If you have arrived on this page it means you are a New Zealand parent trying to buy the best baby formula you can for your baby. I am here to help you, because we all want to provide the best nutrition we can for our babies.
Why I have written this guide on buying the best baby formula
This article is written for the parent who needs to buy baby formula. The parent who is standing in the supermarket or pharmacy looking at the vast selection of formula worrying that they could make a wrong choice. This article is NOT to debate the benefits for and against breast feeding and formula feeding. There are plenty of articles written on that topic.
My background when it comes to Infant Formula
- I’m a mum, and I have used infant formula
- I have completed 5 years University training in the area of Human Nutrition and worked for 10 years as a Dietitian
- I have been employed by 2 large medical nutrition companies that manufacture infant formula
So when I look at a can of infant formula and read the label, to me it makes sense. BUT I know that that isn’t the case for everyone. So that’s why I have put together this article.
This article will not tell you which specific formula to choose, but it will hopefully give you the information you need to make a decision and feel confident about it.
Which is the BEST baby formula available in New Zealand?
In New Zealand infant formula manufacture is governed by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ). Based on my experiences and the robustness of the infant formula code I believe you can rest assured that all infant formula available for purchase in New Zealand are of excellent quality and will contain all the nutrients in the right amounts to ensure babies will thrive. In fact the food standard code for Infant Formula is so prescriptive on what infant formula can and can’t contain, and the amounts of nutrients they MUST contain, that there is very little wriggle room for infant formula manufacturers. The standards are so prescriptive that from a pure nutrients perspective all infant formula have a pretty similar nutritional profile.
Although pretty similar in nutritional profile (Energy content, protein content, vitamin and mineral content.) There are a number of different types. I am sure you have seen the vast array on the shelves
What is the best type of baby formula
There are many different types of baby formula for sale in New Zealand. The first thing you need to know is that ALL OF THEM ARE GOOD.
Different types of formula may suit different babies and parents, but no matter which formula you select from the supermarket or pharmacy shelf, all baby formula for sale in New Zealand from reputable retailers are good. They are all good alternatives to breast milk when breast milk is not an option for your baby.
What are the different types of infant formula?
One of the biggest differences between the different types of formula available is the protein source used.
Cows Milk infant formula
Cows milk formula are the most commonly used and available infant formula within New Zealand. The majority of babies tolerate a cows milk formula.
Casein vs Whey protein in infant formula
Cows milk formula are usually labeled as either casein dominant or whey dominant. You might have already read it on the label. This means that the formula either has more casein or more whey. Let me explain the difference in what I hope is a simple way.
Cows milk is made up of two different types of protein. Casein and Whey. If you have ever added an acid to cows milk such as lemon juice, you will have seen these two protein types. Casein is the curd, or the lumpy part, while whey, is the watery bit. Whey protein is more easily and quickly digested, while casein takes a bit longer. This makes sense when you look at the physical difference between curds and whey.
The proteins in breast milk are also casein or whey. Breast milk has what we call a dynamic nutrient profile; it changes over time. It can be different from mum to mum, and even varies depending on the time of day. It is generally considered that the protein ratio of breast milk starts off as very whey dominant in the first few days, then settles to approximately 40% Casein and 60% Whey when your mature milk comes in. Then over time the casein content gradually increases so an older baby might be having breast milk that may have a ratio of 50:50, or 60:40 Casein to Whey.
Cows milk formula is either casein or whey dominant. It will be listed on the label the percentage of protein that is casein or whey. Often stage one formulas are whey dominant, and stage two formulas are casein dominant (Mimicking the changes that happen with breast milk) but this is not always the case. It will always be labeled so you will be able to clearly see it.
Goats Milk infant formula
Goats milk is an alternative to cows milk formula. I hear many people comment “goats milk is gentler on little tummies”. The background to this involves a touch more biochemistry. As I mentioned above cow’s milk and breast milk contain casein and whey proteins. The story goes one step further when you bring goats milk into the mix.
There are in fact two different types of casein. alpha and beta. Breast milk contains beta casein, while cows milk contains alpha casein. Beta casein is considered to be more easily digested than alpha casein. Goats milk contains predominately beta casein like breast milk. Whey remains the most easily digested protein however. And as with cows milk formula, the label on the goats milk formula tin will let you know the casein/whey ratio.
Things to know about goats milk infant formula
Goats milk is not considered a suitable alternative for babies with cows milk protein allergy by the majority of health care professionals and the latest clinical guidelines. A large number of children that react to cows milk protein will also react to goats milk protein. In fact, I remember listening to a presentation one day by a leading Paediatric Allergist. Her comment about goats milk and cows milk in terms of allergy has always stuck with me. She said basically all mammalian milks were so similar in composition/allergenicity that none of them would be acceptable as an alternative for a child with cows milk allergy. Her only exception was camel milk. Unfortunately however, camel milk infant formula is not readily available, or at least not in New Zealand. A new business opportunity for someone perhaps?
As with all formula for sale in New Zealand, goats milk formula will be of good quality, and will have all the nutrients your baby will require to thrive. If goats milk works for your baby and you, then it is a good formula choice.
Soy infant formula
Soy formulas use soya bean as a protein source. This means, as opposed to cows milk and goats milk, it has a vegetarian protein source. This may suit some families. In addition, as soy is naturally lactose free it offers a lactose free option for parents and babies.
Things to know about soy infant formula
Although soy formula is cows milk protein free, some guidelines on the management of cows milk protein allergy do not recommend soy as first choice alternative to cows milk allergy in babies under 6 months of age. If you suspect cows milk protein allergy in your child it is generally best to seek advice from a health care professional before making decisions regarding which formula to use.
If you are looking for information about formula for babies with cows milk allergy READ IT HERE
Specialised Baby Formula
Partially Hydrolysed Formula
These formula are often labeled as AF.
Hydrolysed formula refers to a group of baby formula where the protein source (most often cows milk protein) has been broken down to make the protein chains shorter. This is done for both allergy and digestion reasons.
If you imagine protein chains are like long necklaces made up of beads (the amino acids), hydrolysed formulas have protein chains which are shorter than the original long necklace. There are 2 categories of hydrolysed formula. Partially Hydrolysed and Extensively Hydrolysed (The degree of hydrolysation will be described on the label)
If we think back to our long necklace analogy, then Partially Hydrolysed Formula (PHF) have protein chains which are a bit shorter than the original. So instead of a full length necklace the protein chains may be equivalent to a short choker style necklace.
PHF are marketed to be gentler on babies digestive systems as the protein chains are shorter and therefore require less digestion.
PHF were also designed to be used as a protective measure for children at high risk of developing cows milk protein allergy. i.e. for a baby where there is a strong family history of cows milk protein allergy.
If your baby already has developed an allergy to cows milk protein then a PHF is not considered to be a suitable treatment option. The protein chain lengths are still long enough to cause a reaction.
Extensively Hydrolysed infant formula
Extensively Hydrolysed Formula (EHF) have protein chains that are broken down to shorter chain lengths than partially hydrolysed formula. Think bracelets and rings. EHF were until relatively recently only available through pharmacies. They are now available online and in supermarkets. EHF are used as a treatment option for babies with cows milk protein allergy.
The protein chains are much shorter than standard cows milk formula and they are generally tolerated by babies with a cows milk protein allergy. Although EHF are now more easily accessible, I would urge parents to seek advice from a healthcare professional if they suspect cows milk protein allergy in their baby.
Amino Acid infant formula
Amino acid formula (AAF) are not available within supermarkets, they are a pharmacy only product. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein chains. If I go back to my necklace analogy, then amino acids are the individual beads that make up the necklace. AAF are used for the treatment of cows milk protein allergy.
If you are looking for information about formula for babies with cows milk allergy READ IT HERE
Reflux infant formula
Formulas designed to help with reflux, are often labeled A.R (Anti Reflux). They are essentially formula which contain thickeners. Pre-thickened formulas are designed to stay in the stomach reducing regurgitation or spit up. Different A.R formulas on the market contain different thickeners. More modern thickeners that are used, are designed to be slightly thick in the mouth and then thicken further in the stomach.
If you suspect your baby has reflux, I would strongly suggest you seek medical advice for diagnosis and a management plan before starting a thickened formula on your own.
I sometimes hear mums who are using A.R. formula complain that this has lead to constipation in their babies. I have found some small studies on this. In these studies they did not see a change in bowel habits in babies having thickened formula. I think it is still common sense to keep track of your baby’s bowel habits when you start. It may depend on what type of thickener is used in the formula as to whether it leads to constipation or a reduction in bowel movements.
A.R formulas are thicker than standard formulas so you may need to change the teat you are using on your bottle to achieve the same flow rate as a standard formula.
Lactose free infant formula
Lactose is the naturally occurring carbohydrate found in both breast milk and cows milk. Lactose free formula are typically cows milk formula that have had the lactose removed and replaced with an alternative carbohydrate source. Lactose free formula provides an option for formula fed infants with lactose intolerance. As mentioned above Soy formula is another lactose free option.
If you suspect your baby has lactose intolerance please seek a medical diagnosis before starting a lactose free formula.
A lactose free formula is not an appropriate treatment for cows milk protein allergy. Although there is some cross over in the type of symptoms seen in lactose intolerant babies and cows milk allergy babies they are actually quite different conditions. For this reason if you suspect either cows milk or lactose intolerance in your baby, please seek medical advice before starting specialised formula. I cover the differences between lactose intolerance and cmpa in an earlier article.
Best Baby Formula: Gold or Standard
When you are standing in the supermarket you will also notice that there are baby formula marketed as gold, and those that are not. Essentially this is to do with the ingredients they do or don’t contain. I have gone into more detail on these ingredients and nutrients in my article best baby formula gold or standard
What isn’t necessarily the best formula for your baby
The most expensive formula on the shelf.
Price has no bearing on whether a formula is good or not. All formula must meet the same regulations to be sold in New Zealand. So all formula will be good choices if breast milk is not an option. Choose a formula that fits your budget.
The formula your best friend swears by
It may have suited her and her baby, but it may not suit you, and your baby.
The formula you think smells and or tastes the best
Have you ever smelt a bottle of multi vitamins? It has a very distinctive odour. Infant formula is packed full of all sort of vitamins and minerals, it is these nutrients that give infant formula its distinctive smell. This is not a bad thing and your baby will more than likely find it completely acceptable. Your baby has very different taste perception to you, just because you don’t find it delicious does not mean your baby will not be completely happy to drink it
A can of formula past its use by date or that has been open for too long
Infant formula have use by dates for a reason. Please follow them and discard any formula that is past its use by date. Infant formula will have a guideline on the can telling you how long after the can has been opened for that it will remain safe for use. Please follow this guideline.
Over time the nutrients in infant formula can degrade. Infant formula is sterile until opened. After this point it is at risk of contamination. Every time you open and close the lid and use the scoop there is a chance the formula could pick up contaminants. It is for this reason formula should be discarded after a certain amount of time. When you open the can, write the date on the lid so you know how long it has been open for.
The formula your hospital stocks
These are usually on rotation as many hospitals do not wish to show preference to one brand over another, so one week they may have one formula on hand, the next week it may be a different brand.
A non commercial infant formula, such as the recipe touted by a certain celebrity chef for followers of the Paleo Diet. If it has not been through rigorous testing and does not meet the nutritional parameters set out by the infant formula regulations, it is not going to be a good choice.
So to finish off. Feel secure in knowing that all formula sold within New Zealand by reputable retailers will be of good quality and will contain the nutrients your baby needs. Buying formula is a “Keep Calm and Carry On Type” situation.
Keep Calm and Carry On and good luck with your baby feeding journey
I hope this guide to formula and ingredients will be useful for some parents, if there are any questions you have, or areas you want me to look into relating to formula feel free to comment below.