As parents, we want to give our children the very best possible nutrition. If you’re going the formula route, you’re likely wondering which is the best formula milk for infants. For those of us located in New Zealand or Australia, there’s good news: formula is strictly regulated by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). Its legislation controls the nutritional profile, ingredients, and packaging of all formula here, so it’s all of good quality.
Still, there are so many options on the market, and some options are better for certain babies. Here are the pros and cons of the different types of infant formula in NZ!
Cow’s Milk Infant Formula
Cow’s milk formula typically has the same nutritional profile regardless of brand or price. It’s also the most commonly used formula, as most babies can tolerate it. You will notice that cow’s milk formula is generally labeled as either whey dominant or casein dominant. This refers to which part of cow’s milk is more abundant in that particular formula. Cow’s milk contains two types of protein - whey and casein. The whey is the watery part, while casein is the curd. Generally speaking, the whey is easier and faster to digest.
Infant formula lists the percentages of casein and whey on the container. You may choose a formula based on this ratio and your baby’s age, as it can mimic breast milk. Breast milk actually contains the same proteins - casein and whey - and has a varying ratio over time. Typically, the first few days of milk supply are whey dominant. After that, mature milk is about 60% whey and 40% casein. As your baby ages, you may have closer to a 50/50 ratio, or 60% casein, 40% whey.
Goat’s Milk and Sheep’s Milk Infant Formula
Some people find that goat or sheep’s milk infant formula is gentler on babies’ stomachs. This is because, although it also contains casein and whey, it contains a different type of casein. Goat’s milk contains beta casein, which is the same as breast milk, while cow’s milk contains alpha casein.
While beta casein is easier to digest, many goats’ or sheeps’ milk formulas are casein dominant. Whey is still the most digestible protein, so a whey dominant formula is likely to be the easiest on your baby’s tummy. It’s also worth noting that this type of formula is not typically a good replacement for a baby with an allergy to cow’s milk. Most allergic babies react to this type of formula, as well.
A2 Infant Formula
A2 infant formula is a cow’s milk formula that contains A2 beta casein, made specifically from cows who produce only the A2 protein. There’s some research that suggests that this type of formula could be gentler on babies’ stomachs, since it’s similar to breast milk which contains beta casein.
Soy Infant Formula
Soy infant formulas are a plant-based alternative to other options, using soya beans as a protein source. Soy is naturally free of lactose (the carbohydrate found in cow’s milk and breast milk), so it may be an option for babies with a cow’s milk allergy. However, some guidelines do not recommend soy infant formula for babies under six months. It’s always best to consult your doctor if you think your baby has an allergy. Even still, soy formula meets the same strict regulations for infant formula in NZ as cow’s milk formula, so it is of good nutrient quality and can help your baby grow and thrive.
Lactose-Free Infant Formula
Lactose-free infant formulas are generally made from cow’s milk but have the lactose removed and substituted with a different carbohydrate. They’re commonly marked as lactose-free, comfort, de-lact, or L.I. There are also plant-based formulas, like soy infant formula, which are lactose-free, as well. As noted above, it’s always best to consult with a health care professional if you think your baby has a lactose allergy. They can provide the best recommendations for replacements for cow’s milk.
Reflux Infant Formula
There are certain formulas created specifically to help deal with infant reflux. These are marked as reflux, anti-reflux, or A.R. They contain thickeners that help the milk stay in the baby’s stomach, which aids in stopping them from regurgitating it. While this could help with reflux, it’s also important to keep in mind that reflux formula may cause constipation. Reflux formula was previously up to 80% casein dominant, but newer formulas are closer to 60%. This change in formulation should help avoid issues with constipation, so be sure to read the label.
Infant reflux can be hard to spot, as it shares signs and symptoms with other conditions. If you think your baby is suffering from reflux or GERD, read more about it in our in-depth blog post here.
Constipation and Colic Infant Formula
Colic and constipation formulas contain a different fat blend and have partially broken down protein, which helps the baby’s digestive system keep things moving. Plus, they have a lower level of lactose sugar, which can aid with colic. Just like with allergies, be sure to check with your doctor if you think your baby is having issues with constipation or colic.
Hydrolysed Infant Formula
Hydrolysed formulas come in two categories - partially hydrolysed (PHF) and extensively hydrolysed (EHF). Both contain a protein source (typically from cow’s milk) that’s broken down into shorter protein chains. PHF contains slightly shorter protein chains and EHF contains very short chains. While PHFs are gentler on the baby’s stomach, EHFs are even more so, and may be used as an alternative for a baby with a cow’s milk protein allergy. These types of formula are often labeled as HA, sensitive, allergy, colic, or constipation.
So, which is the best formula milk for infants? Since infant formula in NZ is so well regulated, it just depends on your baby! Just like us adults, babies are unique. Generally speaking, most babies can handle cow’s milk infant formula. You may choose a formula that is more casein or whey dominant, depending on your baby’s age. You could also opt for a specialized formula at certain times, like when your baby is colicky. Remember, it’s always important to check in with your healthcare professional if you’re worried that your baby is experiencing allergies, constipation, or colic.