Baby Formula 101

| | Reviewed by: Rose Smith
Updated: March 12, 2024 | Published:

If you are like most soon-to-be parents (or second, etc. timers), during pregnancy the topic of baby formula has definitely come up. Baby formula carries a very negative stigma with it, and for many good reasons. The formulas found on the shelf in America have many controversial ingredients, and parents are not happy with their options. As such, many parents that decide on the baby formula option have also decided on the European baby formula options.

We thought a quick baby formula 101 guide could help parents who are still trying to understand the baby formula world, and for those who thought they knew about the baby formula but are curious to learn about European baby formula options as well. We hope you enjoy!

Formula Milk

Where to begin? Ingredients!

The entire baby formula industry makes it seem easy at first, but then an expecting parent heads to their local grocery store to be prepared for baby’s birth and immediately becomes overwhelmed by the multitude of options. Furthermore, we are adding European formula options into the mix – which have their own baby formula options you will find online! Our suggestion is to start with the ingredients, as this is what separates the good formulas from the bad.

Ingredients you should completely avoid:

  1. Soy: The phytoestrogens in soy have been scientifically studied and proven to block proper growth development in children. The EU has banned the use of soy in their baby formulas, which is a fantastic step forward. Unfortunately, American formulas still need to catch up; you can find soy oil and soy lecithin in many of the name-brand baby formulas.
  2. Processed Sugar: It should come as no surprise that processed and added sugars are not good for developing babies, especially as adults know how it affects their already developed bodies. The only sugar in the baby formula should come from lactose – the natural sugar that is found in breastmilk as well. Be sure to avoid the added sugars commonly labeled as high fructose corn syrup, glucose syrup solids, sugar (yup, sometimes they just directly label it!), fructose, and sucrose. 
  3. GMOs, Artificial Ingredients, Synthetic Preservatives: We know that all of these ingredients can’t be good, as they are modified and adjusted, which can seriously mess with our bodies, and yet you can still find these within baby products. Many brands have decided to stop giving their animals GMO food, but remember the soil holds remnants, and spillage through the soil or wind is hard to avoid. European formula considers the entire environment, this means the soil is considered as well as the animals when they claim GMO-free. As for synthetic preservatives, just remember that these are added to hold the shelf life of formula – and they are full of chemical properties that can damage a developing system. Not sure about you, but I don’t need the formula to have a shelf life of 3 years, instead I would choose the shorter shelf life of 18 months that European formula offers for the safety of my baby.
  4. Hormones/Steroids: Okay, you may wonder how do you know if hormones or steroids are in your formula? This is a fantastic question because no product is going to out-right claim that they have hormones or steroids in their product, we all know that would look bad. For parents to avoid this, they need to consider the environment the animals are raised in. Crowded farms and lacking diets mean animals tend to get sicker more often and need steroids to fight off illnesses. Many of these farms also give their animals hormones to make them grow bigger faster, so they can make their profits sooner. Unfortunately, all of this can transfer to the milk used in baby formulas, and then transfer to your baby completely undetected. The EU recognizes this and has banned the use of hormones on their animals. Furthermore, the need for steroids for sick animals is completely minimized due to the large pastures they offer their animals to graze on (no crowding of animals there!).

Ingredients you should look for:

  1. Lactose: As mentioned before, added sugar is bad, but sugar is necessary. The natural lactose from cow’s milk or goat’s milk in the form of lactose is exactly what your baby needs for their carbohydrates. In fact, some brands like Kendamil give you more than just a skimmed milk version of this lactose, they give you the whole milk form, which provides even more nutrients! Furthermore, try to find lactose from grass-fed animals, as it will be richer in nutrient value.
  2. Natural DHA/ARA: There have been many studies that show the helpful benefits of DHA, so more baby formulas are adding this ingredient. In Europe, they recently made it a mandatory ingredient in all baby formulas. Americans need to be cautious of the DHA/ARA added into our local baby formulas, however, because sometimes it is lab-created and the natural DHA is extracted using hexane. Remnants of hexane may be leftover in the DHA, and consumers have no way of knowing how much of this toxic chemical has transferred into their baby formula. The EU formulas have strict regulations to ensure that hexane extracted DHA leaves no remnants of hexane in their final product. Plus, they offer alternative DHA options from algae oil, which doesn’t use hexane extraction and is vegetarian-friendly!
  3. Natural Vitamins and Minerals: Many of these will be found through the milk used within the baby formula – as it contains these nutrients. Remember, the more natural and organic milk used, the more natural the vitamins and minerals.
  4. Prebiotics and Probiotics: While probiotics are not completely necessary in all standard baby formulas, they can have an added bonus for digestion. Parents also have the choice to simply add it separately into their baby’s diet (using pediatrician recommendation). Prebiotics, however, are an amazing addition that can be found in some brands. Prebiotics also help with digestion and gut health and can be naturally found in whole milk formulas.

After Ingredients, what’s next? The best option for your baby’s needs!

It’s important for parents to understand that every baby is different and has their own needs. This means some babies may need a sensitive option, whereas others may need the most basic version with none of the extras. You will only know which version or brand is best for your baby after you have given them the formula and monitored their reactions. As such, here are the different options to look for:

  1. Skimmed cow’s milk formula: This is your standard formula. Of course, it comes in many different options with many different brands, but that has to do with the ingredients that we discussed above. Depending on your baby, this might be the perfect type of formula to start with.
  2. Whole cow’s milk formula: There are fewer whole milk formula options on the market, simply because it is more expensive to produce. As such, it does tend to be slightly more expensive than the skimmed milk version; however, it can offer a plethora of positives. The whole milk has natural prebiotics, and in Kendamil they have natural HMO (human milk oligosaccharides) added for the gut, immune, and cognitive health.
  3. HypoAllergenic (HA) formulas: These EU versions have a hydrolyzed lactose protein, which means they broke the lactose down into the smallest fragments, making it easier for the baby to digest. The HiPP HA versions also have added prebiotics and probiotics to further help the baby digest the formula. Usually, parents choose this option when the regular versions are creating too much gas, spit-ups, and constipation.
  4. A2 formulas: This is a newer version to the market and can be found both in Europe and America. Recent studies have found the A2 milk protein is easier to digest than the A1 milk protein, as the peptide BCM-7 is not leftover after digestion. BCM-7 has been found to cause inflammation in the gut and cause digestive issues.
  5. Goat’s milk formulas: Many parents choose goat’s milk formula due to the sensitivity of cow’s milk. Goat’s milk naturally has the A2 protein, so it is easier to digest. Furthermore, when digesting the lactose, it forms a softer and looser curd, which makes it even easier for the baby to digest completely and quickly.

Lasting Thoughts

This guide is just the beginning of your research into baby formulas. We hope to have provided some useful facts that you can further look into and present to your pediatricians. We hope you can quickly find the baby formula that works best for your baby, from the start, but we know that is not always the case. Be strong and know that many parents try a couple formulas before finding the right option.


About Amy Smith

Amy, an award-winning journalist with a Master's in Journalism from Columbia University, has excelled for over twelve years, specializing in parenting, pregnancy, nursing, fashion, and health.

Her acclaimed blog, AmyandRose, demonstrates profound expertise shaped by her journey from pregnancy to nurturing a teenager and a toddler. Recognized by several parenting awards, Amy's work has been featured in top-tier health and lifestyle magazines, underscoring her authority in these fields.

Her contributions, grounded in evidence-based research and personal experience, provide invaluable, credible insights for parents navigating the complexities of modern child-rearing and personal well-being.

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