Best Baby Formulas of 2021
There are countless decisions to make as a new parent and we all want to get it right. You want nothing more than a healthy baby who grows and thrives and is surrounded by love. And with a newborn, you need to ensure your little one gets proper nutrition right from the start. For many families, this means breastfeeding. But others turn to formula for a variety of reasons, whether it be from that first feeding or several months into your baby's first year. That's why we've put together a list of the best baby formulas of 2021.
We know formula-feeding parents want the best for their babies just as breastfeeding parents do, and there is sure to be the perfect option to fit your baby's needs.
Fed is Best (and that means formula, too)
First, we want to congratulate you on your new bundle of joy! There is no other happiness like what a new little family member can bring. Second, we want to say we support you in your decision to formula feed for whatever reason that may be.
Even though the AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of an infant's life, it's just not feasible for many families. The struggles and anxiety that some moms experience through their breastfeeding journey isn't always worth it, and we know how important a happy mom is when raising children. Trust me - I've been there! There is absolutely nothing wrong with formula-feeding. Be confident in your decision knowing you are doing what's best for you and your baby.
And just check out some of these formulas! As the best of 2021, they are filled with optimal nutrition to make sure your baby is growing bigger, stronger and smarter every day!
Choosing a Baby Formula
The most important thing to note is that any infant formula manufactured and distributed in the United States must comply with FDA requirements. This means that no matter what formula you choose you know it's safe for your baby. And that's number one!
Beyond that, every baby's needs and parent's preferences are different. Which means there are a lot of different choices when it comes to choosing an infant formula.
Most infant formulas are cow's milk-based and for the vast majority of babies, these work best and are recommended. (Later on we'll discuss when soy formula might be a good option.) You should always choose a formula fortified with iron.
Here we're focusing on powdered formulas as that is by far the most popular and economical option, but many of these formulas can be found in liquid concentrate or ready-to-feed forms if preferred.
Some questions to consider when determining which formula is best for your baby are:
- Will I be supplementing breastfeeding and need a formula that mimics breastmilk?
- Do I want an organic or non-organic formula?
- What is my budget?
- Is my baby extra fussy with a sensitive stomach?
Lastly, you will see that different formulas have "bonus" ingredients that other formulas may not have. The Baby Formula Expert discusses these extras in detail to help you decide how helpful each of them are. Here is a quick list of what they do/mean:
- DHA/ARA - non-essential fatty acids, but they are found in breastmilk. These are now included in most formulas.
- Probiotics - live, good bacteria that can aid in digestion
- Prebiotics - improve good bacteria's growth and are food for probiotics
- Nucleotides - these have been added to baby formula for years but not all formulas contain them. These are found in large quantities in breastmilk.
- Lactoferrin and Milk Fat Globule Membrane (MFGM) - proteins found in breastmilk that contribute to the benefits of breastfeeding
Overall, these additions are mostly a little boost, but are not a requirement in your baby's formula to keep them healthy. Most of them won't be a "make or break" when deciding on a formula, but they can also be great extra nutrients.
After perusing our list of the best baby formulas of 2021, we recommend you check out our other two helpful articles about formula-feeding: Steps for Feeding Your Baby Infant Formula and How to Prepare Baby Formula Safely.
Best Baby Formulas to Mimic Breastmilk
Many moms do a combination of breastfeeding and formula-feeding. Supplementing with formula is very common, especially for mothers who pump at work and may not pump enough to meet their baby's calorie needs. Formulas that most closely mimic breastmilk are a great option for these babies.
Additionally, formulas similar to breastmilk can be especially beneficial for very young babies who are formula-fed from the start.
Since lactose is the primary source of carbohydrate in breastmilk, you'll want to look for this when buying a formula similar to breastmilk (as opposed to corn-based sugars or sucrose).
Here are our top two formulas that mimic breastmilk:
What's to Love: Enspire is an innovative, non-GMO formula designed by Enfamil after a collaboration of some of the most intensive breastmilk studies to date. After 1,500 human milk proteins were mapped and evaluated, the following additions were made to create Enspire:
- MFGM - MFGM supports cognitive development (said to close the gap in this area between breastfed and formula-fed babies)
- Lactoferrin - supports your baby's immune system and intestinal development.
Parents also appreciate that the first ingredient isn't "corn syrup solids" and that their babies take it easily even though it's not breastmilk.
What's to Love: This is Similac's closest formula to breastmilk. 2' -FL HMO (Human Milk Oligosaccharide) is a prebiotic naturally abundant in most breastmilk that has been added to Similac Pro-Advance. This is an added layer to the immune support already offered by Similac's trusted line of products. Additionally, it contains a unique blend of DHA, lutein and vitamin E for brain and eye development. Also to note:
- contains valuable nucleotides
- palm olein oil-free fat blend allows for great calcium absorption
Some reviewers refer to this as a "miracle powder" that perfectly nourishes babies with less gas.
Best Organic Baby Formulas
Many families have already gone organic with their own nutrition, so it's only natural that they would want to pass this way of eating on to their newest addition. If you have concerns about potential chemicals or pesticides that may be present in your food sources, then organic formula is the way to go for your baby, as well.
As with any organic products, organic formula must be created with certified organic ingredients and processing aids. But it's important to remember that just because something says "organic" doesn't automatically mean it's optimal nutrition. Continue to look for lactose as the main carbohydrate source.
Here are our two top organic infant formulas:
What's to Love: Happy Baby Organic formula provides complete nutrition for your little one through their entire first year of life. They pride themselves on only including carefully sourced, premium ingredients in a formula that's also modeled after breastmilk. This includes lactose (that comes from cows raised on organic farms) which is also the principal carb found in breastmilk. Other notable characteristics of this formula include:
- 4x more prebiotics than most other organic formula
- no corn syrup solids
- easy to digest
Many parents of babies with sensitive stomachs found this organic formula to be the perfect fit as well as a great "plan B" when breastfeeding was no longer an option.
What's to Love: Earth's Best's number one goal with their formulas is to provide your baby the perfect nourishment as they grow. And that includes a milk-base that comes from cows only fed certified organic grain and hay free from synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. This particular formula is their closest to breastmilk with it's prebiotic fiber for immunity and Omega-3 DHA and Omega-6 ARA for increased cognitive and eye development. You'll also love:
- no added corn syrup solids
- USDA-certified organic and made with non-GMO ingredients
Though many parents said they used it for each of their children through the years and appreciate that lactose is the carbohydrate source, some parents have expressed that it makes their baby constipated. This is something to look out for.
Best Store Brand (Most Affordable) Baby Formulas
We just went over our top organic formulas, but organic usually comes with extra dollar signs. Though organic can have its benefits, it does not always mean it's better. If organic is not in your budget, don't worry. You can give your baby a very healthy formula with the right mix of nutritional components for growth and still stick to a budget.
Formula, in general, can get expensive. After all, your baby eats a lot! Our best tips for saving money on formula include obtaining free samples when you can (you can sign up on certain brands' websites), clipping coupons, purchasing store-bought brands, or buying in bulk (such as from Costco or Sam's Club).
You can often get a store brand infant formula that will have the exact same ingredients as one of the other "trusted" brands. Check your labels and you might find you can save several dollars per container just by choosing the store-brand instead.
Here are our top two store-brand formulas:
What's to Love: It's no secret that Costco can save people big money over time. Infant formula included. When you combine Kirkland's store-brand with buying it in bulk, you can put the money you save towards your baby's other needs. Additionally, you're getting a formula that gives your baby the nutrition they require to grow healthy and strong. Ingredients you'll be proud to give your baby include:
- 2'-FL HMO for immune support
- DHA to support brain developement
- Lutein to support eye development
Customers agree that the value can't be beat for the nutrition offered with this formula. Some parents even bit the bullet to get a Costco membership just to be able to get this formula offering for their baby.
What's to Love: Though not organic, this milk-based formula is made with non-GMO ingredients (prohibiting the use of certain herbicides that contain GMOs), which is something nice to see in a store-brand formula. It's also a gentle, easy to digest formula that gassy babies will likely handle better than other standard milk-based formulas. Other notable ingredients include:
- partially hydrolyzed whey protein, low lactose formula
- contains DHA and Choline, nutrients naturally found in breastmilk
- supports brain development
Many parents have made the switch to this store-brand formula over other name-brand formulas commenting that it's "just as good." But of course, the big difference is its lower price. This is one you may just want to check out on your next Target run!
Ready to warm your baby's bottle of formula? The Baby's Brew is the best bottle warmer on the market (and it's completely portable) so you can give your baby the most comfortable feeding experience no matter which formula you choose. There are 4 temperature settings to choose from and it utilizes slow-heat technology to warm your baby's bottle in 5-10 minutes with no hot spots! (We know you'll love the option of the detachable formula dispenser for mess-free feeding, too.)
Best Baby Formula for Sensitive Tummies
As all new parents know, crying and fussiness is just a fact of having a newborn. Hunger, sleepiness, and overstimulation to a new and exciting outside world all contribute to your baby's normal urge to cry in order to be comforted and get their needs met. But what about when your baby cries uncontrollably for hours and nothing you seem to do helps? It can be overwhelming and make you feel helpless as a parent.
If this is your experience, it's time to consult your pediatrician for help. They will have the best tips, but it's likely they may have you switch formulas to see if that might help. Colicky babies or ones showing discomfort after they eat may need a gentler formula designed with these special needs in mind.
Here are our two best formulas for babies with sensitive stomachs:
What's to Love: Gerber GoodStart SoothePro was formulated for babies experiencing colic, excessive crying, fussiness, and gas. Recently they even made the additions of 2'-FL HMO prebiotic and Probiotics (L.reuteri), making it the first formula of this kind. In fact, studies have shown this combination to reduce crying time by 50%. Gas-reducing benefits come from a special blend of ingredients including:
- a carbohydrate blend with 30% lactose to help ease fussiness
- "comfort proteins" which are small proteins that are easier for your baby's tiny tummy to digest
- expert-recommended DHA
Gerber also prides itself on sustainability. Earth-conscious parents appreciate the new recyclable packaging - the tin made can is a material with an infinite life cycle.
What's to Love: Similac Pro-Sensitive is a low-lactose, gentle formula that was made for babies experiencing discomfort when they eat. Babies with a lactose sensitivity will likely do well with this formula and hopefully see a marked improvement in fussiness and gas. The good thing is that nutrition doesn't have to be sacrificed just because your little one needs a gentler formula. Beneficial ingredients you'll find in other standard formulas are found in this complete formula, too. Such as:
- 2'-FL HMO - an immune-nourishing prebiotic (which is naturally found in breastmilk)
- DHA, Lutein, and Vitamin E for brain and eye development
- Lactose as major carbohydrate
Many parents rely on this formula for their sensitive and gassy babies. But, it is important to note that this formula is not intended for babies with galactosemia who would need a completely lactose-free formula (see below).
Best Soy-Based Baby Formula
All the above formulas are milk-based formulas. Though healthychildren.org expresses that the AAP states "there are few circumstances in which soy formula should be chosen instead of cow milk–based formula in term infants," there are times when it may be necessary. Luckily, they have also stated that "soy protein-based formulas are a safe and nutritionally equivalent alternative to cow milk-based formula for term infants." These are the few times it may be required:
- term infants with galactosemia, hereditary lactase deficiency, or documented transient lactose deficiency.
- infants with a documented allergy to cow's milk who are not also allergic to soy protein
Parents seeking a vegetarian-based diet for their infant may wish to give their baby a soy-based formula, as well. In each of these instances, it's important to consult with your child's pediatrician first.
Here is our top soy-based formula recommendation:
What's to Love: Luckily, babies who have sensitivities to milk-based formulas have an excellent soy-based alternative with ProSobee by Enfamil. It's completely milk-free and gentle on your baby's digestive system while still providing the complete nutrition profile your baby needs to grow and thrive. Notable characteristics of the formula include:
- Omega-3 DHA shown to foster your baby's cognitive development
- great for babies with lactose sensitivities or families who follow a vegetarian or Kosher diet
- perfect blend of vitamins to promote a healthy immune system
Making the switch to a soy-based formula will likely be exactly what your baby needs to feel better. You should see reduced fussiness and crying after feeding time. However, it's also recommended to feed your baby smaller amounts, keep your baby upright while feeding, and burp your baby every 2-3 ounces to reduce any further stomach upset.
The Final Word on the Best Baby Formulas of 2021
There is an abundance of baby formulas available on the market. Just like all the decisions you make for your baby, it's important to remember your baby's unique needs while deciding which baby formula to use. The formula that may be perfect for your niece or your best friend's baby doesn't mean that it's going to work for your little one. With a little research, patience, and experimentation, you'll have the perfect formula for your baby in no time.