Navigating the infant formula shelf!


There is nothing more true than this statement “Breast milk is a unique living substance and it is impossible for any manufacturer to recreate it” (

Breast milk is nutritionally unique and created just for human babies. There is no infant formula that comes close to the composition of breast milk as it contains many different living cells and other components that protect your baby from infections and help them grow and develop.

Having said that, infant formulae have to comply with very strict compositional regulations to make sure they provide appropriate and adequate nutrition for babies and contain all the necessary nutrients for their growth and development. So although they cannot compare to the “real deal”, they are perfectly safe to use for your baby.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and health departments around the world recommend that the best way to feed an infant is exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, and continuing breastfeeding alongside complementary (weaning) foods from 6 months and for as long as the mother wishes to continue breastfeeding. But if you cannot or choose not to breastfeed, then a suitable infant formula needs to be used to feed your baby.

The supermarket aisles…

If you have recently had a baby or are pregnant with your first child, you may have wondered down the “baby” aisle of the supermarket, having a browse around and noticed all the different brands, types and presentations of different infant formulae available. You may be feeling very confused and apprehensive about what to choose….fear not! In this post, I will share with you some easy-to-read information about infant formulae available in the UK so that you can make an informed choice as to which formula to use to feed your baby safely.

What is an infant formula?

Infant formula is known as a ‘breast milk substitute’ and is made from modified cow’s milk (or another source of protein such as goat’s milk or soya protein). There are European standards to make sure that the composition of infant formulae conforms to certain standards to regulate the amounts and types of nutrients that they contain (minimum and maximum levels).

First infant milks (cow’s milk based)

These are whey-based infant formula, suitable from birth for full-term babies, containing a ratio of approximately 60:40 whey:casein proteins. Whey and casein are types of proteins found in milk and cow’s milk (unmodified) typically contains a ratio of 20:80 so this has been modified to contain a ratio similar to that found in mature breast milk. However, the ratio of whey:casein in breast milk varies from around 90:10 in the first few days after birth to 60:40 in mature breast milk to 50:50 in later breast feeding (this is why breast milk is so unique!)

All of the cow’s milk-based infant formulae in the UK meet current European regulations for infant formula composition. Each manufacturer has their own set of “claims” but the milks are all basically very similar to each other and none of the brands offer any particular nutritional advantage. They are all very clever at their marketing!

Choose an infant formula that you are comfortable with and suits your lifestyle (and wallet!) . Make sure you know how to make up the formula safely and how to sterilize infant feeding bottles.

Examples of First Infant Milks: (available in the UK)

Cow and Gate 1 First Infant Milk

Aptamil 1 First Milk

Aptamil Protofura 1 First Infant Milk

SMA PRO First Infant Milk

Hipp Organic Combiotic First Milk

Holle Organic Infant Milk Formula 1


“Hungrier baby” infant milks

These are casein-based formula containing a 20:80 ratio of whey:casein, similar to that in (unmodified) cow’s milk. The theory is that casein takes longer to digest, so it will keep your baby fuller for longer and therefore they will sleep longer. There is actually no scientific evidence for this, although I know it sounds tempting to the sleep-deprived parent!

These infant milks are not recommended. The first infant milks are recommended to be used from birth for the first 12 months of life.

4 brands available in the UK:

Aptamil Hungry Milk

Cow & Gate Infant Milk for Hungrier Babies

Hipp Organic Combiotic Hungry Infant Milk

SMA Extra Hungry


“Follow-on” infant milks

Follow-on formula is marketed for babies 6 months and older. In July 2013 the WHO clearly stated that follow-on formula were “unnecessary” and the UK health department does not allow Healthy Start vouchers to be used to purchase follow-on formula.

The main difference between the first infant milks and the follow-on formula is that they have a higher iron content. Some also contain slightly higher levels of vitamin D, calcium and protein.

At 6 months of age, babies will need to have complementary foods introduced to their diet, alongside a formula or breastfeeding. A source of iron is important to introduce in foods at this time as full-term babies are born with iron stores sufficient to last for approximately 6 months.

For all breast feeding babies and babies drinking less than 500ml of formula, a vitamin D supplement is recommended in the UK, until 5 years of age.

Follow-on formula is an unnecessary expense and is not nutritionally required either. As long as your baby is introduced to a variety of foods from 6 months onwards, a first infant milk (or breastfeeding) is the feed of choice until 12 months of age.

Examples: (in the UK)

Aptamil 2 Follow-on Milk

Aptamil Profutura 2 Follow-on Milk

Cow and Gate 2 Follow-on Milk

Hipp Organic Combiotic Follow-on Milk 2

Holle Organic Infant Follow-on Formula 2

SMA Pro Follow-on Milk

In summary….

  • Breastfeeding is the best choice to exclusively feed your baby for the first 6 months of life and up to 12 months and beyond, alongside complementary foods.
  • First infant milks in the UK all comply with European regulations for their composition – choose a brand/type you are comfortable with
  • No one particular brand of infant formula offers any nutritional advantage over another
  • First infant milks can be used for the first 12 months of life
  • “Hungrier baby” infant milks are not recommended
  • Follow-on milks are unnecessary and not recommended


Look out for my next post on…goat’s milk based formula, soya based infant formula, toddler milks and other types of infant milks explained…

Any questions, please email me at:

Paula x


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