Best formula for newborns: Baby formula in Australia

Everything you need to know

May 30 2019

Infant formula is designed, as far as possible, to mimic breastmilk. Every formula for sale in Australia has to meet strict Australian standards so all are safe to feed your baby.

There is a wide variety of types on the market and, if you’re bottle feeding, it can be hard to know which one to choose. You should consult your GP or paediatrician before deciding which one to feed your baby but here is a guide to the different types.

Cow’s milk-based formula
Most formula milk is based on modified cow’s milk and it is the type recommended for most babies. The protein in milk can be broken down into curds (casein) and whey. Casein is lumpy and whey is watery.

First-stage formula is mostly based on whey and has a ratio of casein to whey of 40:60, which is about the same as breastmilk. It is thought to be easier for babies to digest than casein-based milk and is suitable from birth to one year.

There is no special newborn formula or a best formula for newborns; if you are struggling to breastfeed and need to top up with formula, a first-stage whey-based cow’s milk formula is usually all you need.

Second-stage or follow-on formula has a casein: whey ratio of 80:20. The higher concentration of casein means this formula is not suitable for babies under one year.

First-stage formula has all the nutrients your baby needs. There’s no evidence that follow-on formula has any advantages.

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Goat’s milk-based formula
Formula based on goat milk is produced to the same nutritional standards as those based on cow’s milk. If your baby has an allergy to cow’s milk they are likely to react to goat milk too since the proteins are very similar.

Hydrolysed-protein formula
These formulas are based on cow’s milk and have the same nutritional value but the protein in the milk is broken down. Fully hydrolysed or extensively hydrolysed formula is specially designed for babies with a diagnosed allergy or intolerance to cow’s milk and is generally lactose free.

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy infant feeding guidelines don’t recommend hydrolysed formula for the prevention of allergies. But for babies with a diagnosed cow’s milk allergy or intolerance, the Royal Australian College of Physicians recommends using fully hydrolysed formula.

If you think your baby has an allergy or intolerance to cow’s milk, always see your doctor first before changing their milk. If a specialist doctor diagnoses an allergy to cow’s milk they may prescribe a hydrolysed-protein formula, but if your baby is only intolerant to cow’s milk they may suggest buying a lactose-free formula instead.

Partially hydrolysed formula is made completely from whey protein and is marketed as being easier to digest for babies suffering from colic or wind but there’s no firm evidence that this is the case. It’s not suitable for babies with an allergy to cow’s milk as not all of the milk proteins have been broken down.

If you think your baby has an allergy, take them to the GP.

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Soy-based formulas
Some people may choose a soy-based formula if their baby has an allergy or intolerance to cow’s milk, or because of cultural or religious beliefs, but talk to a doctor first.

Consuming high levels of soy may have potential risks to babies, though more research needs to be done. Soy-based formulas don’t prevent or reduce the risk of your child developing allergies.

Specialised formulas
Formula with cereal-based thickener is sometimes prescribed for reflux. If your baby has reflux, see your doctor before changing their formula. Thickened formulas should only be used under medical supervision and are usually not prescribed for babies under six months.

There are also other formulas available with extra ingredients such as amino acids, prebiotics and probiotics. There is no real evidence to recommend their use.

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Using formula
All baby formula in Australia has to contain very similar ingredients in order to comply with the country’s food standards, so no formula is better than any other. A brand might be more expensive or used in a hospital but that doesn’t mean it’s better for your baby.

Popular brands include S-26, Nestlé NAN, Similac and Karicare (the Karicare company also produces the brand Aptamil). Some brands, such as EleCare, are marketed as being hypoallergenic. Certified organic, Australian-made brands such as Bellamy’s Organic are also popular but non-organic formula is just as nutritious. Prices for formula start at about $10 for a small tin.

Make sure you make up the formula according to the instructions on the tin and use the correct measuring scoop that comes with your brand. Adding too much powder can be bad for constipation.

If you want to change your baby’s formula, consult your doctor. Often, a baby’s problems, such as a minor rash or being unsettled, are not helped by changing the formula and changing formulas often means your baby goes through a few days of transition while their digestive system adjusts to the different formula.

If you think your baby may be allergic or intolerant to their formula, talk to your doctor before you switch brands.

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Milk for older babies
Once a baby is over a year, they can have cow’s milk. Babies under 12 months should not be given cow’s milk. There are also a number of follow-on milks marketed to babies from six months onwards but research hasn’t found any clear benefits. Growing-up or toddler milk is not necessary for breastfed babies or babies who are only drinking cow’s milk. If your child is healthy and eating a variety of foods, they will be getting all the vitamins and nutrients they need.

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