01.Choosing a formula
If you don’t breastfeed your baby you’ll need to choose a formula; cow’s milk shouldn't be used as the primary milk drink in the first year of life. Infant formulas are designed to mimic, as far as possible, the composition of breast milk. They have the right balance of vitamins and minerals and the fat they contain is more easily digested than that of cow’s milk.
For more information about feeding baby see, Food for Kids. Alternative, you can find more information in our Nutrition guide for breastfeeding mothers.
Cow's milk formula
Most formulas are based on cow’s milk, but there are products which use protein derived from soy beans and also specialised formulas for specific dietary needs (these are usually not available over the counter). Cow’s milk formulas are based either on casein, the main milk protein, or whey. Whey-dominant products more closely resemble breast milk.
If you decide to use an infant formula during the first twelve months of your baby’s life we suggest that you use one of the whey-dominant formulas. The label will indicate whether the product is whey- or casein-dominant. Shop around for the best price; sometimes a particular formula will be cheaper at a pharmacy or supermarket. Make sure you use all the product within the time specified on the pack after opening it, and seal the pack immediately after each use.
The carbohydrate in milk formulas is usually lactose, the naturally occurring sugar in milk, except in some cases where the lactose has been broken down to its constituents, glucose and galactose, for digestion by lactose-intolerant babies.
Soy formulas are designed for use when a baby becomes temporarily unable to digest lactose, for example, after gastroenteritis, and are prescribed if the baby is intolerant of cow’s milk protein. In soy formulas carbohydrate is added as sucrose or corn syrup solids, or a mixture of both. Soy-based formulas are made so that they contain slightly more protein than milk formulas because the body uses vegetable protein less efficiently than animal protein.
Soy-based and modified lactose formulas are suitable when recommended by your doctor. According to the Australian College of Paediatrics’ policy statement on soy protein formulas there’s a tendency to wrongly diagnose food allergy in infants and the indiscriminate use of soy formulas should be avoided. Food intolerance of any kind is a matter for expert dietary diagnosis and advice.
Another possible problem with soy-based formulas is the potential effects of phytoestrogens in soy on hormones, but there needs to be more research on this. The effects of genetically modified soy beans may also be a concern, but again more investigation is needed.
Goat's milk formula
Goat’s milk is sometimes fed to babies instead of cow’s milk. It lacks some vitamins that the baby needs and is often sold in an unpasteurised state (therefore containing potentially disease-causing organisms). It shouldn’t be used unless recommended by your doctor. Also, if you wish to change your regular brand of formula to another, check with your doctor or early childhood nurse first, to ensure that the formula you choose is appropriate for your baby.
Most formulas are available over the counter. Other formulas designed, for example, for short-term use in babies with severe digestive problems can be obtained only under medical authority. Formulas may be purchased in single-bottle sachets, in tins of various sizes, as powder or as concentrated liquid. Correct preparation and storage are vital for the health of your child.
Our general advice however, is that wherever possible, mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed their babies.
Please note: this information was current as of July 2003 but is still a useful guide to today's market.