Bottle feeding

Infant formula milk

Infant formula milk

During the first 12 months of life, there are only two types of milk that should be used to feed your baby: breast milk or infant formula milk (unless a doctor recommends otherwise).

Any other type of milk, such as cows' or goats' milk, will not satisfy your baby’s nutritional needs, and should not be given to babies under one year of age. A young baby’s digestive system is unable to cope with the high protein content of cows' or goat’s milk, which are likely to cause a bad reaction.

Most infant formula milks are dried and packaged in tins but they can also be bought ready-made in cartons. This is an expensive option but it can be useful for taking on holiday or for day trips. Some organic varieties of formula milk are also available. 

There are two types of infant formula milks:

  • one for babies from birth onwards, which is designed to be digested quickly and easily, and
  • one for the hungrier baby, which is suitable for older babies and takes longer to digest. Your midwife or health visitor can give you advice about which type of milk is best for your baby.

Specialised formula milks

A number of specialised formula milks are also available to cater for particular needs. These include:

  • pre-term formula,
  • soya formula milk, and
  • follow-on milks.

These are described in more detail below.

Pre-term formula

Pre-term formula is for small or premature babies. It is designed specifically for immature digestive systems and is high in calories to help with weight gain in low birth weight babies.

Soya formula milk

In exceptional circumstances, soya formula milk may be recommended, e.g. if your baby is sensitive to cows' milk, or if they are lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance is where the digestive system is unable to break down lactose, which is a natural sugar that is found in the milk of all mammals, such as cows, goats and sheep, and all milk products.

A 2004 report published by the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food (COT) emphasised that soya-based formulas should only be used to ensure adequate nutrition in a small number of cases. For example, where infants with cows' milk intolerance refuse extensively hydrolysed formulas, or where vegan mothers are unable to breastfeed or choose not to.

Therefore, before using soya formula milk, you should seek advice from your GP, midwife or health visitor.

Follow-on milks

Follow-on milks are suitable for babies from the age of six months onwards, who are on solids. They are designed to bridge the gap between infant formula and ordinary cows' milk. You should not give your baby cows' milk before they are one year of age because young babies are unable to digest the protein that it contains.

If your baby is enjoying breast milk, or formula milk, it is not necessary to switch to follow-on milks. Although follow-on milks contain an increased amount of iron, the Department of Health has stated that only 3-4% can be absorbed by a baby, and once you introduce solid food into your baby’s diet (usually at around six months of age), they should be able to get enough iron and nutrients from other food sources.

Extensively hydrolysed infant formula

Infant formula milks based on goats' milk protein have not been sold in the UK since March 1 2007. This is because they are not a suitable source of nutrition for babies who are less than one year of age. Current European legislation only permits infant formula and follow-on formula to be based on cows' milk protein, hydrolysed protein or soya protein.

The protein in goats' milk formula is very similar to cows' milk protein, so most babies who have an allergic reaction to cows' milk are likely to have a similar reaction to goats' milk. This is also the case for babies who are lactose intolerant.

Babies who have a proven intolerance to cows' milk protein may be prescribed an extensively hydrolysed infant formula. In this type of formula, the structure of the milk is changed so that a baby’s body does not recognise the protein as a foreign object, making it less likely to trigger an allergic reaction. However, the nutritional value of extensively hydrolysed infant formula is the same as other infant formulas.


An allergen is a substance that reacts with the body's immune system and causes an allergic reaction.
Last updated: 04 October 2011

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