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Bottle feeding - all about infant formula

bottle; formula; infant; cows; cow's; milk; starter; stage; alpha; pro; opti; AR; thickened; bifidus; probiotics; gold; HA; hypo; allergenic; nucleotides; soy; goat's; lactose; follow-on; progress; step; emergency; ;

If your baby is not drinking breastmilk, the only other safe choice is infant formula as the main drink for the first 12 months of life.

Babies who are formula fed will grow well and be healthy.


This topic is for families who have already decided to bottle feed their baby. If your baby is not breastfeeding the only other safe milks to give to a baby are infant formulas.

Formulas are modified milks that are made to be as close as possible to breastmilk, but there are still a lot of extras in breastmilk that cannot be put into formulas.

Babies who are formula fed will grow well and be healthy.

When do I need to use infant formula?

Bottle feeding your babyIf your baby is not drinking breastmilk, the only other safe choice is infant formula as the main drink for the first 12 months of life.

There are many reasons why a baby may be given formula, but it is important to know that your baby will still grow and develop well.

You can still have lots of cuddles and bonding time with your baby while you are bottle feeding.

What is infant formula?

Most infant formulas are made from cow's milk, but the amount and type of protein, fat, and carbohydrates have been changed to be more like breastmilk. Some extra minerals (such as iron) and vitamins have also been added. These changes make the formula a good balance of nutrition for babies who are not breastfeeding. Breastmilk has some other ingredients which lower the chance of your baby getting sick, but these are not in formula.

Which formula is best for my baby?

Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, you don't need to use a certain brand of formula. The formula your baby was on in hospital does not mean it is the "best" one to use. Hospitals can't stock all the different types of formula, and often just keep a few brands.

Infant formulaSo you might want to decide which one to use based on cost and what brand you can easily buy.

All infant formulas you can buy in Australia are safe to use for babies, for the age group written on the can. There are not a lot of differences between brands. The companies have to follow strict rules to make the formula.

Formulas are all made up to give about the same amount of energy (calories or kilojoules), protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals as each other.

The ones used from birth are called "starter", "newborn" or "step 1" formulas. These can be used from birth until 12 months of age. They give your baby everything she needs in a formula.

What if I don't think the formula I am using suits my baby?

Formulas made from cow's milk are all very similar, so babies usually don't do better having one brand rather than another.

If you want to change brands, remember to check how many scoops of powder and how much water to use and use only the scoop that came with that tin.

Some babies might be a bit unsettled for a few days if their formula is changed, and their poos might look or smell a bit different.

Changing the type of formula because of a small rash, or because your baby seems unsettled usually does not help. Speak to your doctor about these problems instead of trying different formulas.

What do the words on the can of formula mean?

Some formulas now add extra ingredients to try and make them more like breastmilk. Others are made for babies with special medical needs. But for most babies, regular formulas are just as good, and you do not need to use special ones.

Listed below are some of the names you might see on some cans of formula, and what they mean. Most of the "extra" ingredients in the list haven't been around long enough to know if your baby will have better health in the long term from using them. Many of these formulas cost more than regular ones. So it is up to you whether you would like to use them.

AR / Thickened

"AR" means "anti-regurgitation". These formulas may be used for babies with reflux. They have a thickener added to them. AR formulas do not always help with reflux, so ask your doctor's advice first before changing the formula. There may be other ways to manage reflux. See Reflux.

Bifidus / Probiotics / Prebiotics

Bifidus and probiotics are bacteria that are added to the formula. They help to keep the balance of your baby's digestive system. Prebiotics are ingredients that promote the growth of good bacteria. It seems the good bacteria (or probiotics") may be good for your baby's tummy, but babies can also be healthy without them in their formula.


Gold formulas have certain types of fats in them that are not found in other formulas. The fats are found in a baby's brain, eye tissue, and other parts of her body. These fats are not found in regular formulas. Your baby can make these fats in her body. She does not have to get them from formula.


"HA" means "hypo-allergenic". These formulas are for babies at high risk of allergies (eg where immediate family members have asthma, eczema, hay fever or food allergies). The protein has been broken down into smaller parts. This formula is not for babies with a cow's milk allergy.

If you think your baby might have an allergy to formula, or is at risk of allergies, speak to your doctor. There is more about allergies in the topic 'Reactions to food'.


Lactose is the natural sugar in breastmilk, cow's milk and formula. Sometimes a baby may not be able to break down or digest the lactose. These types of formulas are only needed for babies who have a problem with lactose (lactose intolerance). Be sure to discuss this with your doctor first. There is more in the topic 'Lactose intolerance in babies'.

Can I use soy or goat's milk infant formulas?

Soy and goat infant formulas have no cow's milk in them. They have all the vitamins, minerals and nutrition your baby needs. But most babies do not need to have these types of formulas. Soy and goat's milk formulas may also cost more than cow's milk formulas.

If you would like to give your baby soy or goat's milk formula, you can use them from birth until 12 months of age. Speak to your doctor about when to change on to regular soy or goat's milk after 12 months of age.

If you think your baby might have an allergy to a cow's milk formula, speak to your doctor. Soy or goat's milk formulas are usually not the best ones to use for babies with a cow's milk allergy. This is because some babies will react to soy or goat's milk as well. Signs your baby might have an allergy include vomiting, diarrhoea, a rash, or difficulty breathing.

Soy infant formulas:

  • Are made from soybeans and do not contain any animal products.
  • Don't have lactose in them (a natural sugar in cow's milk and breastmilk).

The reasons soy infant formulas may be used include:

  • If you want your baby to be a vegan (so don't want him to have a cow's milk formula).
  • If your baby has a problem with lactose (lactose intolerance). BUT there are other formulas you can use for this problem, and soy formula may not be the first choice. So it's best to speak to your doctor before changing formula.

Goat's milk infant formulas:

  • Are made from goat's milk. But goat's milk is not very different to cow's milk.
  • Have lactose in them (so are not better for babies who have a problem with lactose).

If you do want your baby to have goat's milk, it is very important you use goat's milk formula, not regular goat's milk.

Should I use "Follow-On" formula for my baby?

These formulas may be called "follow-on", "progress" or "step 2". They are different to starter or step 1 formulas, and are less like breastmilk. They have more iron and protein in them. The mix of vitamins and minerals is also different to starter or step 1 formulas.

These formulas are made for babies over six months old. You should not give them to babies younger than this, as the different mix of nutrients is not right for babies under 6 months.

Babies over 6 months of age do have different nutritional needs to younger babies. But these needs can be met with starter or step 1 formula and solid foods. So your baby does not have to have a follow-on formula after 6 months of age.

It you wish to use one, you can give it to your baby aged 6 to 12 months.

Can I give my baby cow's milk instead of formula?

No. Cow's milk is not the right main milk drink to give to babies. It has too much protein, salt and minerals, and not enough vitamins or iron. Cow's milk can be hard for your baby to digest and can cause some health problems (such as low blood levels of iron) if it is your baby's main food. This includes full cream, reduced fat, low fat, skimmer or skim milk, evaporated or powdered milk, sweetened condensed milk, pasteurised milk and UHT (long-life) milk.

Cow's milk

Continue to use formula as the main drink until your baby is 12 months old.

After your baby is 6 months old, you may begin to use full cream cow's milk in small amounts. Once you have started giving solid foods to your baby (by around 6 months of age), you can use small amounts of full cream cow's milk in foods such as custard, yoghurt, milk desserts, or on cereal.

When your baby is over 12 months old, you may stop using formula and change to full cream cow's milk as the main drink. This is a good time to stop using the bottle, so try to give cow's milk from a cup (you can use a cup for water from around 6 months if you wish). Limit to 500ml of milk a day, as your baby will be eating a good range of foods by now to get all the nutrients she needs.

What about toddler milks?

Toddler milks should not be used for babies under 12 months of age.

Toddler milks do not have the right balance of nutrition for babies, and can be hard to digest.

They are made for children aged 1 to 3 years. But a toddler who is eating a balanced diet does not need to drink toddler milk. Full cream cow’s milk is suitable until at least 2 years of age (when a reduced fat milk may be used).


South Australia

  • Parent Helpline - phone 1300 364 100
  • Child and Family Health Centres 1300 733 606
    Call 9am to 4.30pm to make an appointment

More information

The booklet 'Infant formula - a guide to safe preparation and feeding of infant formula' produced by Women's and Children's Health Network (South Australia) is available for downloading: Infant Formula Booklet

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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