Top 9 Dairy-Free and Alternative Infant Formulas

Once you’ve made the decision to give your baby formula, whether that’s from day one or later in their first year of life, it can be difficult to make a decision with the numerous options available. Even harder still is when you need to choose a dairy-free, hypoallergenic or lactose-free formula.

But if your baby was diagnosed with a milk allergy while breastfeeding or the typical cow’s milk formulas are leaving your baby with skin or digestion issues, you’ll need to start looking into the alternative infant formula options available. Here we’ll give you your best options to discuss with your baby’s doctor so you can help your baby be healthy and happy. 

Reasons to Choose a Non-Dairy or Alternative Formula

For most babies, a cow’s milk based formula is best. However, there are times when parents need to start looking to alternative formulas that are non-dairy or have a reduced amount of lactose.

Breastfed babies who develop noticeable changes in behavior or health when the mother eats a particular food may have a food sensitivity or allergy. Mothers often work to eliminate particular foods from their diet in working with their baby’s pediatrician. According to Kelly Mom, cow’s milk products are the most common problem food that a mother may eat (though there are others). 

If it is determined that a baby has a cow’s milk allergy or sensitivity, the baby’s symptoms will usually clear up when the mother stops eating dairy foods. But if a mother needs to supplement or switch to formula, she’ll need to give her baby a formula that’s not milk-based. 

A cow’s milk allergy (triggers an immune response) or sensitivity (triggers a digestive response) are two of the reasons why a baby may need a non-dairy formula. 

If your baby has any of the following symptoms, you’ll likely want to speak to your doctor about choosing a dairy-free or lactose free formula:

  • Colic - cries for more than 3 hours a day for 3 days a week for at least 3 weeks
  • Lots of gas
  • Large amounts of spit up and signs of acid reflux
  • Constipation or diarrhea

Parents often assume that if their baby is experiencing these symptoms, dairy-free is the only way to go. But it’s important to determine what in the dairy formula is causing your baby’s issues. This is why it’s so important to work with your doctor when making this decision. 

Vegan parents who want the same for their children may also choose a non-dairy formula.

Cow’s Milk Protein Intolerance (CMPI Facts) Vs. Lactose Intolerance

According to La Leche League International, a baby’s reaction to dairy is usually due to an allergy or sensitivity to the proteins in cow’s milk. When a mother consumes dairy products, large protein molecules from the cow’s milk can pass into human milk and can cause digestive upset for a sensitive baby. 

Baby with CMPI

Babies with cow’s milk protein intolerance may show the following symptoms:

  • Wheezing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Rash
  • Eczema

Healthline writes that up to 7 percent of formula-fed babies and about 1% of breastfed babies are allergic to cow’s milk protein. If it is determined by your baby’s healthcare provider that your baby has a cow’s milk protein intolerance or allergy, then you will need to choose a dairy-free formula. In this situation, you’ll need to choose a soy-based or hypoallergenic formula.

Lactose Intolerant Baby

Though the cow’s milk protein may be the culprit for many babies, for others it may actually be that they are lactose intolerant. This means your baby struggles to break down lactose, which is the sugar in the milk. 

So how can you tell the difference? It can be tricky, so your safest bet is to always talk to your doctor. Though babies with a milk allergy need to avoid dairy completely, lactose intolerant babies simply need a formula with a nutritional profile that has a reduced amount of (or is free from) lactose. If your baby is experiencing some of the  digestive-related symptoms from up above, but your doctor does not find that they have a milk protein intolerance or allergy, then it may be wise to try a reduced-lactose formula.

9 Best Baby Formulas for Babies Needing Dairy or Lactose-Free Formula

It can be difficult to have a baby with skin irritations or digestive issues due to a sensitivity or allergy to cow’s milk (and just the process alone of figure out what’s wrong can be really overwhelming). Luckily, brands are meeting the needs of these babies and there are several options that can work well for your baby to get them back to feeling their best. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding or using cow’s milk-based formulas when possible, so you won’t want to make the choice lightly about using an alternative formula. Additionally, non-dairy and reduced-lactose formulas are also usually more expensive. However, some babies will do best with one of the formulas below, but be sure to consult with your doctor before choosing something other than a cow’s milk formula.

Here we have our top nine alternative infant formulas broken out into three categories depending on what your unique baby needs. Once you have chosen a formula for your baby and you’re using helpful product to prepare your baby’s bottle, such as the Baby’s Brew, we hope you can finally rest at ease that your baby is getting exactly what he needs. 

Soy-Based Non-Dairy Formulas

Soy-based formulas are completely free of dairy which means there are no milk proteins or lactose within it. Parents can rest assured that these formulas are just as good as other cow’s milk-based formulas when it comes to giving your baby the nutrition they require. For vegan parents wanting their baby to have a vegan diet, these are a great choice. Babies diagnosed with the rare condition galactosemia will also need a dairy-free formula and soy-based is usually suggested.

These are three of the top soy-based infant formulas available:

  1. Earth’s Best Non-GMO Plant Based Infant Formula with Iron (Soy Based Powder)
  2. Enfamil ProSobee Soy Infant Formula
  3. Similac Soy Isomil

Though some Babies with a cow’s milk protein intolerance may do well with a soy-based formula, it’s not always the optimal first-choice. This is because many babies with a cow’s milk protein allergy will also be allergic to soy proteins. Complete Children’s Health writes that around 60% of babies with CMPI will also develop an intolerance to soy proteins. So if you find that a soy-based formula is not working for your baby, you will want to consider one of the hypoallergenic formulas below.

Hypoallergenic Formulas (Free of Milk Proteins, Lactose, and Soy)

So if your baby’s pediatrician and/or allergist have determined that a CMPI is the cause of your baby’s skin or digestion issues, you may want to avoid the soy formulas and go straight for the hypoallergenic formulas.

Interestingly enough, hypoallergenic formulas are typically made with cow’s milk. However, they are processed so that the allergy-causing protein is broken down in advance, making them easier to digest. Be sure to choose a formula specifically labeled as “hypoallergenic” instead of those that are labeled as “partially hydrolyzed.”

The following are three top-recommended hypoallergenic formulas that will be tolerated by the majority of babies with milk allergies:

  1. Neocate Syneo Infant Hypoallergenic Amino-Acid Based
  2. Similac Alimentum
  3. Gerber Extensive HA

Lactose-Free and Low-Lactose Formulas

Babies who don’t have a milk-protein allergy, but still experience digestive issues such as bloating, diarrhea, and gas may be lactose-intolerant. Some babies don’t produce enough of the lactase enzyme, which is needed to properly digest lactose. It’s important to know that low-lactose and lactose-free formulas are still made from dairy, they have just had the amount of lactose reduced or removed altogether. 

Though some research suggests that few babies truly need a lactose-free formula, choosing one of the formulas below may be worth a try if the cow’s milk formulas you’ve tried aren’t working for your baby:

  1. Earth’s Best Organic Sensitivity Reduced Lactose Formula
  2. Similac Pro-Sensitive Formula
  3. HappyBaby Organic Reduced Lactose

RELATED: Steps for Feeding Your Baby Infant Formula

What about goat’s milk formulas?

Many parents wonder if they can give their dairy-sensitive baby goat’s milk formula instead. Though many babies who are allergic to cow’s milk often react negatively to goat’s milk as well, according to Healthline, many people with a cow’s milk allergy don’t experience the same allergy to goat’s milk. This may be because it’s easier to digest due to its higher protein, yet lower lactose, content. 

One popular brand of goat’s milk infant formula is Holle. We recommend discussing goat’s milk formula with your baby’s pediatrician if they are showing signs and symptoms of a cow’s milk formula allergy or sensitivity. 

Making the Right Alternative Formula Choice

Though most babies will tolerate the first formula that comes their way (cow’s milk formulas are typically suggested as the first choice), some parents will quickly notice skin irritations or digestive issues that seem to be a result of the formula. 

At this point, it’s important not to hesitate and reach out to your baby’s doctor right away. They will be able to help you determine the next best steps so you can help your baby be back to feeling good as soon as possible. We recommend using this list of formulas in conjunction with your baby’s pediatrician in order to make the best choice.

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