Healthy Baby Formula Update

Baby Formula

(First, read this disclosure.)

In 2013, I wrote a guest post for Dr. Lipman’s website that provided guidance on choosing the healthiest infant formula for your baby. We all know that breastmilk is better, but the fact remains that many conscientious mothers are looking for safe, natural, organic formula for their infants. With an ever-growing number of organic formula options, my private clients were increasingly confused about which was best choice, and I wanted to supply them with some clear guidelines for choosing the best formula possible.

The advice I have in that post could be summarized as follows:

  1. Buy organic formula.
  2. Avoid soy-based formula unless your baby cannot tolerate dairy.
  3. Don’t choose a formula with added DHA or ARA unless the company specifies that they weren’t extracted with hexane.
  4. Avoid formula that contains palm oil (may cause decreased bone density) or carrageenan (possible carcinogen).
  5. Choose formulas with minimal synthetic nutrients (such as lutein and lycopene).
  6. Avoid formulas with too much or the wrong kinds of sugar (lactose is the best; corn syrup is the worst).
  7. Whichever formula you choose, filter the water you use to make it.

So Which Organic Formulas Are Healthiest?

As I mentioned in the 2013 post, no formula on the market will meet all the criteria above, so the best you can do is to select a formula that has less of the bad stuff and more of the good. In 2013, I could only recommend one brand of formula, which is Baby’s Only (made by Nature’s One). I still think this is a good option for many parents.

Since writing that post, however, a few new formulas have come onto the market, and I have also learned of some European brands that are somewhat difficult and expensive to obtain, but still worth looking into. Here are the new formulas I’ve discovered, and what I think of them:

    • Baby’s Only (by Nature’s One) has a new whey formula on the market that is better than their original, mostly because it does not contain brown rice syrup.A little background: Baby’s Only original formula is sweetened with both lactose and brown rice syrup, the latter of which has been found to contain unsafe levels of arsenic. Nature’s One created a filter to remove inorganic arsenic from their brown rice syrup, reducing it to undetectable levels. Still, I think sweetening formula with just lactose (which more closely mimics breast milk) is a better bet, which is why I am a fan of Baby’s Only with whey.

      Another thing I like about Nature’s One: they use a non-hexane method of extracting their DHA and ARA. On the negative side, Baby’s Only formula does contain some synthetic ingredients, such as nucleotides and taurine, as well as some soy.

      All Baby’s Only formulas are called a “toddler formula,” but Nature’s One claims this is because they believe babies should be breastfed for at least the first year of life. You’ll want to run it by your pediatrician if your baby is under a year old.

  • If you want to explore European formulas, HiPP, Holle, and Lebenswert are the ones I recommend. They have fewer ingredients than the formulas produced in the U.S.; they are organic (and in some cases biodynamic); their dairy content is from grass-fed cows; they contain higher quality sugars; and they don’t contain carrageenan or corn syrup. Several clients have told me that their babies’ poop goes back to looking like that of a breastfed infant when they are given these European formulas, which certainly seems like a good sign!If you want help choosing a European formula, I wrote about the pros and cons of the various brands here. Finding a reputable source to purchase these formulas is another challenge (some of my clients buy European formula on eBay, and others are definitely not comfortable going this route). I wrote more about where to buy HiPP, Holle, and Lebenswert here. Please note that HiPP, Holle, and Lebenswert are not FDA approved, so you should ask your pediatrician to check out the ingredients if you are concerned.
  • The Honest Company brought an infant formula to market earlier this year, and there are some great things about it: it contains lactose as a sweetener, has a shorter ingredients list than most conventional formulas, uses hexane-free fish oil for DHA, and is free of carrageenan. Unfortunately, Honest formula does contain some corn syrup (“glucose syrup solids”), palm oil, soy, and a few not-so-great preservatives.Bottom line: If you don’t want to buy an imported European formula and don’t like that Baby’s Only is technically for toddlers, Honest formula is my top recommendation for you.

Which Formula Is #1?

Since many of you ask me what I would do if it were my own child, here is my ranking of the formulas mentioned above, from best to worst: Lebenswert Stage 1, Holle, HiPP, Baby’s Only with whey, Baby’s Only original (dairy, not soy), and then Honest Company. Of course, I believe that even the ones at the end of this list are vastly superior to any conventional—or even other organic—formula currently on the market.

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  • Carolyn

    Glad to see I came to the same conclusion and we order lebenswert. Who cares about the FDA’s approval they don’t approve foreign products and they also endorse plenty of bad stuff. Same goes for pediatricians. What pediatrician is going to tell you about clean eating and supplements for health? If there is one out there please tell me :)
    It’s also fine ordering online from eBay or direct online sellers of specialty products. I just go with who has it in stock (it sells out quickly) and who has the cheapest.

  • Taylor Vishay

    Thank you for this informative article! i’ve been looking into the European brands, but have read some concerns regarding possible radiation exposure at customs. Any thoughts on this?

  • Maia

    HI Taylor-

    My research has led me to believe that the x-rays are not a concern. Here’s some info: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/01/12/145107755/why-x-rayed-food-isnt-radioactive-and-other-puzzles.

  • Bonnie Liang

    Do you know where to purchase lebenswert? Better yet where did you get yours?? Thanks

  • Bonnie Liang

    Do you know where to purchase lebenswert? Better yet where did you get yours?? Thanks

  • Carolyn

    My German Depot. Also many sellers on eBay. It’s all the same no need to fall for the hype about reliable source mentioned in this article. My German depot literally sells it for half the price

  • amy

    WOW, I love that article you shared here!
    I was recently moving from London to California where I was searching for US alternatives. My 7 M. old is used to Hipp, but after US market research, american products are not an option for us.
    I have found http://www.myorganicformula.com where I am ordering Hipp Stage 2 (weekly subscription=10%discount) right here in Los Angeles.
    I was always curious about Lebenswert, but could not get the right answer why Lebenswert would be better then Hipp. Now, after finishing writing this comment, I will order Lebenswert for my boy – since that ecommerce shop mentioned above does offer it too and it is cheaper than Hipp. I will keep you updated how Henry does on Lebenswert in a few weeks.
    thank you again!

  • Amy Taylor

    My daughter is almost 9 months and I want to start to supplement. I have a Lebenswert Stage 1 box. Would Lebenswert Stage 1 be okay to supplement with at her age? I like that it has lactose, but stage 2 doesn’t. I plan to move to whole milk when she is 1 year so it will be a relatively short period with a daily bottle of formula.

  • Aj

    I have only read great things about Lebenswert 1 and so I started my 24 week old in it….she broke out in hives all over her body. I tired it for 5 days and the same results – she was never itchy or swollen but did seem to have stomach pains. Any advice on where to go from here? Thanks.

  • Luisa DG

    Hi,
    Thanks for the helpful information- should I be concerned that the European ones are not FDA approved?

  • Sarah

    I have been using holle for a week, stage 1 for my 5 momth old. It’s going well so far, a little constipation, but it’s an adjustment from strictly breastfeeding. So imagine that will subside. I just noticed however, it has no iron. I am certain that babies need iron at this stage and even more importantly at 6+ months, any thoughts/suggestions?