When choosing baby formula for their baby, new parents can sometimes be overwhelmed with the different types available. Some formulas boast about easier digestion, while some might be a little more cost-effective. 

How can parents know the truth when it comes to baby formula? And how can a parent choose the right one for their infant?  

There are four main types/brands of baby formula – 

  • Enfamil
  • Similac
  • Gerber Good Start
  • Generic (offered by different store brands like Target and Walmart, but all are made with the same formula at the same factory)

For each of these brands, there are specialty formulas, which might claim to ease acid reflux or help with allergies or other issues. If a baby needs a specialty formula, that should be recommended by the child’s pediatrician. He or she will know best what type of formula would be most beneficial. 

For the normal, average baby, most parents will choose between the four brands listed above.

When it comes to choosing the right baby formula for your baby, Dr. Cliff James, board-certified pediatrician, recommends evaluating the brands on these standards: 

  • Safety
  • Vitamins/Minerals
  • Fat
  • Sugar/Carbohydrates
  • Protein

When it comes to safety, the formula industry is very tightly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and all are held to the exact same standards. Each of these four brands is safe to feed your baby. 

Because formulas are held to the same standards by the FDA, the vitamins and minerals in each of these are the same. Those same standards hold true with the fats that are in each of the brands. Each company uses vegetable oils and amino acids in their formulas, which do not vary between brands. 

So where do the differences lie in each of these brands? In sugar/carbohydrates and protein. 

The main sugar seen in breast milk is lactose, and Enfamil, Similac and Generic brands also feature lactose as their main source of sugar/carbohydrates. Gerber Good Start also features lactose, but includes additional glucose polymers, as well, which the company boasts makes it easier for babies to digest. 

Protein is where each of the brands varies widely. 

The two main sources of protein in breast milk are casein and whey. On average, breast milk features 40 percent casein and 60 percent whey. Of course, all breast milk is different depending on the diet of the mother and other factors, but 40/60 is the overall average. 

Enfamil uses breast milk as a guide and features 40 percent casein and 60 percent whey, as well. Similac’s formula is a little different, featuring 52 percent casein and 48 percent whey. Generic store brands feature proteins somewhere between Enfamil and Similac’s breakdown.

Gerber Good Start has the biggest difference in protein, as it only consists of whey and features no casein at all. This brand features hydrolyzed whey protein, which the company says makes digestion easier. 

Another difference between the formula brands is the addition of DHA and ARA, two specific fatty acids that help with a baby’s development of vision and the brain. Enfamil was the first company to add these acids to their products and they continue to have the most DHA and ARA in their formulas. Similac, Gerber Good Start and the generic brands also have these fatty acids, but at varying levels.

Deciding which formula will work best for your baby can be a daunting task. The best way to determine is trial and error – choose a formula and try it with your baby for three to five days. Switching formulas sooner than three to five days can cause stomach issues such as gas, constipation and diarrhea. 

How will you know if the formula is right for your baby? Watch for excessive spit-up, gas, fussiness and constipation. If your baby isn’t experiencing an excessive amount of those issues, you may have found the right one!

If you are unable to find a formula that works for your baby, or if there seems to be repeated issues with different formula brands, visit with your pediatrician. He or she can recommend specific formulas based on any issues your baby might be experiencing.