The Best Baby Formulas for Your Child’s Needs

Shopping for baby formula can be overwhelming. Here’s what to know.
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By Joanne Chen, Contributing Writer
Updated February 17, 2023
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In an ideal world, it’d be a snap for every mom to breastfeed until baby’s first birthday and beyond, just as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends. In this ideal world, moms would also have a posse of helpers to fetch groceries, clean the house and do chores we otherwise don’t have time for. Money would grow on trees, our breasts would spout milk like fountains and we wouldn’t need more than two hours of sleep, ever.

But in the real world, that’s just not the case—at least, not all the time. Yes, the nutrient-rich contents of breast milk provide babies with exactly what they need, when they need it. But sometimes that breast is exhausted, achy, ungenerous or out of commission because Mom works at an office that’s decidedly not breast pump-friendly. or because she’s undergoing medical treatment. Sometimes baby just can’t nail a good latch. Sometimes mom needs a helping hand or, goodness forbid, a break. And at the end of the day, sometimes baby simply isn’t able to have breast milk. And that’s all okay, because there’s such a thing as baby formula.

Baby formula is engineered to resemble the nutritional composition of breast milk, and contains an assorted array of proteins (typically from cow’s milk but also sometimes soy or even goat’s milk), carbohydrates, fats and vitamins. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strictly regulates these core components.

So what are the different types of baby formula available—and when it comes down to it, is there such a thing as the best baby formula? Here’s what you need to know to find the best formula to suit the needs of your little one.

Types of Baby Formula

Baby formula comes in different consistencies, and small variations in the recipe might make a difference in special circumstances, says Bridget Young, PhD, a breast milk researcher at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Anschutz and founder of

While there’s a wide range of baby formula brands (and multiple options from those brands) to choose from, there are only three overall types of baby formula: powder, liquid concentrate and ready-to-feed. Naturally, there are pros and cons for each, and many moms have a variety on hand so they can use whatever suits the situation.

Powder baby formula

Typically sold in canisters or cartons, powder baby formula needs to be mixed with a specific amount of water before it can be given to baby.

The pros:

  • It’s the least expensive of the three options.
  • The powder lasts a long time, as long as you don’t mix it with water. (Be check the date stamp.)

The cons:

  • It’s not convenient for travel, given the potential for mess.
  • You’ve got to deal with the scoop, meaning more pieces to fiddle with (and wash).
  • Some brands offer single-use travel packets, but they’re, of course, more expensive.
  • You need to make sure your drinking water is safe.
  • It’s not recommended for premature newborns whose immune systems are still forming, since powdered food isn’t sterile.

Liquid concentrate baby formula

This option also requires some mixing and shaking with water, but because it’s liquid you skip the scoop.

The pros:

  • No scoop means less risk for mess.

The cons:

  • It’s more expensive than powder.
  • Once opened, you need to refrigerate and use the entire container within 48 hours, which might not be realistic if you’re using it as a supplement to breastfeeding.

Ready-to-feed baby formula

The name says it all: This type of baby formula is premixed; just open, pour and feed to baby. Choose from single-serve bottles or larger volumes.

The pros:

  • It’s super-easy to use.
  • There’s little danger of contamination and no chance of any errors in preparation.
  • You don’t need to refrigerate unopened bottles. (Once opened, however, you’ll need to keep it cold.)

The cons:

  • Once the ready-to-feed bottle is cracked open, it needs to be finished or discarded after 48 hours of refrigeration.
  • More single-use packaging makes it a less sustainable option.

What To Look For in Baby Formula

Still not sure where to begin when it comes to choosing the best baby formula for your child? Below, find expert-backed tips to find the best formula for babies of all ages, needs and dietary requirements.

Best baby formula for newborns

Breast milk is especially important for brand-new babies. As Steven Abrams, MD, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition explains, breast milk ingredients are dynamic: They constantly change to fulfill a growing infant’s needs, from bolstering their developing immune system to building muscle strength.

Given that baby formula is a set formulation, it’s hard for it to be truly complete. Still, in a pinch, most standard formulas will work for healthy newborns, Arévalo says. The exception is very premature babies (born at 28 to 32 weeks), who would receive specific feeding recommendations from the NICU that could potentially include donor breast milk if the mom can’t supply it. Once baby arrives home, your doctor will recommend the appropriate feeding regimen. For older preemies (born at 32 to 37 weeks) or underweight term babies, baby formula options may open up more.

Best organic baby formula

Organic baby formula is sourced from cows raised on an organic diet (no pesticides, no antibiotics), and uses naturally derived vitamins instead of those made from petroleum. Remember though, just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s automatically free of other controversial ingredients, such as corn syrup, palm oil or hexane-sourced DHA and ARA. (Hexane, a byproduct of petroleum refining, doesn’t sit well with some parents, though the FDA has deemed its use as a processing agent safe.)

From a strictly scientific standpoint, it’s not certain that organic baby formula is better than conventional. What is certain is that it’s pricier and that “there’s no difference nutrition-wise,” Arévalo says. Still, if your wallet can handle it—and going organic gives you peace of mind—give it a try, Young says.

Whatever you decide, it’s important to remember that the best organic baby formula is one that answers the needs of your child, so if you can’t find an option that checks all the boxes (for example, baby needs hydrolyzed proteins for digestive issues), then it’s better to go with the formulation baby requires, whether it’s organic or not, Arévalo says. The best formula for baby is one that fulfills all of their nutritional and dietary needs.

Best baby formula for breastfed babies

If you’re supplementing your breast milk with formula, there’s no need to find a special baby formula, Young says. Still, you’ll find some formulas marketed especially for supplementing.

Most importantly, the best baby formula for breastfed babies is less about the product and more about the protocol. Each time you don’t feed baby from the breast, your milk ducts get the signal that there’s less demand, and produce less milk. To avoid a dip in your supply, pump when you can to make up for the missed breastfeeding session.

Best baby formula for gassy babies

“All babies have gas,” says Young. “Babies eventually learn how to eliminate it themselves.” So before searching for the best formula for gassy babies, make sure your child isn’t excessively gassy for other reasons. Feed baby upright, always with their head above their tummy. Choose a bottle nipple that flows more slowly, and burp baby more frequently. If you’re using powder formula, let the bubbles settle before the feeding starts, or try using a liquid concentrate or ready-to-feed formulation. Angled and vented bottles can help reduce gas too.

In rare cases, gassy babies may be sensitive to lactose, a sugar naturally found in cow’s milk (and therefore most baby formulas). Lactose is also in breast milk, but breast milk contains other compounds that help baby digest it, explains Young. In this case, the best baby formula for gas, may be a partially hydrolyzed option with no or low lactose.

That said, even a “no lactose” baby formula typically contains a smidge of lactose, so if your child is completely intolerant, talk to your pediatrician about a soy formula, adds Melanie Greifer, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Health in New York City. However, the AAP doesn’t recommend a soy formula for babies that weigh less than 3.96 pounds.

Best baby formula for constipation

It’s not easy to poop lying down, so if baby looks like they’re putting in a lot of effort, just know that it’s completely normal. However, if they’re straining for more than 10 minutes—or if they’re pooping noticeably less than before—your little one might be constipated. Other clues include fussiness, hard stools and unusually frequent spit-up.

Before you switch formulas, try to help baby poop by laying them on their back and “bicycling” their legs or giving them a warm bath. Contrary to popular belief, iron-fortified baby formula doesn’t cause constipation (and, in fact, is helpful to baby’s growth), according to the AAP.

Best baby formula for colic

A colicky baby is defined as an otherwise healthy baby under 3 months of age who cries for more than three hours a day, more than three days a week and for more than three weeks in a row for no apparent reason, much to the distress of their caregivers. Doctors aren’t sure exactly what causes colic, but it’s natural to wonder whether their baby formula has something to do with it. (And yes, gastrointestinal issues could be a part of the problem.)

But before you switch your baby formula, “give it at least a week or two,” Arévalo says, and see if any tips and tricks for relieving a gassy or constipated baby help. That said, if your child is also vomiting; coughing and wheezing; has trouble breathing; breaks out in a rash; gets diarrhea and/or has itchy, watery or swollen eyes, they might be sensitive to the protein in formula, or—in the case of the more severe symptoms—an all-out milk-protein allergy, says Greifer. If digestive troubles are the cause for baby’s extreme fussiness, talk to your pediatrician about trying partially hydrolyzed proteins, advises Young.

If a baby formula specifically designed for colic doesn’t work, you may need to try an option made with thoroughly hydrolyzed proteins. The proteins in these formulas are broken down into even smaller units so baby’s immune system won’t revolt against them. A switch to a fully hydrolyzed option shouldn’t be taken lightly though, since these types of baby formula tend to taste bitter and have an unpleasant odor, says Young. To merit the change, baby should be diagnosed as having a full-on milk protein allergy. Keep in mind that switching to a soy-based formula wouldn’t necessarily help either, because as many as half of all infants allergic to milk protein are also allergic to soy protein.

All in all, be aware that special formulas that feature bonus ingredients, such as probiotics or DHA, are touted as offering particular benefits for baby, but experts say this is largely just marketing. “Take it with a hefty grain of salt,” says Kimberly Gronsman Lee, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. “Any infant formula that’s sold in the US should be FDA regulated and acceptable in terms of nutrition.”

How To Find Baby Formula When Your Store Is Out

If you run out of formula and can’t find it at your regular stores, call around to pharmacies and baby supply stores in your area. These places aren’t often top-of-mind for shoppers on the hunt for formula, and they may still have some in stock. You can also ask your pediatrician if they have any samples to tide you over. If you typically receive and use WIC or SNAP benefits to purchase formula and don’t see your WIC products, contact your local food bank or women’s shelter. (Your state may also allow you to use WIC for a larger selection of products when certain formulas are out of stock.)

If you can’t find your typical brand and type of baby formula, consider switching to whatever is available. While changing brands and types of formula can be okay for some babies, others might experience discomfort as they adjust to the new formula. If you’re concerned that baby won’t handle a new formula well, or if baby has special dietary needs and you’re not sure what to get, contact your pediatrician. The AAP warns against feeding baby cow’s milk or watered-down formula, or trying to make your own homemade version of formula as a replacement, as that could be dangerous for baby’s health. (For more resources on navigating the baby formula shortage, click here.)

The Best Baby Formulas for Your Child’s Needs

For most healthy babies, the formula that’s in the baby-care package that your hospital sends you home with will probably do just fine, says Sandra Arévalo, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. These are typically made with cow’s-milk protein (which is a combination of 80 percent casein protein and 20 percent whey protein) plus whey protein concentrate, so the protein ratio more closely resembles breast milk (which is 60 percent whey and 40 percent casein). But there are certainly times you may want to try something different.

The fact is, there’s no single option that’s universally the best formula for all babies. So how do you know what the best baby formula for your child will be? Start with your pediatrician. Discuss any allergies or dietary issues you might have, along with any nutritional concerns or worries about allergies for baby. From there, your pediatrician can give you guidance to help you choose the best formula for your little one.

Ultimately, choosing the best formula for baby is about paying close attention to how your child’s body responds to the formula you try. It’s also essential that you purchase your baby formula safely: Make sure that it’s not expired, that it’s sealed correctly and that the packaging is in good condition. If you try a formula and baby doesn’t seem to be reacting well, contact your pediatrician to discuss what to do next.

Now that you have all the facts, you’re well-equipped to pick out the best baby formula for your little one. Below, browse top-rated baby formula options for every age, need and dietary restriction.

Overall best baby formula

Packed with nutrients to support baby throughout their first year? Check. Dual prebiotics for easy digestion? Check. Recommended by pediatricians? Check. Enfamil’s Infant Formula has everything we’re looking for when it comes to naming the best baby formula. The gentle powder closely resembles the nutritional makeup of breast milk, containing essentials like DHA and choline. You can count on this top-rated baby formula to help baby grow from their head to their toes, as well as support their immune system and cognitive development.

What We Love
  • Closely resembles the nutrients found in breast milk
  • Easy to digest, thanks to dual prebiotics
  • Free from GMOs, added sugar, artificial growth hormones and antibiotics
  • Also available as a ready-to-feed formula
Things To Consider
  • Once prepared, use within one hour or discard

Best formula for newborns

Kendamil Stage 1 Powder Infant Formula
Image: Target
Buying Options
Target | $33.99

This European formula for newborns is thoughtfully made from milk sourced from grass-fed cows, resulting in a creamy taste your little one will love. It contains a blend of whole milk with a 60 percent whey and 40 percent casein protein ratio to reduce tummy discomfort after eating. Plus, it features an array of supportive nutrients, like DHA, ARA and HMOs, to promote baby’s brain, vision and immune system development.

What We Love
  • Reviewers say that this powder works well as a supplementing formula
  • Made with DHA, ARA and HMOs
  • Free of palm oil, soy oil, corn syrup, gluten and GMOs
Things To Consider
  • Included scoop uses metric measurements
  • Not organic

Best infant formula

Searching for a top-notch infant formula you can count on throughout baby’s first year? This powder has got you covered. The milk-based, iron-fortified blend is full of the key nutrients naturally found in breast milk, such as DHA, lutein and vitamin E. The result? An infant formula that you can count on to foster brain and eye development.

What We Love
  • Made with key nutrients, including DHA, lutein and vitamin E
  • Free of palm olein oil and artificial growth hormones
Things To Consider
  • Contains soy

Best toddler formula

This organic baby formula for toddlers is designed for little ones who are 12 months or older. When feeding your child, you can rest assured knowing they’re receiving the nutrients they need to achieve new milestones. The toddler formula is packed with calcium to promote strong bones, vitamin D—which offers immune support—and choline to foster healthy cognitive development.

What We Love
  • Specifically designed for children between 12 and 36 months
  • Contains calcium, vitamin D and choline
Things To Consider
  • High price point
  • Some say it’s not fast-dissolving

Best organic baby formula

On the hunt for a standout organic baby formula? Look no further than this option from Happy Baby, which has hundreds of five-star reviews. The certified-organic baby formula is iron-fortified and includes calcium, vitamin D, DHA, ARA, folic acid and choline, plus prebiotics to mimic breast milk. It has no gluten or corn syrup—however, it does contain palm oil.

What We Love
  • Made with prebiotics and probiotics to support digestive health
  • Contains DHA and ARA to promote eye and brain development
  • Certified USDA organic, non-GMO and gluten-free
Things To Consider
  • Contains palm oil

Best hypoallergenic baby formula

Little ones who are sensitive to cow’s milk may benefit from a hypoallergenic baby formula instead of a typical milk-based powder. This parent-approved pick has thousands of five-star reviews—and it’s easy to see why. Packed with the good stuff (like DHA, ARA and choline), the gentle baby formula supports infants’ growth while also providing relief from symptoms of colic and eczema. The result? A happier, healthier baby—and a more well-rested parent.

What We Love
  • May reduce symptoms of colic and eczema in babies who are sensitive to cow’s milk
  • Contains DHA, ARA and choline
  • Supports baby’s immune system
Things To Consider
  • Relatively high price point

Best formula for breastfed babies

This option from Similac checks all of the boxes on our list when it comes to being the best formula to supplement breastfeeding. The powder has been thoughtfully created to match the nutrients found in breast milk, and features key ingredients such as DHA and ARA. Best of all? One can of formula makes up to 188 4-oz. bottles.

What We Love
  • Made with DHA and ARA to aid healthy cognitive development
  • Free of artificial growth hormones, antibiotics and palm olein oil
  • One can makes approximately 188 4-oz. bottles
Things To Consider
  • Not organic

Best soy baby formula

Gerber Good Start Gentle Soy Powder Baby Formula
Image: Gerber

Infants who are lactose-intolerant may be better suited to a soy baby formula, like this one from Gerber. The plant-based powder is milk- and lactose-free, of course, making it perfect for families who follow special dietary guidelines or little ones who are sensitive to cow’s milk. What’s more, it contains nourishing DHA levels to support baby’s cognitive growth.

What We Love
  • Made with plant-based proteins
  • Contains DHA for healthy brain development
Things To Consider
  • Not suitable for babies who weigh less than 3.96 pounds

Best formula for gassy babies

up & up Gentle Non-GMO Powder Infant Formula
Image: Target
Buying Options
Target | $19.99

Does your little one suffer from painful or excessive gas on a regular basis? If so, consider choosing a formula for gassy babies. This gentle, non-GMO powder consists of partially broken-down proteins that are simpler for sensitive tummies to digest. It contains two prebiotics (DHA and choline) naturally found in breast milk that foster brain and immune system development—plus, it can be consumed by infants from birth up until their first birthday.

What We Love
  • Has partially broken-down proteins that are easier to digest
  • Contains two prebiotics to support healthy development
  • Affordable price point compared to other formulas for gassy babies
Things To Consider
  • Some reviewers say the formula clumps up easily

Best goat milk baby formula

Similar to formula made from cow milk, goat milk baby formula has been found to support growth and development in infants, according to the AAP. Want to make the switch? Try this option from the Australian-based brand Bubs. The goat milk formula has been thoughtfully formulated with tiny tummies in mind, and naturally contains the easy-to-digest A2 casein protein.

What We Love
  • Naturally contains A2 casein protein
  • Free from artificial colors, flavors and preservatives
Things To Consider
  • Suitable for babies between 0 to 6 months

Best baby formula for colic

Among the best baby formulas for colic, Gerber Good Start SoothePro contains 100 percent whey protein partially broken down, which is easier to digest than casein proteins. It also contains L. reuteri, a probiotic that can help with colic, according to some studies, as well as a prebiotic called Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMO), which research has shown to support digestive health and the developing immune system.

What We Love
  • Contains specific probiotics and prebiotics to reduce colic symptoms
  • Made with DHA to support eye and brain development
  • Non-GMO
Things To Consider
  • Some reviewers say the scoop is an awkward size
  • High price point

Best store brand baby formula

Parent's Choice Gentle Infant Milk-Based Baby Formula
Image: Walmart
Buying Options
Walmart | $19.98

Opting for a store-brand baby formula doesn’t mean your child will miss out on the essential nutrients they need. Case in point: This powder from Walmart. The baby formula is made with partially broken-down proteins so that it’s gentler on your little love’s tummy and offers complete nutrition for infants from birth through their first birthday. To promote healthy cognitive development, it also contains DHA and choline.

What We Love
  • Made with partially broken-down proteins, DHA and choline
  • Affordable price point
Things To Consider
  • Some parents say it can cause constipation at times

Best baby formula for constipation

All kids’ needs are different, of course, but this option from Earth’s Best is among the best baby formulas for constipation, according to many online reviewers. It offers up partially hydrolyzed protein to ease tummy troubles—plus, it contains 95 percent less lactose compared to other standard milk-based formulas to support healthy digestion. Other nutrient-rich ingredients that can be found in this baby formula for constipation include DHA, ARA, lutein and prebiotics.

What We Love
  • USDA organic, non-GMO and Kosher certified
  • Contains partially hydrolyzed protein and prebiotics to promote healthy digestion
Things To Consider
  • Contains palm oil and soy

Best baby formula subscription

Bobbie Organic Infant Formula Subscription
Image: Bobbie

With everything on your plate as a new parent, some important tasks inevitably fall through the cracks. Thankfully, this baby formula brand allows you to cross one errand off your to-do list with ease, thanks to its convenient subscription service. Simply choose the number of cans you need—and, voilà, they’ll be delivered to your doorstep each month. What’s more, this organic baby formula is made from grass-fed, pasture-raised milk and packed with plenty of nutrients like zinc, vitamin C, DHA and a healthy balance of whey and casein.

What We Love
  • Certified USDA organic formula packed with nutrients
  • Transparent ingredients list on their website
  • Flexible subscription service
Things To Consider
  • Containers don’t come with scoopers

About the experts:

Kimberly Gronsman Lee, MD, is board-certified in pediatrics and neonatal-perinatal medicine, and is an associate professor of pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. Her clinical interests lie in breastfeeding and feeding difficulties. She earned her medical degree from Wayne State University School of Medicine and her master’s degree from Harvard School of Public Health.

Bridget Young, PhD, CLC, is a breast milk researcher at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Anschutz and has a PhD in perinatal and pediatric nutrition from Cornell University. She’s also a certified lactation consultant and the founder of

Sandra Arévalo, MPH, RDN, CDN, CDE, is a registered dietician-nutritionist and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She also serves as director of nutrition services and community outreach at Community Pediatrics, a program of Montefiore and The Children’s Health Fund.

Steven Abrams, MD, is chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition and professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Dell Medical School in Austin. He earned his medical degree from Ohio State University and completed a fellowship in neonatal-perinatal medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. From 2012 to 2015, he served as a member of the Dietary Advisory Committee of the US Department of Agriculture.

Melanie Greifer, MD, is a pediatric gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Health in New York City and a clinical associate professor of pediatrics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. She earned her medical degree from SUNY Brooklyn, and completed her fellowship in gastroenterology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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