Infant Formula Buying Guide

Baby Formula

At this point, we all know that when it comes to the wellbeing of babies, breastfeeding is vastly superior to formula feeding in every way.  Still, for those parents who formula feed—whether by choice or necessity—they all want to know: what is the safest, healthiest formula I can give my baby? With so many organic options now available, choosing a safe formula seems easier than ever, but not so fast. There are many problematic ingredients in infant formulas, even the ever-increasing organic varieties.

Here’s what you should be asking when selecting an infant formula for your baby:

1)    Is it organic?

Conventional formula likely contains GMOs, traces of pesticides, milk contaminated with antibiotics or growth hormones, and oils that were extracted with hexane. While organic formulas can still have many yucky ingredients (read on), conventional formulas are worse.

2)    Is it dairy-based?

Because it is so dissimilar to human breast milk, soy formula is usually only recommended by doctors if a baby suffers from dairy intolerance. Soy-based formula contains soy protein isolates, which are highly processed soybeans that have been chemically altered to no longer resemble a whole food. Soy formula also contains high levels of plant-derived estrogens (phytoestrogens). In fact, the concentrations of phytoestrogens detected in the blood of infants fed soy formula were shown to be 13,000 to 22,000 times greater than the concentrations of natural estrogens—the effects of this are simply unknown.

3)    Does it contain essential fatty acids?

Most formulas now boast the addition of essential fatty acids DHA and ARA. This seems great, but unfortunately these oils are extracted by methods that involve neurotoxic hexane–even in formulas carrying the organic label. While it seems that formula-fed infants would be missing out on these healthy fats, which occur naturally in breast milk, studies have shown no benefits to infants drinking formulas fortified with DHA and ARA (which are extracted from algae and fungus).

4)    What kind of synthetic nutrients have been added?

There are several synthetic nutrients that you will find in organic formulas, none of which is legal in the European Union. Look out for lutein (hexane-extracted from marigolds), lycopene (produced with toluene, a neurotoxic benzene derivative), nucleotides (produced from chemically treated yeast), taurine (processed with carcinogenic sulfuric acid), and l-carnitine (which was banned by the National Organic Standards Board because of concerns over carcinogenic properties). Unfortunately, many of these ingredients are impossible to avoid due to FDA nutrition requirements.

5)    What type of sugar does it contain?

Breast milk is naturally very sweet, so formulas invariably contain added sugars. The one that most closely mimics that found in human milk is lactose, but this cow’s milk-based sweetener is expensive, so many manufacturers instead use plant-based sweeteners. One, sucrose, was banned by The European Union in 2009 (except in formulas for babies with allergies), because of concerns about over-feeding and obesity. The FDA provides no such regulation on what kind of sugars can be used in formula here.

Common plant-based sweeteners include maltodextrin (made from rice, corn, or potatoes), and “glucose syrup solids,” which is just another term for corn syrup solids. These sweeteners are found in formulas by Bright Beginnings, Earth’s Best, Parent’s Choice, Whole Foods 365, and Vermont Organics.

Some infant formulas are sweetened with brown rice syrup. In 2012, concerns were raised when Dartmouth researchers found that organic formula made with organic brown rice syrup contained six times the EPA’s safe limit for arsenic.

One organic formula, Similac Organic, uses plain old cane sugar in their formula, and way too much of it.

Ingredients to Avoid

In addition to getting the answers to the questions posed above, you’ll want to make sure the formula you choose is free of two common ingredients:

  1. Palm oil. Human breast milk is high in palmitic acid, so many formulas contain palm oil to try to replicate this nutrient. Unfortunately, palm oil is not properly absorbed by infants, and babies who drink formula with palm oil are shown to have decreased bone density.
  2. Carrageenan. You will find this additive in tons of stuff in your health food store, and infant formula is no exception. Derived from seaweed, carrageenan helps stabilize liquid formula, but numerous animal studies suggest that it leads to intestinal inflammation and colon tumors. The European Union has outlawed the use of carrageenan in all infant formula, but in the United States it appears in both conventional and organic varieties.

Don’t Worry About BPA

One thing you no longer have to worry about when buying formula? BPA. The FDA has finally gotten with the program and banned BPA from formula container linings. Of course, you’d be right to wonder about what’s being used in place of BPA, but I still think is a small victory.

What Should You Now Do?

If you use the checklist above, you’ll find that very few formulas meet the criteria.

While it is controversial, some parents choose to make their own formula. If you’d like to pursue that option, here is a list of the best recipes.

If you want to buy formula, your best bet is Baby’s Only Organic Formula (made by Nature’s One). Baby’s uses a non-hexane method of extracting their DHA and ARA, which is FDA-approved (it’s a water process on egg proteins). This formula does contain some synthetic ingredients, such as nucleotides and taurine (both of which are present in all American formulas and thus unavoidable). Baby’s Only contains organic lactose and brown rice syrup as sweeteners. In response to concerns about high arsenic levels, Nature’s One created a filter to removes inorganic arsenic from brown rice syrup, reducing it to undetectable levels. While Baby’s Only formula is marketed towards toddlers, it does receive the FDA’s approval for infant formula; Nature’s One calls it a “toddler formula” because they believe babies should be breastfed for at least the first year of life.

Whichever Formula You Choose…Filter Your Water!

Tap water may be contaminated with chlorine byproducts, weed killers, insecticides, solvents, lead, BPA, phthalates…the list goes on. Fluoride is present in infant formula, and when combined with fluoridated tap water, infant exposure levels can exceed safe amounts. Invest in a good carbon water filter.

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  • helen

    I keep reading about the harmful effects of soya formula which has made me intensely worried about my teenage boy as he was on soya formula for quite a few months as a baby. Is there anything that can be done now to detox him or help with the estrogenic effect of the soya?

  • Anonymous

    Really like the tone of this article. I nursed (although I won’t lie and say it was easy at all), but many people can’t, for various reasons including non-cooperative work situations. It’s great to see non-judgmental advice.

  • Adam

    Am I missing something or is the recommended “Baby’s Only Organic Formula” product not listed on Nature’s One’s website? It appears they do not have formula for the 0-12 month crowd, only some supplements.

  • Angela

    Standard Carbon filters do not remove fluoride unless they are activated alumina or bone char filters.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Adam — While Baby’s Only formula is marketed towards toddlers, it does receive the FDA’s approval for infant formula; Nature’s One calls it a “toddler formula” because they believe babies should be breastfed for at least the first year of life.
    -Laura, Be Well Health Coach

  • Sheila

    I have used it on my baby since 4 months- I think they just put for Toddler’s because they want to encourage breastfeeding until the age of one.

  • Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD

    Women need a lot more support and resources to successfully breastfeed. Despite all we are learning about the inherent issues with formula (and all the benefits of breastfeeding) there are many barriers to overcome for each mother and baby as well as society at large. What will it take for our collective behavior to align with our stated values?

  • Maia

    Yes Angela you are correct! This is the filter I recommend for clients who want to get rid of fluoride
    Thanks for the clarification,

  • Maia

    Thanks so much, Pixie!:)

  • Maia

    I totally agree, Bonnie. Here in New York, Mayor Bloomberg was slammed for his attempts at regulating formula in hospital maternity wards in an effort to encourage new moms to breastfeed. I know very few moms here (all educated, upper class) who make it to the one-year mark still breastfeeding.

  • Amanda

    Upper class? Seriously? What era are you from? Exactly what does how much money a person has have to do with how well they care for their infants? There is so much wrong with your statements I am not even sure where to begin with you. Your “post” is even more ridiculous, but I’ll post my remarks on that in my own blog and you can read for yourself.

  • Amanda

    This entire post is FAR from non-judgemental. In fact, it’s quite the opposite and so is the writer. Look at her response to “Bonnie”. Re-read the article! There is so much false information and there is nothing but judgemental tones. I’m glad you appreciate her opinions but as long as you know her point of you is not based solely on scientific fact like she thinks they are.

  • Amanda

    So for the Moms who can’t breastfeed???? This company believes what? That they’re “lower class” like Maia suggests? What is their response and how is a consumer supposed to trust what “Baby’s Only Formula” says? Where’s the proof?

  • Amanda

    OMG. Do NOT let these crack pots freak you out. There is NOTHING wrong with your son!! My old boss, a physician, used to tell me that a little info is a dangerous thing and that people like this writer exploit the lay person just as she is doing in order to gain. Ignore this post.

  • Maia

    I’m sorry that my use of the term “upper class” was offensive. I meant that while there seems to be a stereotype that we need to educate and encourage breastfeeding among less educated, less affluent women, my experience is that the children of the wealthy are also not getting the benefits of breastfeeding. Where is your own blog? I will be interested in reading your remarks.

  • Maia

    I truly did not write this article from a judgmental vantage point. While of course I believe breastfeeding is best, I know plenty of wonderful moms and healthy children who do not partake. I am sorry if the tone did not convey that.

  • Maia

    Proof of what, Amanda?

  • Maia

    In order to gain what, Amanda? Helen, I agree with Amanda that you do not need to worry unduly about your son. I grew up eating a ton of tofu, which of course is soy and which I now wonder about! We all do the best we can with what we know at the time. If your son has a good, clean diet and lifestyle now and avoids other sources of hormone disruptors (BPA, phthalates in scented products–Dr. Lipman has written lots about these and you can find them in his blog archive), that’s the best thing he can do for his health.

  • Amanda

    Bottom line, this article implies that most baby formula is poison. That is the simple message most people will take from this article, hence my problem with it. My other problem is with celebrity doctors like Lipman who are not formally trained in the field in which they’re named an expert. For example, Lipman’s credentials do not include nutritional science. He is an internist who studied certain aspects of Chinese medicine after becoming an internist. An internist, so you know, is NOT allowed to treat children. They’re adult doctors. SO, how a physician who is trained and educated on the anatomy, physiology and diseases of an adult can claim to be an expert on baby formula is at the very least unethical. Look what this article did to that poor woman. She’s terrified her child might be unhealthy.

  • Amanda

    Proof that these specific brands are better. Proof that SCIENCE has deemed other formulas ‘unsafe’. Furthermore, what are the studies that show specific negative effects, etc. etc. etc. These are basics when discussing anything scientific. UNLESS, there’s a disclaimer admitting that these are educated opinions and not scientific facts.

  • Amanda

    It absolutely didn’t. It is 100% anti-formula and there is so much information missing. THAT’s why it’s judgemental. If you simply posted why you believe commercial formula should be avoided, that would be fine. We’re all entitled to our views and common sense conclusions. But this article, to many people, is being read as scientific in nature, which of course it is based on some science but it’s an incomplete study, if you can even call it that. Not everyone is educated in how science works and therefor I believe this post to be extremely irresponsible, especially since it’s on a physician’s site. The very post on this specific site implies it’s all scientific fact. I realize some of it is, but again, it’s incomplete and therefore scientifically, it’s false.

  • Jen

    Bottom line Amanda, you’re just looking for a fight. Be honest.

  • Anonymous

    I looked at Amanda’s history and her posts are basically all arguments. I wouldn’t take her opinion too seriously. I did not think this was anti-formula.

  • Anonymous

    Just look at her history. Every post she’s made on every article (regardless of topic) is an argument.

  • MMMmmm.

    I’m interested in your thoughts on HIPP Organic Combiotic formula from the UK; it has follows all of the strict EU regulations, thus avoiding things like GMO and processed DHA and ARA… it gets great reviews both on Amazon as well as the motherhood message boards in the UK

  • Elg157

    A reverse osmosis system is an excellent system to remove contaminants, as well as fluoride. I have one in my home, and since the membrane and filters last MUCH longer than standard carbon (which doesnt remove fluoride anyway) in the end its a mire cost effective choice as well. (10 years water treatment industry experience and counting)

  • Maia

    I am so sorry that I only saw your post now! Yes, HIPP is definitely safe and a great option.

  • Maia

    Thanks so much for the info, Elf157

  • Steve

    As a new father I’m just coming to this article now. I find the information to be very useful but a question I have relates to the statement: “While Baby’s Only formula is marketed towards toddlers, it does receive the FDA’s approval for infant formula.” I’ve not been able to find anything to substantiate this but have found a concerning letter written to Baby’s Only CEO on the FDA website that contradicts this (
    Can anyone shed any additional light on this? Based on favorable information I’ve read about Baby’s One on this and other sites my preference would be to use this formula, but if the info on the FDA site still holds true I would not want to use.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Steve – I looked online and decided that the best bet would be to call directly to Nature’s One to ask them: you can try their customer support line (888) 227-7122 between 9am and 4pm.
    -Laura, Be Well Health Coach

  • CK

    Even though HIPP has palm oil? We’re really trying to avoid sugar, but is this the lesser of two evils?

  • Aria

    so is it ok if I give my 2 month baby Baby’s Only Organic Formula, since it receives the FDA’s aproval for infant formula?

  • Aria

    Did your child do well? I was thinking of changing the current formula I’ve been giving my 2 month old. (which I won’t say the name), because I’ve found interesting information on how many bad ingredients it has and is organic by the way. I’ve been researching for the best formula for infants. I read upon it and one website claimed that a German one was the most organic without preservatives, additives nor synthetic ingredients was the best choice for infant. Yet it has palm oil and that doesn’t make me comfortable. I wonder, Baby’s Only Organic shouldn’t be having palm oil, right?

  • Sheila

    She did fine on it until the ninth month mark, had big patchy circles on her cheeks. Found out it was from the soy in the formula. I wouldn’t be concerned about the Palm oil, mainly the soy. I feel it’s the best choice as far as commercial formulas though. But if you have the time and money, access to raw milk, I would make a homemade formula that have the exact constituents of breast milk. I gave my baby after finding out about her soy allergy. Soy is not good for babies in any amount.
    Here is the link:

  • Aria

    Interesting! I knew soy could cause inflammatory effects on babies but I had no idea it would give such bad effects. I recently switched to the brand we’re talking about because on the last one he was spitting up with brown spots and his tongue has turned brown for some reason. My advice nurse told me it might be because of his reflux and prolonged fussiness he’s been experiencing lately but my gut tells me: Is the formula. The only reason I’m concerned about palm oil is that, according to a research I made: (scroll down to where it says palm oil”
    I don’t have the time to go for the ingredients and make the formula myself. It would be even a miracle if I cook a decent meal to feed myself. I haven’t been able to even take care of myself. That’s why I’m in a constant research of a formula that would be soy free, dairy free, additive and preservative free all natural organic. But is so so darn hard. Every formula I look at has milk as the first ingredient and if it’s dairy free, it has soy in it. One of my friends have her baby goat’s milk that comes in the form of a powder. Yet I’ve found out that cow’s milk before 6 months is connected to type 1 diabetes and well goats and cows they’re both animals, so I wouldn’t be comfortable with the idea. And yet! There’s still cow’s milk on every formula I find! Even though it shouldn’t contain that, according to “The nursing mothers companion” book I’ve been reading. :( boy what a struggle. I’m still on the research of a soy free dairy free palm oil free additive and preservative free organic formula. Which would be so perfect. But this world ain’t no wonderland :/

  • Anonymous

    See, Sheila’s post above and some of the other comments. My understanding is that it is fine for infants, but you can double check with the company to be sure.

  • Aria

    Thank you for your responses :) I contacted the European brand and they told me because of a law they are not allowed to sell their product to the United States. So the only way for me to have that would have been to go there myself, purchase the product and bring it back with me. :( What I didn’t understand is if we American residents/citizens are not allowed to order their products online, why would they set they’re webpage available for us to see in the first place? That intices the willing of buying.
    Anyways, my son hasn’t developed any allergies so far, but I’m still uncomfortable to give him any formula because of the effects in the long run… I’m working hard to gain my milk supply back and it has improved so far but in emergency situations I have no other choice but to feed him formula :( I feel as if I have failed to give him the best of this world…

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for sharing what you learned, Aria. Remeber that the benefits of breastmilk are powerful even in small amounts, so do what you can and be confident that you are doing your best.

  • Maia

    Very sorry for my delayed response again, but yes I would consider it the lesser evil.

  • Jk

    “Point of you”

  • Jk

    Those don’t remove harmful bacteria. It’s a toss up

  • MaMa

    Any idea why Hipp Formula (specifically 3) has disappeared from the amazon market place? My son has been happily eating it for months and now it looks like I’ll need to find something else :(

  • Olesya

    I received this letter from the HIPP I get used to buy from the amazon—– “Due to pressure from the FDA , have now removed nearly all HIPP , Holle and Aptamil baby formulas from sale . Unfortunately , there is little we can do to try and bring these formulas back to Amazon as , in their words, we risk our selling account being closed. This applies to all third-party sellers of these formulas. We will however , continue to stock and ship all baby formulas on our website at ——— ——- plus we now have a reduced , Expedited shipping option. Should you have any questions or concerns, please contact us at —- [email protected] ” —– plus I got cupons with 10 % and 5% off :) I hope this information helped you :)

  • Maia

    Hi everyone! I wanted to let you know that I found two great European formulas that I think are even better than Baby’s Only. Here’s my analysis of the pros and cons of each:
    I hope this is helpful!

  • Brookeylee

    I use Artisana and get HIPP Stage 1 and HIPP Goodnight Milks. Shipping is free and the products are always fresh. Takes about 4 weeks to received. And, the customer service is fabulous.

  • Blanquita

    The proteins in Baby’s Only are 82% casein (same rate as in pure cow milk) which makes it too hard to digest for infants under 12 months and causes severe constipation. Proteins in breast milk are 10% casein in early lactation, 40% in mature milk and 50% in late lactation; the rest is whey. Proteins in regular infant formulas are usually about 40% casein. This is the reason why Baby’s Only manufacturer, Nature’s One, markets it as a toddler formula (which it is, and an excellent one) and not simply because they want to promote exclusive breastfeeding before 12 months like they suggest…

  • Julia

    Holle does not contain added rice syrup, chemical addictive’s, GMOs, DHA/ARA, preservatives, added colors and soya…!!! My twins love it, very good packing, on time delivery, need some more. Will recommend

  • Liza

    Holle does not contain added rice syrup, chemical addictive’s, GMOs, DHA/ARA, preservatives, added colors and soya…!!! My twins love it, very good packing, on time delivery, need some more. Will recommend

  • Mary

    I have a 6 week old and have had all sorts of issues…like major gas and acid reflux. She was uncomfortable ALL the time! We originally used Baby’s Only Organic formula starting at 3 weeks to help supplement my low amounts of breast milk, but then found out about this amazing formula made in Germany that is almost identical to breast milk and is made for sensitive infant tummies. It’s called Hipp Organic. We had it shipped 2 day air just because our little girl was so uncomfortable and WOW…what a difference this stuff made! Hardly any gas…she wasn’t constipated…it was like she was drinking breast milk. We still have some issues with acid reflux but not nearly as bad. The Hipp formula saved us. Now our baby seems comfortable and peaceful whereas before she was gassy…crying and irritable. I feel so much better about supplementing with formula now that we found the organic Hipp formula. I knew if I did enough searching I would find something really great with good ingredients. Check out the ingredients and why it’s better than formula made in the USA: I hope this helps. This formula was a game-changer. Can’t recommend it enough!

  • Geoffrey

    Science matters. Facts matter. Insinuating that conventional formulas are contaminated, even if fashionable, is irresponsible fear mongering.

  • Liza

    Update: Actually the site I bought from is and they ship from NYC! Too bad they also don’t sell HiPP.

  • Liza

    WARNING: This is the same post as one from above?! You both have twins and buy from the same site located in Europe?! Also I think they copies a NY site Sad

  • Liza sells Holle and is located in NYC! YaaaY

  • A&EsMom

    Why does every article regarding formula have to start with a “the breast is best” type statement? Every mother is already very aware of this and does not need to be reminded. People who write articles regarding formula feeding should stick to the point. We know breast is best and are just trying to research and find a decent formula, whatever the reason may be. Adding a breast is best statement just implies that we are doing something wrong.

  • SY Kang


  • Tyne Sim

    Hi all, my baby boy is currently 3years old and 4 months. This few days i don’t see him poo poo(“Shit”) at all, my friend told me it is constipation issues. So i had fed him vegetables and water but it seems like same. So what should I do, i really need help or suggestion

  • loraine

    hey, probably u can check the details above and try the remedies that mentioned? i would suggest u can set a toilet routine for the kids la, practice since young ma, so they will go to toilet every day.. or u can try bring them to do some exercise, will help to cure constipation ler..

  • Linar

    my 6YO DS is also facing constipation issue.. he complained to me that he feels painful when he poo poo.. he is now afraid of going to toilet and cry sadly! i fed him lots of fruits and prune juice but seems nothing change at all!! what should i do? any remedy that helps to cure his constipation?

  • SY Kang


  • Tonq

    nowadays many kids get suffer in constipation easily.. my DD also suffered in mild constipation when she is 6YO..
    during that moment… i fed her lots of food with high fibre and fruits. also, i created toilet routine for her so that she will not afraid of going to toilet because going toilet used to be her nightmare
    thanks god she is okay now.. hope this works on you kids as well

  • Bernert Chim

    i know there are many unproven traditional remedies which is not working at all! Better be careful, because i let my kid tried before, but his constipation getting worse than before, so end up by sending him to hospital.. thanks god he is fine now.. very dangerous, so remember seek for professional advise before trying anything out.

  • Melindaa Pang

    hi there! i suggest u to seek for proven and proper remedies. dont simply try those traditional remedies which not working at all! my son kena once before and got into hospital ler. worry die me. so be careful la..

  • Jude Gan

    In fact, you are wrong. One of the traditional remedy like “Drink Water” doesn’t harm to body. However,drink water is one of the effective constipation remedy because water can help to keep the stool smooth and soft.

  • Jude Gan

    You should try with “Mamil”. My son is having it now and I not really see him suffer with constipation issues. Mamil is suitable for every kids as it contains high level of DHA and no sucrose(No sugar). The ingredients in Mamil are proven that able to prevent constipation

  • Kelly Chang

    Mamil is way too expensive… not every family can afford it!!

  • Jude Gan

    i would rather to spend more money to get my children a healthy body..

  • Candy Tang

    Instead of filtering the water, I use purified water from regular water delivery. I’m concerned with the BPA coming from the bottle and lack of minerals, but I wouldn’t have to worried about contamination. Which option is actually better?

  • Ela

    My only concer is the x-ray during shipping from over seas. I would buy holle in a heart beat if the product was in usa

  • Ela

    Yeah all this is great. But my pediatrician said that this formula is not for infants due to high volume of vitamins. Like potassium is very high and infant dont need that much vitamins. Any comments on that please?

  • anka

    I really don’t like the idea of dairy formula. All the antibiotics, puss(pasteurised but still), all that GMO crap they feed cows-all goes to the dairy baby formula:(

    Phytoestrogens do not act as estrogens! How many years will pass until this dairy propaganda and dairy industry lobbying will stop?

    If dairy formula is so good why so many allergies, egzemas and constipation in babies?

    I completely cut out dairy from my diet and Inever looked and felt better-confirmed by numerous blood tests by my doc.

  • Maria

    My Lo turned 5 months today. My breastmilk supply is dwindling and would like to supplement with Baby’s One Lactorelief formula. Is it safe for baby’s, the label reads toddler formula. I am a bit nervous to give my LO something that may not be suitable for her age. The pediatrician is against this brand but based on my research this is the best organic brand. I would like to hear what other mom’s have experienced.

  • Great read. Loved all of the information.