What is the Best Baby Formula in the UK?

Choosing how and what to feed your baby is crucial during the first few months of life. Breastfeeding is, of course, the premier option. But what if you can’t or prefer not to breastfeed your baby? Fortunately, there’s baby formula.

There’s one problem: a quick browse in your supermarket’s baby milk aisle will quickly get overwhelming. With endless options and brands on display, how do you even begin to choose?

In this article, we’ll run you through some of the recommended baby formulas in the UK, based on authentic feedback and experiences from mums and healthcare providers in the country. We’ll also discuss a few key considerations when you’re picking a baby formula for your little one.

The Best Baby Formula in the UK

Hipp Organic First Milk

  • Form: powdered
  • Size: 4 x 800 g boxes
  • Infant Age: 0 – 3 months

Hipp is a popular baby formula brand that’s one of the few to be marketed as organic. They also describe their formula as gentle, and that’s because they don’t use any pesticides in the grass where their cows graze.

The carton packaging (as opposed to the usual tin) also makes disposing of it a breeze. Plus, it’s biodegradable. Although, we find that the plastic packaging inside is not easily resealable as the cover of a tin can. A quick solution is to just transfer it to a clean container to make your life easier.

Personally, Hipp is the baby formula our breastfed baby likes, and we realised why. It somehow tastes the closest to breastmilk. Thus, this is the baby formula we recommend for mums who do mixed feeding (breastmilk + baby formula). Us and other parents also reported that Hipp leads to less reflux and colic episodes, which is super helpful.

SMA PRO Ready-to-Feed First Infant Milk

  • Form: ready-to-feed
  • Size: box of 32 x 70 ml bottles
  • Infant Age: 0 – 6 months

A ready-to-feed baby formula like SMA PRO is incredibly valuable because of its convenience. It’s very practical to bring on a trip or calm down a hungry, crying baby in a pinch.

The only real drawback with the SMA PRO is that it doesn’t include any teat, although you can easily screw in the teat from your baby’s bottle. This does add the minor inconvenience of having to bring an extra teat, but that shouldn’t be much of a problem.

Composition wise, SMA PRO conforms with UK regulations. The milk itself is UHT treated, so you’re guaranteed that it is sterile and safe for baby to drink.

Similac First Infant Milk

  • Form: powdered
  • Size: 900 g
  • Infant Age: 0 month – 1 year

A relative newcomer to the UK market, Similac is nevertheless a popular brand of baby formula in other parts of the globe. Backed by the renowned brand Abbott, Similac contains the essential nutrients your baby needs at birth.

What sets this baby formula apart is that it doesn’t use any palm oil in its formulation, which is one less artificial ingredient to worry about. It’s also a thoroughly UK product using milk from Irish cows.

Mums’ and babies’ experiences with Similac have been mostly great. Takeaways include minimal foaming and bubbles during shaking and powder that dissolves nicely.

Aptamil First Infant Milk

  • Form: powdered
  • Size: 6 x 800 g boxes
  • Infant Age: 0 – 3 months

Aptamil is probably one of the most widely available and popular baby formula brands in the UK. It is also one of the most agreeable and accepted among baby consumers in the country.

The nice thing about Aptamil is its easy-to-use pack. The scoop is stored in the lid for easy retrieval, unlike other brands which keep it inside the can. There’s also a handy leveller built into the pack, so you don’t need a knife or fork to level.

Aptamil also comes in different variants, from anti-reflux to ready-to-drink.

Kendamil Organic First Infant Milk

  • Form: powdered
  • Size: 2 x 800 g boxes
  • Infant Age: 0 months – 1 year

Kendamil Organic First Infant Milk is one of those baby formulas, apart from Hipp, that touts itself as an organic, fresh and natural product. It contains no artificial additives like palm or fish oil and uses full cream milk from UK pastures. It’s also one of the first baby formulas to contain a key component of breastmilk called oligosaccharides.

The result is a baby formula that tastes exceptionally like real milk, with no artificial notes like other baby formulas. If your baby is very picky with his or her formula, the Kendamil Organic First Infant Milk might be an excellent option for them.

Cow and Gate Anti-Reflux Baby Formula

  • Form: powdered
  • Size: 4 x 800 g boxes
  • Infant Age: 0 months – 1 year

The Cow and Gate Anti-Reflux Baby Formula is excellent for babies who suffer from reflux. The thicker formulation works well at keeping the milk in baby’s stomach and avoids accidental regurgitation. As a side effect, many mums report it also helps with colic.

Because this anti-reflux baby formula is thicker, you should know how to prepare and handle it. It can also cause tooth decay when it stays in your baby’s mouth for too long, so care should be exercised when using this baby formula.

Things to Consider When Buying Baby Formula in the UK

Breastfeeding vs Baby Formula

Before you decide to go the baby formula route, you need to know the differences between it and breastmilk.

Of course, there’s no doubt that breastfeeding is still superior over formula. It contains antibodies and complex nutrients that are tailor-fit for the baby’s needs, and it changes over time, too. Breastmilk is scientifically proven to protect your baby from infection – something that baby formula has yet to achieve.

However, the reality is that not every mum can exclusively breastfeed their babies for the six months recommended by the World Health Organization. Health reasons, logistical challenges, and other obstacles can get in the way. In that case, baby formula isn’t a bad alternative.

Despite the negativity surrounding baby formula, it actually contains beneficial nutrients and vitamins for your baby’s growth. And rest assured that all baby formulas available in the UK strictly adhere to the UK Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations (England and Wales) 2007.

If you’re looking for a compromise, you can do mixed feeding. It’s where you complement your breastfeeding regimen with baby formula. This is helpful if you don’t have enough breastmilk to fulfil your baby’s needs.

Whatever you decide, remember the mantra “fed is best”. In other words, it’s far more important to make sure that your baby is properly fed the nutrients he or she needs for healthy growth. And if breastfeeding can get in the way of that goal, using baby formula is perfectly fine.

Types of Baby Formula

The good thing about baby formula is that there is a wide variety for you to choose from, depending on your baby’s needs. Generally, baby formula is divided into three types:

First milk is a baby formula that’s suitable for a newborn. It’s made from cow’s milk that’s processed to fit the nutritional needs of babies up to one year of age.

For most babies, first milk is the only baby formula you’ll ever need, even as you introduce them to solid food. From year one onwards, you can safely switch first milk to regular cow’s milk.

Second milk is a “fattier”, more nutritionally dense baby formula that contains a higher percentage of casein or milk curds. They are meant for “hungrier babies”, since the high curd content takes time to digest and, therefore, keeps baby fuller for longer. However, there’s no scientific proof that this actually works. Second milk is also not suitable for young infants because they will have a hard time digesting it.

Follow-on milk is designed as an upgrade to first milk for babies from six months onwards. It’s similar in composition to first milk but contains additional nutrients like iron and vitamin D that an older infant might need. However, most health experts agree that it’s unnecessary to switch from first milk to follow-on milk. The deficient nutrients, like iron, can easily be introduced through solid food.

Toddler milk is a baby formula designed for toddlers aged one year onwards. It’s marketed as an alternative to cow’s milk and touted to have more nutrients and vitamins. However, like follow-on milk, there’s no scientific evidence to back this. It’s easier to introduce a healthy diet or supplements to toddlers to ensure they get all the nutrients they need.

So, bottom line: go for first milk for the first year of life, then switch to regular cow’s milk afterwards.

Specialist Baby Formulas

Like we said, first milk is almost always the only baby formula you’ll ever need. However, for some infants with health concerns like allergies or lactose intolerance, first milk can be problematic.

Fortunately, there are other specialist formulas available in the market. However, before trying any of these, we recommend talking with your health care provider or paediatrician first.

Hypoallergenic baby formula contains milk proteins that have been broken down (or hydrolysed), making it easier for your baby to digest. This is a good alternative for lactose intolerant babies.

Alternatively, you can also buy soy-based baby formula if your baby is lactose intolerant. Since it’s animal-free, soya baby formula is excellent for parents who want to adopt a vegetarian diet for their infants. However, some babies can react negatively with soya milk, so be warned. Also, soya can have adverse effects on young infants, such as reproductive health issues or tooth decay later in life.

Anti-reflux baby formula is formulated to be thicker to help prevent or alleviate reflux in infants. Preparing the anti-reflux baby formula is different from that of a standard formula. Because it’s thicker and tends to get lumpy, most manufacturers recommend using water at less-than-boiling temperatures.

Powder vs Ready-to-Feed Formulas

You can buy baby formula in one of two forms – in powdered or ready-to-feed liquid form. Both are compositionally and nutritionally the same once prepared. What you go with will depend on your situation.

The ready-to-feed formula is more convenient as there’s no preparation involved, plus you don’t need to bring additional equipment like bottles or warmers. However, they tend to be more expensive and require more packaging. They’re better suited when you’re travelling.

Powdered baby formula is much more common, practical, and cheaper compared to liquid baby formula. The only drawback is the preparation involved. Some powdered formulas come in pre-measured packets, making your life easier by eliminating the need to measure each feed.

Cost and Composition

Unlike other consumer products, baby formula is tightly regulated in the UK. The government has strict rules on which ingredients should, and shouldn’t, be in baby formula.

And this leads to the big truth behind baby formula brands that manufacturers won’t tell you – they’re very similar to each other. Some might have a unique ingredient added that promises some benefit. However, the reality is that most of these don’t have any visible health effects on the baby. At best, they’re very minimal.

The implication is that buying a more expensive baby formula won’t necessarily give you a better product. That’s because the proven and crucial ingredients that really matter are required by law to be in every baby formula in the market.

The good news is that you really can’t go wrong with any baby formula brand as long as it’s recognised in the UK. Even with the price differences, you’ll end up spending roughly the same annually in baby formula no matter which brand you choose.

So why would you choose between baby formula brands, then? Well, it depends on which one your baby chooses. Some infants like the taste of one baby formula brand over the other, which will influence your decision to buy. Of course, some baby formulas are designed for special needs, like soya or lactose intolerant formulas.