The Tot Guide to the Best Organic Baby Formula
Choosing formula for your baby can be a daunting task. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to choose the best organic formula.
We know you want the absolute best for your child, but we also know it’s stressful and daunting looking at all the products on the market.
Which one is the healthiest for your child? The situation quickly becomes emotional, and you end up spending way more time and energy than you should have on picking out what your baby needs. We’ve put together this handy guide to be your one-stop, no-nonsense read-up on organic baby formulas.
First, we’ll dive into what’s in organic formula (including the ingredients you want and what to avoid), what makes it different, and whether it’s really better. Then, we’ll weigh the pros and cons of 5 organic infant formulas on the market so you know what’s out there.
Formula Feeding vs. Breastfeeding
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends new moms exclusively breastfeed their newborns for the first 6 months of life. Furthermore, they recommend formula feeding only when medically necessary, such as when the mother can’t produce milk. While breastfeeding is shown to have an edge over formula in terms of its health benefits, it’s obvious there’s no competing with mother nature. Nonetheless, babies have been growing into healthy children and adults for generations after drinking exclusively formula. Plus, we’ve learned more about infant nutrition and gut health over the years, and formulas have become healthier as a result.
Is Organic Baby Formula Better for Your Little One?
Beyond the marketing hype, is organic really better? If so, how are the ingredients truly different in organic baby formula? Naturally, you’ll want to know what you’re paying the extra money for, since organic baby formula is a little more expensive. Considering the difference between organic and conventional when it comes down to the ingredients and their quality, it’s worth it.
The major difference that affects your child’s health is the presence of pesticides and GMOs in conventional baby formulas, which aren’t present in organic ones. Whether the formula is soy-based, cow’s milk-based or otherwise, the plant or animal used to make the milk was either sourced organically or conventionally, where pesticides, herbicides, and even growth hormones are used.
Organic infant formula companies are constantly competing to provide health-conscious parents the best ingredients for their babies. The ingredients are safer, cleaner and third-party tested (by organic certifiers) to meet organic farming standards. Often, organic formulas are more nutritious, because the added nutrients are naturally-sourced.
What Baby Formula Ingredients Should You Avoid?
While you’d think baby formula would be one of the safest and least toxic products found in a grocery store, you may be surprised. Some of the ingredients used in some conventional formulas are toxic to the human system and potentially harmful to a growing baby.
Ingredients that are GMO-based
Many conventional baby formulas are sweetened with corn syrup or sugar, both of which are GMO-sourced ingredients. Cow’s milk-based formulas contain GMOs additionally because the cows eat GMO feed. GMOs are linked to cancer and birth defects, so it’s important to avoid GMOs by choosing a formula that is non-GMO certified.
Sometimes synthetic preservatives are used in infant formulas, such as ascorbic palmitate and beta carotene. These can be tough on your newborn’s stomach and taxing for her liver.
Soy is seen as a common dairy alternative in the adult world, but for babies, it could spell hormone problems. Soy formula contains phytoestrogens, which have estrogen-like effects in the body. This can potentially affect hormone levels in a way that causes imbalance. Even if the soy is organic, it still contains these phytoestrogens that could be harmful for your baby.
Dioxin isn’t an ingredient per se, but it’s an endocrine disruptor and carcinogen that is found virtually everywhere in our environment today. This makes it quite difficult to avoid—even in infant formula. Since dioxin is steeped in the food chain, we get a little of it when we eat meat, dairy products and fish. Dioxin intake is linked to a higher risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, endometriosis and early menopause. Infant levels of dioxin should be kept as low as possible to reduce the risk of developmental problems. By choosing organic formula, you’re getting less dioxin exposure due to safer organic farming practices.
Carrageenan, which is a stabilizing and thickening ingredient used in processed foods and even in cosmetic products, is sometimes found in infant formulas, including some organic ones. Carrageenan has been shown in studies to cause intestinal inflammation and increase your risk of developing colon tumors. Carrageenan is even banned in the European Union for this reason, but it’s still in use elsewhere.
Palm oil has been commonly used as an ingredient in the food industry ever since the FDA took action against trans fats. Palm oil is an easy replacement for the now-banned trans fats and it works as a preservative in the same way. It’s unfortunate that baby formula manufacturers add palm oil to baby formula, because it interferes with the absorption of calcium by making it insoluble. The body ends up excreting the insoluble fat from the oil along with the calcium, rather than using it to build strong bones and teeth.
Lactose is the natural sugar present in breastmilk, so formulas that include lactose from cow’s milk are on the right track. However, processed sugars aren’t good for a newborn baby’s developing digestive system. You want to avoid formulas with processed sugars like maltodextrin, sugar, corn syrup, glucose syrup and rice syrup.
Choosing the Right Organic Baby Formula: What to Look for
What separates a good baby formula brand from a great one?
Here are the main factors you want to look at when you’re shopping for organic infant formula:
Getting ingredients that are naturally derived is typically less of an issue when it comes to organic infant formula, versus conventional. However, you still need to read the ingredients label, even if a product is certified organic. Make sure the nutrients come from natural sources versus synthetic ones, wherever possible.
You don’t want the infant formula to go bad, obviously. But, you can still get formula made with minimal to no preservatives.
No Artificial Flavors
While your organic baby formula may have added sugar, it shouldn’t be an artificial sweetener, nor should it contain additional artificial flavorings.
Probiotics and Live Enzymes
Probiotics and enzymes help your baby’s tiny digestive system extract more nutrients from the formula. Breast milk contains living probiotics and enzymes, which is part of what makes it so nutritious. Organic infant formulas that include these elements are best.
Ideally, you want your formula to come in a plastic-free or BPA-free container to ensure no BPA has leached into it and contaminated the formula.
6 Best Organic Infant Formulas
We’ve rounded up 6 of the best organic infant formulas on the market to help you shortcut the research process. It’s important you’re comfortable with the formula you choose. We’ve weighed the pros and cons of each of these options, so you can get a sense for what’s out there.
1. Holle Organic Infant Formula
Holle Organic Baby Formula is a 99% organic formula made to mimic the nutrient profile of a mother’s breastmilk to give your baby the next closest thing. It’s made with milk from cows raised with organic farming methods. Preparation is simple, by dissolving the powder in warm water and mixing. There are various stages, beginning as early as birth. The formula incorporates essential fatty acids from organic vegetables.
It’s made to be gentle on your baby’s stomach, but Holle also has a goat milk alternative if the original cow’s milk-based formula causes gas, constipation or excessive spitting up for your baby. Because there are no added sweeteners, the taste is very mild and is more comparable to breast milk.
No added sweetener
No wheat or gluten, making it tummy-friendly
Nutritional profile mimics breastmilk, with added nutrients and fatty acids
Holle Goat option for goat milk alternative
More expensive than most organic baby formulas
2. Lebenswert Organic Baby Formula
Lebenswert is an organic, GMO-free baby formula from Germany. It’s made with dairy milk from organic Bioland farmers in Germany. Bioland farmers use organic soil to grow grass for cows to graze on. It contains lactose as its natural sweetener, and there’s no added sweetener beyond that.
Preparation for the Lebenswert baby formula is instant by mixing with warm water, and English instructions are included. The formula expires in a year from its manufacturing date, as it’s made without preservatives.
Made using milk from cows farmed organically in Germany under the highest purity standards
Free of preservatives
Sweetened naturally with lactose
Ships from Germany
Contains maltodextrin in formulas for stages higher than 1
3. Happy Baby Organic Baby Formula
Happy Baby organic baby formula is a cow’s milk-based infant formula modeled after breastmilk. It has an added prebiotic blend to support the growth of friendly bacteria in your baby’s digestive tract. Meanwhile, there are no added sweeteners besides lactose, which is the main carbohydrate found naturally in breastmilk. Besides the presence of lactose and prebiotics, it also mimics breastmilk in other ways. For example, it provides a source of DHA, the fatty acid essential for brain development. It also contains whey and casein, which are the same protein sources found inside breastmilk.
Made with a potent prebiotic blend to support gut health
Mimics the nutritional profile of breastmilk
Sweetened with lactose only (no maltodextrin or other sweeteners, even at stages higher than 1)
contains soy oil
4. Plum Organics Organic Infant Formula with Iron
Plum Organics is a lactose-based, sweetener-free organic infant formula. It’s modeled nutritionally after breastmilk and made to be easy on your baby’s digestive tract. With added DHA and ARA, it gives your baby the same fatty acids in breastmilk responsible for brain and eye development. It also contains organic whey protein, and of course, all the vitamins and minerals your baby needs.
Unfortunately, Plum Organics organic infant formula is not soy-free, and it contains taurine. Taurine is a synthetic amino acid taken as a supplement in the U.S. but banned in the EU, so you’ll want to do your own research and decide whether taurine is an ingredient you’re okay with.
Free of synthetic or processed sweeteners
DHA and ARA essential fatty acids added
Contains soy oil and taurine
5. HiPP Organic Baby Formula
HiPP organic infant formula is a European formula that is lactose-based and derived from grass-fed, organic milk. According to some customers, switching to HiPP solved their baby’s digestive complaints and helped them sleep better through the night as a result. It contains lactose-derived galactooligosaccharides, which are a type of prebiotic—fibers that fuel the growth of helpful bacteria in the gut. HiPP’s organic formula is 100% soy-free, but it does contain some palm oil as part of its essential fatty acid blend with rapeseed oil and sunflower oil.
Contains fish oil as a source of DHA
Gives your baby a source of prebiotics to support digestive health
Contains some palm oil
6. The Honest Co. Organic Infant Formula
The Honest Co. is another brand making organic infant formula. It contains taurine, soy, palm oil and glucose syrup solids, so you’ll have to decide if you want any of those left out of your baby’s formula. However, none of the ingredients are genetically engineered. It contains lactose, whey and prebiotics for nutritional and digestive support, plus all the vitamins and minerals your baby needs.
You can easily prepare the formula by adding warm water and shaking the bottle. Because it’s preservative-free, it goes bad very quickly after being mixed. If it turns out your baby wasn’t ready to eat and you can’t get to a refrigerator, the milk could easily get wasted. Unfortunately, there’s no source of DHA or ARA, which are essential fatty acids not included in the soy, coconut and sunflower oil blend in the Honest Co.’s organic baby formula.
Free of synthetic preservatives
Lactose and whey from organically farmed cows
Prebiotics included to support digestive health
Contains soy, palm oil and taurine
It lacks a source of DHA and ARA essential fatty acids
Goes bad quickly after being mixed
Buying the Best Baby Formula for Your Little One
Hopefully, this post has been your shortcut guide through the sea of information out there about organic infant formulas. At the end of the day, what’s important is that you test out a healthy, high-quality infant formula that you can afford from a brand that you trust.
From there, it’s all up to how your baby responds. If he or she has excessive gas or colic, try a goat milk alternative organic baby formula, and go with something that your baby tolerates better.
Interviews, stories, and guides on thetot.com contain information that is general in nature and should not replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical condition or concern or plan on trying a new diet, supplement or workout, it’s best to first consult with your physician or a qualified health professional.