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Safe Baby Formula Guide

1. Loulouka (both cow and goat) / 2. Happy Baby / 3. Kabrita / 4. Bobbie / 5. Lebenswert / 6. ByHeart / 7. Serenity   / 8. Holle / 9.HiPP / 10.Baby’s Only  11. Kendamil


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June 2022 Update:

As many of you already know we have been unable to stock any Loulouka baby formula from our distributor in Europe. We realize how troubling this nationwide formula shortage is for parents everywhere and we are doing everything we can to get our hands on some Loulouka as soon as possible. Unfortunately, It is still unclear when this supply will become available again. In the meantime we wanted to let you know that we have several excellent alternatives from Europe in stock now!

Holle toddler formula, HiPP stage 1 and stage 2, and Lebenswert Stage 1 and Stage 2 meet our highest standards for safety and health of your baby.

Our recommendation for an American formula was already ByHeart, and now we are please to learn that they are fully stocked and accepting new customers (we also love Bobbie but they aren’t taking on any new families right now). You can read more about ByHeart below, under The Good Stuff.


I wrote this guide on how to choose organic baby formula in 2012, and have updated it more than ten times since! The great news is that overall, things have moved in a positive direction on the formula front. Many new organic baby formula brands have come to market–while others have been discontinued.

This guide will review the current organic baby formula options, including European baby formulas, goat milk formulas, and which brands I consider the Best Stuff. (Speaking of goat milk formulas–this post goes into details about why you should consider it if you’re formula-freeding, but it needs to be updated from the 2018 version, mostly to include our new favorite goat milk brand, Loulouka.)

Bottom Line: Best Organic Baby Formula

If I were formula-feeding my infant, I would choose Loulouka. Loulouka Stage 1 is free of palm oil and maltodextrin. You can read more about why I think Loulouka is a superior formula below, under “The Good Stuff.”

As always, my goal with this updated guide is to make choosing the safest product easy. We’ve researched dozens of brands of organic baby formula, and I hope this guide will save you time and anxiety.

Here are two ways the industry has changed for the better over the last decade:

  1. Many companies have ditched corn sugars in favor of lactose. Lactose occurs naturally in cow (and goat) milk and much more closely mimics human milk.
  2. Many organic baby formula brands are using lower quantities of cheap, problematic oils (such as soy and canola). They’ve increased the amount of healthier oils (such as coconut and olive).

The bottom line: infants born today will almost certainly enjoy a healthier formula than did their siblings born even a few years ago.

What About the Baby Bottle?

Hevea Glass Bottles with Natural Rubber Nipple

Here is a cheat sheet to help you choose the safest bottle for your baby, whether you are breast- or formula-feeding! My top pick is this one.

Two important disclaimers before I jump in: 

  1. I am not a medical professional or a nutritionist. I’m just a label-reading mom like the rest of you, here to share what I’ve learned and which organic baby formula I would choose if I were shopping for my own baby.
  2. If I recommend vendors from whom you can purchase European organic baby formulas, I am not guaranteeing that you’ll have a satisfactory experience shopping with them. I’m simply telling you the companies with whom I would feel comfortable were I looking to buy formula myself. I’m also an affiliate partner with some of them, so please read my disclosure page.

P.S. Breastmilk is Better Than Any Organic Baby Formula

breastfeeding

Needless to say, I’m pro-breastfeeding. I have only two kids, but I breastfed for a total of 7 years, so you can do the math.

The reality is that many of my readers and clients— amazing moms with beautiful, healthy children– formula feed at least some of the time. And one thing that all formula-feeding moms want to know is, what is the safest, healthiest organic baby formula I can give my child? I hope this updated guide helps answer that question.

Best American Baby Formula

If you aren’t comfortable getting a European formula, you should consider By Heart. You’ll read more below about why I love this brand below.

What to Avoid in Baby Formula

When it comes to choosing a safe infant formula, it’s as much about avoiding the bad stuff as it is about finding the good stuff. What follows are some of the controversial ingredients and additives that you will find in most baby formula.

Even a few brands that I have deemed Good Stuff contain some of these ingredients–it’s impossible to avoid them all! Some of them are worse than others, but I mention them all here because these are at least worth considering when you are choosing baby formula.

Non-organic ingredients

An organic label alone doesn’t make a formula healthy, but avoiding any non-organic formula is a good start. Conventional formula likely contains traces of pesticides, milk contaminated with antibiotics or growth hormones, and oils extracted with hexane. Organic baby formula is almost always superior to anything conventional.

Organic baby formula cannot contain GMOs or artificial colors/flavors. Organic baby formula from Europe is even better: it must be free of sugar, corn syrup solids, and chemically-extracted synthetic nutrients. In addition, 30% of the calories in organic European formulas must come from lactose.

Soy

Soy formula is usually only recommended if a baby suffers from dairy intolerance.

If you’re buying non-organic formula, the soy is likely genetically modified. Synthetic l-methionine is added to soy formula to meet nutrition requirements. Because it is produced with things like hydrogen cyanide and other air pollutants, it is prohibited in European organic foods. This means that there is no such thing as organic soy-based infant formula in Europe.

Soy-based formula contains soy protein isolates, which my mother the health coach describes this way: “highly processed soybeans that have been chemically altered to no longer resemble a whole food.”

Soy formulas tend to have higher levels of aluminum contamination since soy sucks up aluminum from the soil.

Soy formula also contains high levels of plant-derived estrogens (phytoestrogens). In fact, the concentrations of phytoestrogens detected in the blood of infants fed soy formula were shown to be 13,000 to 22,000 times greater than the concentrations of natural estrogens. The effects of this are simply unknown.

Unfortunately, even most dairy-based formulas contain soy oils or lecithin, but it makes sense to avoid soy-based formulas unless a baby has a true dairy allergy. If that IS the case for your child, you can ask your pediatrician about Baby’s Only’s newer Pea Protein formula. Earth’s Best soy fomula contains corn syrup (as the FIRST ingredient), so this is a hard one for me to recommend even for lactose-intolerant infants.

Palm oil and palm olein

These are commonly added to formula to help replicate the high palmitic acid content of breastmilk. But the structure of the fat molecules in palm oil (and other vegetable oils) is different from that found in breast milk, and the fats are digested differently.

Palm oil and palm olein have been shown to inhibit the absorption of calcium and fat. On the other hand, plant-derived fats that match the structure of the most common fat molecules in breast milk have been shown to promote more healthy bacteria in the gut, reduce colic, gas, and constipation, and allow for fat and calcium to be absorbed better.

From what we know, only one company—Kabrita, which makes a goat milk formula—uses these more beneficial fats (high SN-2 palmitate, a.k.a. “OPO fats,” a.k.a. “structured truglycerides”), which are produced by an enzymatic reaction on a mixture of vegetable oils.

If you want to avoid palm oil, Loulouka doesn’t contain it.

DHA/ARA

Most formulas now boast the addition of essential fatty acids DHA and ARA. DHA and ARA are long chain fatty acids found naturally in human breast milk, which make up the major long chain fats in baby’s brain and nerve tissue.

Nordic Naturals Fish Oil Gimme the Good Stuff

We know that naturally occurring oils from food, food-based oils, and mom’s diet (in breast milk) is highly beneficial, but some studies have shown no benefits when DHA and ARA are added to formula.

The most common types of DHA and ARA extracted by the solvent hexane, a known neurotoxin, although the hexane is removed from the formula after it’s been processed. There are other methods for extraction, but these are relatively new and the jury is out on whether they are harmful, beneficial, or of no consequence at all.

Note that any organic oils in European formula cannot be hexane-extracted.

If you want to avoid DHA/ARA, avoid formulas with these ingredients:

  • DHA oil
  • algal oil
  • cohni oil (DHA)
  • alpina oil (ARA)

If you choose a formula without DHA added, but want to supplement on your own, this is the brand we like.

Note that since February of 2020, all European formulas are required to contain DHA.

Carrageenan

You will find this additive in tons of stuff in your health food store, and infant formula is no exception.

Derived from seaweed, carrageenan helps stabilize liquid formula, but numerous animal studies suggest that it leads to intestinal inflammation and colon tumors. The European Union has outlawed the use of carrageenan in all infant formula, but in the United States it appears in both conventional and organic baby formula–typically the ready-made varieties since it functions as a stabilizer to ensure the nutrients are well-mixed.

Preservatives

Synthetic preservatives are sometimes added to prevent the oils in formula from spoiling. Two that have snuck into even organic baby formula: beta carotene and ascorbic palmitate.

Synthetic nutrients

There are several synthetic nutrients that you will find in many organic baby formulas.

Look out for the following:

  • Lutein is hexane-extracted from marigolds.
  • Lycopene is produced with toluene, a neurotoxic benzene derivative.
  • Nucleotides are produced from chemically-treated yeast.
  • Taurine is processed with carcinogenic sulfuric acid.
  • L-carnitine was banned by the National Organic Standards Board because of concerns over carcinogenic properties. As of February 2020, the European Union requires infant formula to contain this nutrient. (The reasoning: the nutrient is present in breast milk and infants with this deficiency can develop a variety of disorders.)

Certain sugars

Breast milk is naturally very sweet, so formulas invariably contain added sugars.

The sweetener that most closely mimics that found in human milk is lactose, but this cow’s milk-based sweetener is expensive. As a result, many manufacturers instead use plant-based sucrose, which was banned by The European Union in 2009 (except for babies with allergies), because of concerns of over-feeding and subsequent obesity. The FDA provides no such regulation on what kind of sugars can be used.

Other sweeteners include maltodextrin (made from rice, corn, or potatoes), and “glucose syrup solids,” which is just a clever name for corn syrup solids.

In 2012, concerns were raised about formulas sweetened with brown rice syrup when Dartmouth researchers found that organic baby formula made with organic brown rice syrup contained six times the EPA’s safe limit for arsenic. (More on arsenic in baby food here.)

Most organic baby formula these days, even the superior European brands, seem to choose maltodextrin as a sweetener, since it’s cheaper than lactose and helps powdered formula dissolve quickly.

My two cents on sugar: I’m not a big fan of maltodextrin, but I do feel that it’s better than white sugar or corn syrup. The best organic baby formula will contain only lactose as a sweetener.

Best Toddler Formula

If I were looking for a formula for a baby older than 12 months, I would consider Kabrita. There is strong evidence that goat milk more closely mimics human breast milk, and Kabrita is the only formula I know of that contains the beneficial type of palm oil (see more on this above).

Kabrita has generously offered 10% off for my readers with code GIMMEKABRITA. 

Buy now from Kabrita

“Sensitive” and Hypoallergenic Organic Baby Formula

HiPP HA Gimme the Good Stuff

For those babies who need a hypoallergenic formula, many pediatricians recommend Pregestimil or Nutramigen (both by Enfamil) or Allimentum (by Similac).

If forced to choose between these, I would go for the Allimentum since it skips the carrageenan and corn syrup. But I can’t call any of these Good Stuff since all three contain ingredients of concern and none is organic. Nutramigen is probably the very worst of these, comprised of 48% corn syrup solids!

If it were my baby, I would choose HiPP HA organic baby formula, which contains no sugar, corn syrup, or maltodextrin, and is full of good prebiotics. You also might want to try HiPP Anti-Reflux formula if your baby has a sensitive stomach. It’s made with 100% whey and no casein to prevent reflux. Shop for HiPP here.

Please check with your pediatrician first if you suspect an intolerance or allergy.

If you’re enjoying this guide, to be alerted when we publish or update our Safe Product Guides.

Other Things to Consider When Choosing Baby Formula

When you’re shopping for an organic baby formula, you’ll also want to be cognizent of the whey/casein ratio, the addition of prebiotics and probiotics, A1 versus A2 milk, and potential aluminum or BPA contamination. Let’s look at these one by one.

Whey/Casein Ratio

In an attempt to mimic real breast milk as closely as possible, formula manufacturers engineer their products to have a specific whey/casein ratio. Not sure what whey and protein are? Here’s the deal:

  • Whey proteins stay in liquid form in the stomach (when exposed to stomach acid)—think the watery whey that separates in a container of natural yogurt–and exit the stomach more quickly. Whey proteins are therefore easier to digest and are rarely a source of allergies.
  • Casein proteins form solids in the stomach (like cheese curds) and empty at a slower rate. They are more likely to cause digestive issues and be a source of allergies.

There is controversy over the optimal whey/casein ratio for a baby formula because the ratios found in breast milk change over time: whey content is high in early lactation (with a ratio of about 90:10), and by late lactation, whey and casein protein amounts are roughly equal.

Goat milk and cow milk both have a whey to casein ratio of about 20:80. Whey protein is added to formulas to adjust this ratio.

So what is the optimal whey/casein ratio? This depends on factors such as how old your baby is (in other words, how developed his/her digestion is), whether your baby has any digestive issues (like reflux, which may be a reaction to too much casein), and whether your baby is sensitive or allergic to casein.

We also don’t really know how much of the whey and casein added to formula actually ends up being assimilated. It’s definitely worth having a conversation with your pediatrician about which formula has the right ratio for your baby, although in many instances the whey/casein ratio isn’t an issue you need to worry about. Most babies do fine on standard formulas.

Prebiotics & Probiotics

Klaire Labs probiotics gimme the good stuff

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria, and prebiotics are food for probiotics. You probably already know that good gut bacteria is key to healthy immune function.

Breast milk has natural prebiotic properties, such as its oligosaccharide content, and breastfeeding introduces lots of healthy bacteria to the breastfed infant’s microbiome. In an attempt to mimic human milk (and ride the wave of current health trend!), many formula manufacturers now add prebiotics and probiotics to their products.

There’s little research to suggest that this offers any real benefits, and the American Association of Pediatrics doesn’t officially recommend it, but they are probably also not harmful to healthy babies.

My two cents: I probably wouldn’t rely on what’s in formulas as an effective probiotic/prebiotic supplement (mostly because of dosage and quality/viability of the organisms). Parents who are really interested in supplementing with probiotics should choose a high-quality product like Klaire Labs Ther-Biotic.

Aluminum in Infant Formulas

Unfortunately, it seems like high aluminum content in formulas is pretty much ubiquitous (studies confirm this in UK and Canadian markets, and there is no research done yet on formulas in U.S. market).

It’s not clear exactly why this is, but there are a variety of modes of potential contamination: raw materials (powdered milk may have aluminum added to prevent clumpiness, for instance), additives (like phosphorous), and manufacturing processes.

It’s important to note that a lot of healthful foods we eat contain more aluminum than even that found in the most contaminated formula (which was HiPP in this study)–including fish, spinach, and many types of tea. I’m not convinced tha the amount in formula is something we need to be overly concerned about.

fiji water gimme the good stuff

We also don’t know is how much of the aluminum that’s ingested ends up accumulating in the body of infants and toddlers. In adults, most aluminum is excreted, but what remains does accumulate and can cause problems in the long term.

There’s little that consumers can do about aluminum in formula, except for:

  • Choosing breast milk if possible.
  • Avoiding soy-based formulas, as these tend to be highest in aluminum.
  • Preparing powder formula with a silicon-rich mineral water—in the U.S., Volvic and Fiji water fit the bill. Experts believe that this could reduce the absorption of aluminum across the gut of the child and also potentially help the child to excrete aluminum in the body via the urine. However, these are areas which are also being researched.

A2 Milk

You will see that some of the Good Stuff formula listed below contains “A2 milk.” Cow milk has two primary types of proteins–A1 and A2 beta-casein. More studies are needed, but there is some evidence to suggeste that A2 milk is easier to digest and less likely to cause inflammation than is A1 milk. The strongest evidence is around lactose intolerance–studies suggests that milk with A1 protein is much less likely to cause gastrointestional distress. Three brands that contain A2 milk are Baby’s Only, Serenity, and Holle.

BPA in Formula Cans

Good news: there is one thing you no longer have to worry about when buying formula, and it’s BPA. The FDA has finally gotten with the program and banned BPA from formula container linings. Of course, I worry about what’s being used in place of BPA, but still this is a small victory!

Toddler Formula for Infants?

I know many parents who have chosen to feed their infants a “toddler” formula. In order to understand why, it might be helpful to know the following:

United States / FDA Infant Formula Regulations

  • The recipe requirements are from the Infant Formula Act of 1980 (which I believe is in desperate need of an update!).
  • Infant formula certification requires multi-year and multi-million dollar feeding studies.
  • Thus, there is a huge barrier to entry for innovative companies or smaller brands. ByHeart is one of the few brands who did their own study (more on them in our Formula Guide and dedicated ByHeart post.) 
  • In early 2022, the FDA recalled brands (e.g., Similac, Alimentum and EleCare) after babies drinking these formulas became ill; this was nearly 6 months after the FDA found out but failed to act on the information. In March of 2022 the FDA finally shut down the facility producing these formulas, which lead to a formula shortage.
  • Members of Congress are questioning the FDA’s ability to effectively regulate the infant formula marketplace.

European Infant Formula Regulations

  • European food standards are among the strictest in the world.
  • The EU updates regulations every few years with modern science and ingredients.
  • Europe does not require infant feeding studies for certification.

If I had been a formula-feeding mom, I would have definitely considered a “toddler” formula for my infant. Most toddler formulas contain the 29 key nutrients that are required by the FDA for infant formula. These formulas are not marketed as infant formula because the brands haven’t completed the infant feeding studies, not because they don’t provide adequate nutrition for infants. Again, ask your pediatrcian to review the nutrition label on any formula you’re considering, but this is worth keeping in mind!

One Important Way to Make Formula-Feeding Safer: Filter Your Water!

Tap water may be contaminated with chlorine byproducts, weed killers, insecticides, solvents, lead, BPA, phthalates…the list goes on. Fluoride is present in infant formula, and when combined with fluoridated tap water, infant exposure levels can exceed safe amounts. I think everyone should Invest in a good carbon water filter, but especially if you have a formula-fed baby in your home.

Baby’s Only Dairy Toddler Formula

While it’s not perfect, Baby’s Only, in particular the Gentle variety, is one of the best formulas available in the United States. Here’s why:

  • Baby’s Only makes an organic baby formula with no added DHA. Their other formulas include DHA and ARA extracted from egg lecithin, which may or may not be problematic for babies who react to hexane-extracted DHA.
  • Baby’s Only organic baby formula is made in the USA by a family-owned business that is not publicly traded.
  • Baby’s Only does not contain palm oil.
  • As of 2021, Baby’s Only is using A2 milk, making it an even better choice.

Here are all of the ingredients in the Gentle formula: Organic lactose, organic whey powder, organic nonfat milk. organic canola oil, organic high oleic oil (organic high oleic sunflower and/or organic high oleic safflower oils), organic linoleic sunflower oil, organic whey protein concentrate, organic coconut oil, less than 2% of: organic sunflower lecithin, calcium ascorbate, calcium phosphate, inositol, magnesium oxide, ferrous sulfate, niacinamide, d-alpha-tocopheryl acetate, zinc sulfate, calcium pantothenate, thiamine hydrochloride, vitamin A, copper sulfate, riboflavin, pyridoxine hydrochloride, folic acid, manganese sulfate, phylloquinone, biotin, vitamin D3, sodium selenate, vitamin B12. 

Some concerns I have with Baby’s Only:

  • Baby’s Only regular dairy formula contains brown rice syrup–it’s actually the first ingredient. In response to concerns about high arsenic levels, they created a high-tech filter that removes inorganic arsenic from brown rice syrup, reducing it to undetectable levels, as confirmed by the Consumers Union. Still, I recommend Baby’s Only Gentle formula because this one is sweetened with just lactose.
  • Baby’s Only formulas are technically “toddler” formula, because in order to have FDA approval as an infant formula, a company must conduct clinical trials and undergo extensive testing. Many people choose Baby’s Only even for infants, but you should check with your pediatrician before doing so.
  • Baby’s Only contains canola oil (hard to avoid!).
Amazon

Bellamy’s Organic Baby Formula

This Australian formula is very similar to to the European brands. It doesn’t have DHA/ARA or corn ingredients, but it does contain soy and palm oil. It contains 97% organic ingredients, but unlike Lebenswert, the dairy in this formula doesn’t come from biodynamic farms. Unfortunately, we haven’t found a way to get Bellamy in the United States.


Bimbosan Organic Baby Formula

This Swiss brand of organic baby formula looks similar to the other European brands. I love the lack of maltodextrin, palm oil, corn syrup, and sugar! Bimbosan doesn’t include DHA/ARA. Unfortunately, I can’t find any vendors selling this formula.


ByHeart Whole Nutrition Infant Formula

We are super excited about ByHeart, the newest formula on this list, because it’s the only formula to be produced in its own factory.

ByHeart was more than five years in the making. They worked with an impressive array of scientists and pediatricians to build from the ground up–ByHeart has its own ingredient manufacturing and sourcing, and they even ran their own nation-wide clincal trial.

The ingredients in ByHeart are different. For one, they use whole milk (organic and grass-fed) instead of skim. Their formula features a proprietary protein blend that combines the two most abundant proteins found in breast milk (alpha-lactalbumin and lactoferrin) and a whey to casein ratio of 80:20, which mimics colostrum.

ByHeart is free of corn syrup, palm oil, maltodextrin, and soy–all problematic ingredients often found in organic formula. The sole source of carbohydrates is lactose, and ByHeart meets both US and EU regulations.

ByHeart is also the first formula to be certified by the Clean Label Project, and was awarded the highest tier “Purity Award.” Clean Label screens the formula for 400 contaminants, and ByHeart’s internal quality control program screens for more than 700.

Overall, ByHeart focuses not only on optimal infant nutrition, but also on a clean, uncontaminated formula. It engages in more auditing and testing than any other brand on U.S. market.