Infant formula products – an overview

Key points about infant formula products

  • Breastfeeding is the best way to feed your baby, but sometimes it's not possible. 
  • If you can't breastfeed or use expressed breast milk, use an infant formula until your baby is 12 months old.
  • When prepared cleanly and correctly, infant formula is a safe and nutritionally adequate food for a baby.
  • One of the main differences between the types of formula is the protein in them, such as cows’ milk-based formula or soy-based formula.
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Cows' milk infant formula is the most commonly used and widely available infant formula in Aotearoa New Zealand. Most babies tolerate a cows’ milk formula. When choosing an infant formula, use one that’s right for your baby’s age. Your baby could become ill if you feed them a formula intended for older babies.

Soy infant formula is made from soy beans, not cows’ milk. Soy formula is an option for some infants over 6 months of age who have cows’ milk allergy (CMA). Soy formula is not for:

  • babies aged under 6 months, because of concern about developing allergy to soy
  • babies who have a severe allergy to cows' milk. 

Soy infant formula must not be confused with regular soy milk, which does not provide suitable nutrition for babies. Read also about infant formula - non dairy.

Cows’ milk contains 2 types of protein, casein and whey. Babies with CMA may be allergic to one or both of these proteins. In partially hydrolysed formula, the cows’ milk protein has been only partially broken down so can still cause an allergic reaction in infants with CMA.

Examples of partially hydrolysed formula include 
Karicare HA and Nan HA Gold Protect. Read also about infant formula - non dairy.

In extensively hydrolysed formula, the cows’ milk proteins have been broken down by enzymes into very small particles called peptides. The extensively hydrolysed formulae currently funded in New Zealand are Aptamil® Gold+ Pepti Junior, Aptamil® AllerPro SYNEO™ 1 and Aptamil® AllerPro SYNEO™.

Extensively hydrolysed formula is an option for most babies with CMA. Some infants with CMA who are very sensitive will react to Pepti-Junior and require an amino acid formula. Read also about infant formula - non dairy.

Amino acids are the simplest form of protein and are very easy for your body to digest. Amino acids form the building blocks for protein. Examples of amino acid formulae funded in New Zealand are Elecare (Abbott) and Neocate (SHS Nutricia). These are used for babies with severe CMA. Read also about infant formula - non dairy.

Lactose is a sugar (carbohydrate) found in cows’, goats’ and sheep milk. Lactose-free formulas are usually cows' milk formula with the lactose removed and replaced with an alternative carbohydrate source. Lactose-free formula is an option for formula-fed infants with lactose intolerance. Soy formula is another lactose-free option.

Lactose intolerance is rare in babies. If you suspect your baby has lactose intolerance, see your doctor before starting a lactose-free formula. A lactose-free formula is not an appropriate treatment for CMA. Read also about infant formula - non dairy.

Some infant formulas are marketed as anti-reflux. These often have ‘AR’ or ‘reflux’ in their name. Examples of anti-reflux infant formula are Aptamil Gold AR, Karicare AR and Novalac Reflux.

These formulas have thickeners that are designed to stay in your babys stomach, reducing regurgitation. Different anti-reflux formulas contain different thickeners.

Before you start your baby on anti-reflux infant formula, it's important to talk to your midwife, doctor or pharmacist to ensure that this is the best option for your baby. Read more about reflux in infants and children.

A number of homemade infant formula recipes are spreading online. There is no guarantee that these are safe or nutritious enough to give to your baby.

Homemade infant formulas may not provide the right nutrients for a baby. They might also contain unsafe ingredients or could be prepared in a way that allows harmful bacteria to grow. This can lead to serious illness or even death. Do not use homemade infant formula to feed your baby.

Cows’ milk

Whole cows' milk is not suitable for babies under 12 months. Use breast milk or infant formula as the main drink until your baby is 1 year old. Babies fed cows' milk before 1 year of age are at increased risk of having low iron.

After 1 year, most children can drink cows’  milk. Homogenised milk (that comes with the dark-blue lid) is the best type of cows’  milk for toddlers. Lighter, reduced-fat milks don't have enough fat for them. You can consider other milks after your child's second birthday.

Goats milk, sheep milk, mares milk

These aren’t suitable as drinks for babies under 1 year old because, like cows’ milk, they don't contain enough iron and other nutrients babies this age need. As long as they're pasteurised, they can be used after your baby is 1 year old.

These animal milks are not suitable for children with CMA as the proteins are very similar to those in cows' milk and most will react to these too. 

Rice milk

Rice milk is lower in energy, protein and fat. Rice milk is not recommended for children under 5 years of age as the sole milk replacement.

Oat milk, almond milk, cashew nut milk and coconut milk

These milks are lower in energy, protein and fat but some may be fortified with calcium and B vitamins. They are not recommended for children under 2 years of age as the only milk replacement.

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Credits: Healthify Editorial Team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Dr Jan Sinclair, Paediatric Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Starship, Auckland

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