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Types of formula

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 brands and types of formula available in pharmacies and shops. Always check labels carefully to make sure you're buying a suitable milk for your baby.

Formula comes in 2 different forms: a dry powder you make up with water, or a 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, it does not have the same health benefits as breastfeeding for you and your baby. For example, it cannot protect your baby from infections.

First infant formula (first milk)

First infant formula is suitable from birth.

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

The cows' milk in formula contains 2 types of proteins – whey and casein. First infant formula is based on whey protein which is thought to be easier to digest than other types of formula.

Unless a 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 your baby's first solid foods at around 6 months and they can 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 a midwife or health visitor. They can help you decide whether to try a different type.

When your baby is 1 year old, they can start to drink whole cows' milk or sheep's or goats' milk (as long as these milks are pasteurised).

Find out more about drinks and cups for babies and young children.

Goats' milk formula

This is suitable from birth.

Different kinds of goats' milk formula are available in pharmacies and 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 formulas are not suitable 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)

Hungrier baby formula (hungry milk) is suitable from birth, but ask a 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

Anti-reflux (staydown) formula is suitable from birth but only under medical supervision.

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

Although it's available in pharmacies and supermarkets, it's recommended you only use it on the advice of a health professional.

The instructions for making up anti-reflux formulas may be different to standard formula. The usual guidelines for how to make up baby formula recommend using boiled water that has stood for no more than 30 minutes, so that the temperature is still above 70C.

Some manufacturers of anti-reflux formula recommend making it up at lower temperatures than are usually recommended. Otherwise it may get lumpy. Follow the instructions on the pack or speak to a health professional for advice.

It's important to take extra care when making up and storing these products as powdered formula is not sterile and making it up at lower temperatures will not kill any harmful bacteria it may contain.

Speak to a midwife, health visitor or GP if you have any concerns.

Comfort formula

Comfort formula is suitable from birth, but ask a 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 such as colic and constipation. However, there's no evidence for this.

Partially hydrolysed formula (comfort formula) is not suitable for babies who have cows' milk allergy.

Lactose-free formula

Lactose-free formula is suitable from birth but only under medical supervision.

This formula is suitable for babies who are lactose intolerant. This means they cannot absorb lactose, which is a sugar that's naturally in milk and dairy products.

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

Lactose-free formula is available in pharmacies and shops, but if you think your baby may be lactose intolerant, it's important to speak to a midwife, health visitor or GP.

Hypoallergenic formula

Hypoallergenic formula is suitable from birth but only under medical supervision.

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

Comfort formula is made from partly broken down (partially hydrolysed) proteins. It's not suitable for babies with cows' milk allergy.

Follow-on formula

Follow-on formula is suitable from 6 months, but ask a health visitor for advice first.

Follow-on formula should never be fed to babies under 6 months old.

Research shows that switching to follow-on formula at 6 months has no benefits for your baby. Your baby can continue to have first infant formula as their main drink until they are 1 year old.

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

Soya formula

Soya formula is suitable from 6 months but only under medical supervision.

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

There are some concerns about the fact that soya contains phytoestrogens. These are found naturally in some plants.

The chemical structure of phytoestrogens is similar to the female hormone oestrogen. Because of this, there are concerns that they could affect a baby's reproductive development, especially in babies who drink only soya-based infant formula.

Babies' low body weight means they take in much higher amounts of phytoestrogens than older children or adults who eat soya products as part of a varied and balanced diet.

Also, soya formula is more likely than cows' milk to harm a baby's teeth.

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

Growing-up milk (toddler milk)

Growing-up milk (toddler milk) is suitable from 1 year, but ask a health visitor for advice first.

Growing-up and toddler milks are marketed as an alternative to whole cows' milk for toddlers and children over 1 year old. There's no evidence to suggest that these products provide extra nutritional benefits for young children.

Whole cows' milk is a suitable choice as a main drink for your child from age 1. Semi-skimmed cows' milk is a suitable main drink for children over 2 who are eating a balanced diet.

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 1 year:

  • condensed milk
  • evaporated milk
  • dried milk
  • goats' or sheep's milk (but it's fine to use them when cooking for your baby, as long as they are pasteurised)
  • other types of drinks known as "milks", such as soya, rice, oat or almond drinks
  • cows' milk as a drink (but it's fine to use it in cooking)

Further information

Page last reviewed: 6 April 2023
Next review due: 6 April 2026