Infant formula is usually made from cows' milk that has been treated to make it suitable for babies. There are a number of different brands in the shops that meet the required legal standards. The cows' milk in infant formula contains a mix of two types of proteins – whey and casein.
Different types of infant formula
Infant formula is available in two forms:
- ready-to-feed liquid infant formula, sold in cartons, which
- powdered infant formula, which is not sterile
First infant formula
This is often described as suitable for newborns. It is based on the whey of cows' milk and is thought to be easier to digest than other types of infant formula. This should always be the first formula you give to your baby.
Unless your midwife, health visitor or GP suggests otherwise, this is the only infant formula your baby needs. Your baby can stay on this formula when you start to introduce solid foods at around six months and continue on it throughout the first year.
When your baby is one year old, they can start to drink whole cows' milk. There is no evidence to suggest that changing the brand of infant formula your baby drinks does any good or harm. However, if you think a particular brand of infant formula disagrees with your baby, try another. Your midwife or health visitor will be able to discuss this with you.
Casein-based infant formula
Infant formula that is mostly based on casein is thought to take your baby longer to digest than whey-based formula. It is not recommended for young babies. There is little nutritional difference between this formula and first infant formula. Although it is often described as suitable for "hungrier babies", there is no evidence that babies settle better or sleep longer when fed this type of formula.
This is also casein-based and should never be fed to babies under six months old. Research has found no clear benefit from its use. However, the labels on this formula can look very similar to those on first infant formula, so read them carefully to avoid making a mistake.
Some follow-on formula has cereal added to it and is described as a "night-time feed" for babies. This type of formula is not necessary and there is no evidence that babies settle better or sleep longer when fed this. It should never be given to babies under six months old.
Soya infant formula is made from soya beans, not cows' milk. Do not use soya formula unless it has been prescribed or recommended by your GP.
Read more about infant soya formula.
If your baby is diagnosed as being allergic to cows' milk, your GP will prescribe an appropriate infant formula with fully hydrolysed proteins. Infant formula with partially hydrolysed proteins is available in the shops, but this is not suitable for babies with a cows' milk allergy.
Goats' milk-based formula is available and produced to the same nutritional standards as cow's milk-based formulae. These are unsuitable for infants with cows' milk protein allergy and should not be given to them, unless directed by a health professional.
Remember, if you have any questions about the infant formula you are giving your baby, you can ask your midwife, health visitor or GP for information and help.
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:
- condensed milk
- evaporated milk
- dried milk
- sheep's milk
- goats' milk
- other types of drinks known as "milks", such as rice, oat or almond drinks
- cows' milk as a drink