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Infant formula is the only safe alternative to breastmilk for the first 12 months of your baby’s life.

Facts about formula

What is formula?
Infant formula is not the same as cow’s milk. All infant formula has added vitamins and enzymes and different fats that babies need, which they can’t get from straight cow’s milk. This is why experts say you shouldn’t give cow’s milk to your baby as the main milk drink until your baby is over 12 months old.

Which formula is best?
Every formula you can buy in Australia meets strict Australian Standards. 

There is a range of cow’s milk formulas on the supermarket shelves. Most of them are of similar quality and nutritional value.

Some expensive formulas have special additional ingredients. You can pay more for this kind of formula. On the whole, though, there is no significant evidence that these formulas are better. There is some evidence that formula with added LCPs, naturally found in breastmilk, assists in brain development. 

A brand might be more expensive, but that doesn’t mean it’s better for your baby. A hospital’s use of a particular brand of formula does not mean that brand is the ‘best’.

Preparing formula
Infant formulas are most commonly available in powder form. The formula is prepared by adding the powder to cooled boiled water. Until your baby is 12 months old, it’s very important to sterilise bottles, teats and water. This will stop the formula from being contaminated by any bacteria that might make your baby sick.

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You can also read more about how to bottle-feed

Soy formula

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)  recommends regular formula over soy milk formula for most infants.

This is because consuming high levels of soy can have potential risks for young children. In particular, the NHMRC notes that phytoestrogen compounds in soy formula might affect the growing neuro-endocrine systems and immune system. But there is no compelling research to either prove or disprove that these compounds harm infants.

If you don’t want to use regular formula, soy formula will provide your child with all necessary nutrients. For example, you might be vegan and want a vegan diet for your child. Your baby can’t get necessary nutrients from soy milk for adults.

Some infants are allergic to both cow’s milk and formula. If you think your baby has an allergy, talk to your doctor before switching to a different formula.

Formula with LCPs, betacarotene and probiotics

Some formula has the following elements added to make it closer in composition to breastmilk:

  • LCPs: these are important for brain and nerve development. There is no clear evidence that babies can (or cannot) absorb ingredients such as LCPs when they are added to formula. Research has shown, however, that formula with added LCPs might be helpful for premature babies’ development.
  • Betacarotene: this is a source of vitamin A and anti-oxidants. Most formulas already have added vitamin A and anti-oxidants. There is no real evidence that beta-carotene formulas are better for your baby.
  • Probiotics: these can help formula-fed babies grow healthy bacteria in their bowels. The bacteria might help your baby have softer poo and less nappy rash. It might also help reduce the chance of gastroenteritis.
You should note that having the same ingredients doesn’t necessarily mean formula will work in your baby’s body the same way breastmilk does. Formulas with LCPs, beta-carotene or probiotics added might be more expensive than other formulas.

Changing formula

Once you’ve settled on a formula for your baby, it’s better not to change formulas too often. This might upset your baby’s feeding routine.

Follow-on formula
Some parents change to a ‘follow-on formula’ when their baby reaches six months:

  • Follow-on formula should not be given to babies under six months.
  • Babies older than six months need follow-on formula only if they are not getting an adequate variety of solid foods in their diets.
  • If babies have been started on a diet of healthy solids, they’ll be getting all the nutrients they need from those and their original formula.
If you do decide to change formula, read the directions carefully as different formulas have different-sized scoops and are made up in different ways.
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  • Last Updated 17-12-2009
  • Last Reviewed 12-10-2009
  • Agostoni, C., Decsi, T., Fewtrell, M., Goulet, O., Kolacek, S., et al. (2008). Complementary feeding: A commentary by the ESPGHAN Committee on Nutrition. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, 46, 99–110.

    American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition (1992). The use of whole cow’s milk in infancy. Pediatrics, 89, 1105–9.

    Isolauri, E., et al. (2002). Functional foods and probiotics: Working group report of the First World Congress of Pediatric Gastroenterology - Hepatology and Nutrition. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterol Nutrition, 35, S106-S109.

    Makrides, M., et al. (2000). A critical appraisal of the role of dietary Long-Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on neural indices of term infants: A randomized, controlled trial. Pediatrics, 105(1), 32.

    National Health and Medical Research Council (2003). Dietary guidelines for children and adolescents in Australia incorporating the infant feeding guidelines for health workers. Commonwealth of Australia.