What's the best milk for my baby?
Deciding how to feed your baby isn’t always a simple decision. Before birth, you might plan to breastfeed, but end up bottle feeding using infant formula – or vice versa.
If you’re considering feeding your baby with infant formula, read on for a guide to feeding and milk.
Breastfeeding is best for your baby
The NHS recommends that breastfeeding is the best option for new mums. Your breast milk is designed perfectly for your baby, and helps protect them from illness and infection. Breastfeeding has some health benefits for you too, including lowering your risk of certain cancers.
The act of breastfeeding can also help build the bond between you and your baby. As an added bonus, your milk can be supplied whenever it’s needed, and it’s free!
With all this in mind, it’s advised that new mums give their babies only breast milk for the first six months of their life. This may be through a combination of breastfeeding, and expressing milk for bottle feeding.
Bottle feeding with infant formula is a safe alternative
Breastfeeding from birth might not be right for you. If that’s the case, bottle feeding with infant formula (i.e. powdered baby milk) is a safe and reliable option. Infant formula doesn’t offer the same benefits as breast milk, but it will still feed and nourish your baby.
If you do use infant formula, you can give it to your baby up until they’re one. Normally, you shouldn’t give your baby formula milk after this point, unless you’ve been told to by a medical professional or spoken to a health visitor.
Choosing an infant formula milk
If you’re planning to feed your baby formula from birth, always look for first infant formula, or first milk.
First infant milk is designed for newborns, but you can give it to your child until they’re one. It’s based on whey protein from cow’s milk, which is thought to be easier for little babies to digest than other types of cows’ milk protein.
Other types of baby milk, like follow-on formula or soy formula, won’t be suitable for new babies, but can be given from about six months.
Bear in mind that different types of formula look quite similar, so when you’re choosing your baby’s milk, make sure you read the label carefully.
Types of formula milk for new babies
First infant milk
First milk is based on cows’ milk and is specially designed to be given to babies from birth. A first milk container should normally say “first infant milk” and “from birth” on the front. Lots of different brands manufacture first milk formula, including Aptamil and Cow & Gate.
You can get first infant milk derived from goats’ milk rather than cows’ milk. This is just as safe for new babies, but is not a good alternative for babies who are allergic to cows’ milk.
If your baby is having a lot of reflux, where they bring up milk after being fed, talk to your GP, health visitor or midwife.
You might be able to give your baby anti-reflux or “staydown” formula. This is a baby milk powder that’s thickened to help your baby keep it down. It shouldn’t be given without getting advice from a medical professional first.
If you think your baby is lactose intolerant, you should speak to your GP, health visitor or midwife. With their support, you should be able to feed your baby safely with a lactose-free formula. Lactose intolerance in babies is rare, but symptoms include diarrhoea, wind and bloating.
Soy formula is not a good alternative for babies under six months who are lactose intolerant.
If you think your baby has an allergy to cows’ milk, you should speak to your GP, health visitor or midwife. They should be able to prescribe a hypoallergenic formula containing cows’ milk proteins that have been fully broken down, or “hydrolysed”. In this form, the proteins are safe for your baby.
Hypoallergenic formula is different to comfort formula, which is supposed to aid with digestion and prevent colic and constipation. Comfort formula contains partially hydrolysed cows’ milk proteins, while hypoallergenic formula contains fully hydrolysed cows’ milk proteins. For this reason, comfort milk isn’t suitable for babies with a cows’ milk allergy.
Soy formula is not a good alternative for babies under six months who are allergic to cows’ milk.
Types of formula milk for older babies
Babies can be fed with first infant milk until they turn one. If you’ve fed your baby first infant milk from birth, you can keep giving them the same milk. If you’re making the switch from breast milk, you can also use first infant milk.
Lots of brands offer follow-on formula, which is designed for older babies. This type of baby milk isn’t suitable for babies under six months and isn’t thought to have more benefits than first infant milk. If you want to switch to follow-on formula, you can, but the NHS advice is that first infant milk continues to be suitable up to one year of age.
Soy milk formula can be given to babies older than six months, but you should get approval from a medical professional first.
Types of milk to avoid
If your baby is under one year of age, there are some milks you should avoid:
- Condensed or evaporated milk
- Dried milk
- Cows’, goats’ or sheep’s milk as a drink (they can be used in cooking)
- Rice, oat or almond milk
Preparing baby milk safely
To feed your baby safely with formula milk, you’ll need to make sure the feeding equipment (e.g. bottle, teats) has been sterilised. Click here for guidance from the NHS on preparing formula milk for your baby.