Understanding different formula types
Confused when you step foot in the formula section? We break down the different types of formula available so you can make an informed decision
Choosing the right formula

Don't worry if you're confused, you're likely not the only one. Here is some helpful information about the different types of formula available so you don't feel so overwhelmed with the decision of what to purchase.

CMP or cow’s milk formula

This is the most commonly recommended type of infant formula. CMP formula is classified as whey dominant or casein dominant, which describes the main protein type.

Goat’s milk formula

Some babies may be sensitive to CMP but can handle goat’s milk formula. If this is the case, it's not likely that your baby has a true cow's milk allergy (CMPA) - children with allergies to cow's milk are usually allergic to goat's milk as well. Goat's milk protein formula has a similar nutritional content to CMP formula. 

Soy infant formula

This plant protein-based formula does not contain CMP or lactose. Soy infant formula is for babies who can not drink CMP formula for health, cultural or religious reasons.

Starter, Newborn, Step 1, Stage 1 or ‘From birth’

These formulas are considered more suitable for babies under six months of age because they are whey-dominant CMP formulas - whey protein is easier to digest than casein protein. You can also get Starter formulas based on goat’s milk protein or soy protein. Babies are able to drink this formula up to 12 months of age.

Follow on, Progress, Step 2 or Stage 2 formulas

Aimed at babies over six months, these formulas are casein-dominant CMP formula, goat’s milk or soy protein formulas. They contain slightly more protein than Starter or Step 1 formula, but there isn't any need to switch unless you want to as babies do not require additional protein in their milk. 

Toddler formula

Provided a child is eating a variety of nutritious foods there is no significant benefit in giving toddler formula compared to normal cow’s milk. However, toddler milk is unlikely to cause harm to children unless they are affected by CMPA or MSPI (milk, soy protein intolerance).

Lactose-free and lactose-reduced formula

These are CMP formulas that have all or part of the lactose replaced by other sugars, usually corn syrup and sucrose (table sugar). Some babies can experience a temporary form of lactose intolerance, which can occur during and following a bout of gastroenteritis. Once their gastrointestinal tract has recovered, babies can usually return to regular formula.

Anti-regurgitation (AR) or ‘reflux’ formula

This formula has a thickening agent added and some of the lactose is removed to maintain a carbohydrate balance and content similar to regular CMP formula. It thickens further once in contact with stomach acid and is generally reserved for babies who fail to gain sufficient weight owing to regurgitation of milk feeds.

‘Colic’ formula

This is basically a lactose-reduced CMP formula. Low-lactose milk is believed to help relieve symptoms of colic based on the theory that immaturity of newborn babies’ digestive tract may result in inadequate digestion of lactose. However, there are many theories on the cause of infant colic. A reduced-lactose formula may or may not prove helpful.

‘Constipation’ formula

Constipation formula is a whey-dominant CMP formula with the addition of specific carbohydrates to increase fluid retention in stools. 

‘Hungry baby’ formula

As casein can take longer to digest, it is believed that it may sustain babies for longer, so 'hungry baby' formulas are casien-dominant. Some contain carbohydrates that take longer to digest.

Hypo-allergenic (HA) formula

This formula is not suitable for babies with a cow's milk protein allergy. It is a whey-dominant CMP formula in which the protein has been broken down into smaller parts. This means the protein is less likely to trigger an allergy reaction in susceptible children (those with a strong family history of allergies). 

Extensively hydrolysed formulas (EHFs)

This is another formula in which the protein is broken down into small molecules and is available only by prescription. EHFs are usually the first choice for babies with suspected cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA), cow’s milk protein intolerance (CMPI) or milk, soy protein intolerance (MSPI). 

Amino-acid formulas (AAFs)

These formulas are synthetically produced from amino acids – the non-allergenic building blocks for all protein – rather than milk. AAFs will promote healthy growth for almost all children with CMPA, CMPI and MSPI. Available only by prescription.

Specialised infant formula

There are also a number of formulas on the market for special needs babies, such as premature babies and babies with heart disease, malabsorption disorders and other medical conditions. Available only by prescription.

Unless your doctor recommends a particular formula, there is no reason to use a specific brand of formula. With the exception of the highly specialised formulas available by prescription only, there is very little difference between the brands and types of formulas.

Please note: Babies are not to be given any milk or milk substitute other than breast milk or infant formula as their main milk source during the first 12 months.

This article was written by Rowena Bennett and adapted for Kidspot, New Zealand's favourite parenting resource for Early Life Nutrition.
 
Breastfeeding is best for babies and provides many benefits. Combined breast and bottle feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of your own breast milk. Always consult your doctor, midwife or health care professional for advice about feeding your baby.* This post is part of the Early Life Nutrition story.
 
*For more information, see our full statement here.
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