suitable from: birth

First infant formula should always be the first formula you give to your baby.

The cows' milk in formula contains two types of proteins – whey and casein. First infant formula is based on whey protein and is thought to be easier to digest than other types of formula.

Unless your midwife, health visitor or GP suggests otherwise, first infant formula is the only formula your baby needs. Your baby can stay on it when you start to introduce solid foods at around six months and drink it throughout their first year.

There's no evidence that switching to a different formula does any good or harm. However, if you think a particular brand of formula disagrees with your baby, talk to your midwife or health visitor. They can help you decide whether to try a different one.

When your baby is one year old, they can start to drink whole cows' milk or sheep's or goats' milk (as long as it's pasteurised).

Goats' milk formula

Suitable from: birth

Different kinds of goats' milk formula are available in the shops. They are produced to the same nutritional standards as cow's milk-based formula.

Goats' milk formula is not less likely to cause allergies in babies than cows' milk formula.

Goats' milk formula is unsuitable for infants with cows' milk allergy (also known as cows' milk protein allergy), as the proteins they contain are very similar.

Hungrier baby formula (hungry milk)

Suitable from: birth, but ask your midwife or health visitor for advice first.

This type of formula contains more casein than whey, and casein is harder for babies to digest.

Although it's often described as suitable for "hungrier babies", there's no evidence that babies settle better or sleep longer when fed this type of formula.

Anti-reflux (staydown) formula

Suitable from: birth, but ask your midwife or health visitor for advice first.

This type of formula is thickened with the aim of preventing reflux in babies (when babies bring up milk during or after a feed).

It's recommended that you only try a thickened formula on the advice of your midwife, health visitor or GP, and only if your baby brings up milk frequently and seems to be distressed.

The instructions of some tins of powdered anti-reflux formula recommend leaving boiled water to stand for 45 minutes before making up a bottle.

However, it's important to make sure that you make up anti-reflux formula with boiled water that has been cooled for no more than 30 minutes, so that the temperature is still above 70C.

Powdered formula is not sterile and using water at this temperature or above will kill any harmful bacteria.

See how to make up formula milk.

Comfort formula

Suitable from: birth, but ask your midwife or health visitor for advice first.

This type of formula contains cows' milk proteins that have already been partly broken down (partially hydrolysed). This is supposed to make it easier to digest and help prevent digestive problems like colic and constipation. However, there's no evidence for this.

Partially hydrolysed formulas aren't suitable for babies who have cows' milk allergy.

Lactose-free formula

Suitable from: birth, but only under medical supervision.

This formula is suitable for babies who are lactose intolerant. This means they can't absorb lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products.

Lactose intolerance is rare in babies. Symptoms include diarrhoea, abdominal pain, wind and bloating.

Lactose-free formula is available over the counter but, if you suspect your baby may be lactose intolerant, it's important to speak to your midwife, health visitor or GP. 

Hypoallergenic formula

Suitable from: birth, but only under medical supervision.

If your baby is diagnosed as being allergic to cows' milk, your GP will prescribe an appropriate infant formula with fully hydrolysed (broken down) proteins.

Formula with partially hydrolysed proteins (comfort formula) is available in the shops, but it's not suitable for babies with cows' milk allergy.

Follow-on formula

Suitable from: six months, but ask your health visitor for advice first.

Follow-on formula should never be fed to babies under six months old.

Research shows that switching to follow-on formula at six months has no benefits for your baby. Your baby can carry on having first infant formula as their main drink until they are one year old.

The labels on follow-on formula can look very similar to those on first infant formula. Read them carefully to avoid making a mistake.

Good night milk

Suitable from: six months, but ask your health visitor for advice first.

Some follow-on formula has cereal added to it and is sold as a special formula for babies to have at bedtime.

This type of formula isn't needed, and there's no evidence that babies settle better or sleep longer after having it.

Good night formula should never be given to babies under six months old.  

Soya formula

Suitable from: six months, but only under medical supervision.

Soya formula is made from soya beans, not cows' milk. It's used as an alternative to cows' milk formula for babies who have cows' milk allergy.

Soya formula is not recommended for babies under six months as there are concerns that it can increase the risk of soya allergy. Also, because soya formula contains glucose instead of the milk sugar lactose, it's more likely to harm babies' teeth.

Only use soya formula if it has been recommended or prescribed by your health visitor or GP.

Read more about soya formula.

Growing-up milk (toddler milk)

Suitable from: one year, but ask your health visitor for advice first.

Growing-up and toddler milks are marketed as an alternative to whole cows' milk for toddlers and children aged over one. There's no evidence to suggest that these products provide extra nutrition benefits for young children.

Whole cows' milk is a suitable choice as a main drink for your child from age one. Semi-skimmed cows' milk is a suitable main drink for children over two who are eating a balanced diet.

It's recommended that all children aged six months to five years have vitamin drops containing vitamins A, C and D every day.

See more about vitamins for children.

Types of milk to avoid

Not all milk is suitable for feeding babies. You should never give the following types of milk to a baby under one year:

Further information

Page last reviewed: 02/10/2016

Next review due: 02/10/2019

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