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The ultimate guide to newborn formula 

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How to choose the best newborn formula for your baby in Australia? It’s a question many new parents ask themselves when faced with a shelf full of formula tins.

Many of us choose one that our friends recommend or maybe you’ve stuck with the brand you used in the hospital without giving it a second thought. Either way, the choice can be overwhelming.

To help you make the best decision for your baby, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to choosing a formula for your newborn.

This article contains information about infant formulas. Under the WHO Code, the information presented here is free from advertising and is based on unbiased opinions from parents.

How is newborn infant formula regulated in Australia?

Infant formula is highly regulated under Standard 2.9.1 – Infant Formula Products in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. The code covers all three categories of formula: infant formula, follow-on formula, and formula for special dietary use. 

The Food Standards Australia New Zealand website says: “All commercially produced infant formula products available in Australia and New Zealand must comply with the composition and safety requirements outlined in the Code. 

“Standard 2.9.1 specifies the mandatory nutrient content for infant formula and follow-on formula to ensure that the nutrition requirements of infants aged up to 12 months are met.”

Thanks to the code, newborn formula manufacturers must also comply with strict labeling guidelines, prohibiting some types of “claims, images, and symbols on product labels.”

The code also controls food additives in formula.

So, parents can rest easy knowing that regardless of which formula they choose, bub is going to get all the nutrients they need to thrive.


When choosing newborn formula, protein should be top of mind. A cow’s milk-based formula is recommended for babies under 12 months, unless they have a diagnosed milk allergy. 

Whey: casein ratio

Breastmilk and cow’s milk both contain the protein whey and casein, just in different ratios.

Casein becomes clots or curds in the stomach and takes longer to digest. The Kids with Food Allergies website says the casein in cow’s milk protein is a common cause of allergy symptoms. Whereas, whey remains a liquid in the stomach and is easier to digest. 

A review of key breastmilk and formula features says, “depending on the stage of milk, 80% to 50% of the protein in breastmilk is whey. The whey/casein ratio in human milk fluctuates between 70/30 and 80/20 in early lactation and decreases to 50/50 in late lactation.”

But “in cow’s milk, whey proteins represent only 18% of milk protein.”

Because of this, animal milk proteins are greatly modified so the whey: casein ratio resembles something a little closer to breastmilk.

While it’s always best to speak to your doctor when choosing a formula, if it’s for a very young baby, it might be a good idea to choose one with a higher amount of whey for easier digestion. (This might also help with gassy babies too.) The whey: casein ratio can usually be found on the tin. 

Formula alternatives for diagnosed cow’s milk allergy

Babies who can’t have cow’s milk-based formula might need a special dairy-free formula. Parents should only make the switch under the guidance of a healthcare professional. 

If your doctor recommends switching formula, reading baby formula reviews from parents can help when choosing a formula brand that’s right for you and your baby. 

Australasia Society of Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) recommends the following formulas for a diagnosed cow’s milk allergy:

  • Cow’s milk-based extensively hydrolysed formula (EHF) – they are treated with enzymes to break down most of the cow’s milk proteins. But, this isn’t suitable for babies who have had anaphylaxis to cow’s milk.
  • Soy protein formula – Soy is an alternate protein to cow’s milk. But some babies who are allergic to cow’s milk are also allergic to soy. So if you’re thinking about switching to soy formula, talk to a doctor or dietitian first.
  • Rice protein – Rice protein-based formula is available without a prescription. It may be used as an alternative formula to extensively hydrolysed formula (EHF) or soy protein formula.

How much protein?

In an article published in The Conversation, Dr. Rachel Laws from the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Deakin University says parents should choose a formula with the lowest amount of protein.

“For healthy full-term babies, there is little evidence to say that one formula is better than another. The only recommendation we can provide is around protein levels,” she writes.

“The Australian Infant Feeding Guidelines actually recommend choosing a formula with a lower amount of protein, as a large trial conducted in Europe found that a higher protein content of infant formula is associated with higher weight in the first two years of life.”

Protein in newborn formula ranges from 1.3-2 grams per 100ml, so try and pick one with a lower amount.

Other types of formulas:

  • Stage 1 or starter formulas – these are suitable for babies aged up to 6 months. Dr Laws says: “This [Infant stage 1 formula] is the only type of formula babies need until they’re 12 months old. No studies have shown any advantages in using follow-on formulas.”
  • Stage 2 – stage 2 or follow-on formulas often have a higher protein content, so do your research before switching.
  • Anti-reflux or AR formulas – these have a thickener added to help with reflux babies. Read our best formula for reflux article.
  • Goat’s milk – goat milk based formulas are not a suitable alternative for infants with allergies to cow’s milk based formulas unless advised by a doctor.
  • Organic formula – the milk used in organic formula is free of hormones, chemicals, and pesticides.
  • Toddler milk – toddler milk, sometimes known as follow-on formula, is a milk drink fortified with vitamins, minerals, and sometimes pre and probiotics.

Baby formula with special additives

  • LCPs: gold formulas have certain types of fats – long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) – added to them. Breastmilk naturally contains LCPUFAs (especially DHA and AA). Raising Children says, “It isn’t known if these added fats in formula work in the same way as those naturally found in breastmilk, or if they are absorbed as effectively.”
  • Betacarotene: a source of vitamin A and anti-oxidants. Most formulas already have added vitamin A and anti-oxidants. 
  • Prebiotics and probiotics: these can help formula-fed babies grow healthy bacteria in their bowels. 
  • Iron: all infant formulas available in Australia are iron-fortified.

Tips for choosing a baby formula

  • Choose a cow’s milk-based formula for under 12 months, unless diagnosed with a cow’s milk allergy
  • Formula prices vary and aren’t necessarily a sign of quality. 
  • Always read the label.
  • Choose a formula low in protein.
  • Consult your doctor before switching formula brands and give your bub a few days to get used to a new one. 
  • It might take some trial and error to find the right formula for your baby.  

How to prepare formula for your baby

Prepare infant formulas according to the instructions on the formula tin. Not all formulas come with the same measurements so make your read the label carefully. 

If you’re just starting out on your formula feeding journey, read our article on how to clean baby bottles so they are ready to go when your baby is hungry.

Mixed feeding

Some mums introduce formula to their babies by mixed feeding. Mixed feeding means allowing the baby to feed on the breast first and then following up with formula from a bottle. It does NOT mean mixing breastmilk and formula together in the same bottle, though. Read our article for tips on how to mix feed your baby.

What changes might I expect when introducing formula?

Your baby’s poos are going to be a lot different in both colour and smell. Take careful notice of these changes as they could indicate that the formula you have chosen might not be quite right for your baby. If you’re worried about constipation, read our best formula for constipation article.

Formula brands in Australia

Parents in the Tell Me Baby community have rated baby formulas they’ve tried and shared their opinions on what has or hasn’t worked for them. Click the links to see what our community members think of each brand.

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