Best Organic Baby Formulas [2020 Reviews]
Fortunately, there are many very high quality, organic baby formulas to choose from, some of which are made in the USA and others in Europe. Below we summarize the best we've found, resulting from over 10 years of experience reviewing infant formulas. Scroll down to see in-depth reviews of each of the best organic formulas.
- Top 5 Organic Baby Formulas Comparison Table
- 1. Best Overall: HiPP Dutch Organic Formula
- 2. Second Best: Loulouka Organic Baby Formula
- 3. Best US Option: Happy Baby Organic Baby Formula
- 4. Lebenswert Stage 1 Organic Baby Formula
- 5. Holle Bio Pre Organic Formula
- 6. Baby's Only Organic Formula
- 7. Earth's Best Organic Formula
- 8. Baby's Only LactoRelief Baby Formula
- 9. Mama Bear Organic Baby Formula
- 10. Similac Organic Baby Formula
- Discontinued: The Honest Co Organic Formula
- Discontinued: Plum Organics Grow Well
- Discontinued: Gerber Natura Organic
- Discontinued: Happy Tot Grow & Shine
- Baby Formula Ingredients
- Good Ingredients
- Bad Ingredients
- Downright Ugly Ingredients
|Model and Link to Amazon||Our Rating|
|#1. HiPP Dutch Baby Formula|
|#2. Loulouka Baby Formula|
|#3. Happy Baby Organic Formula|
|#4. Lebenswert Stage 1 Organic|
|#5. Holle Bio Pre Baby Formula|
Infant formula comes in dozens of brands and varieties, and figuring out what's best for your baby can be a daunting task, especially for discerning parents who want a natural formula without preservatives, artificial flavors, artificial colors, or artificial sweeteners. The best organic formulas contain all-natural and non-GMO ingredients, plus they are sourced from farms that feed their cattle only the best natural foods, without traces of pesticides, herbicides, steroids/hormones, antibiotics, or other harmful additives. In the United States, USDA certified organic products must contain at least 95% organic ingredients; that's a decent criterion, but not the best. By contrast, European baby formulas must meet the EU Bio (organic) certification process, which has a more stringent 98% organic content criterion.
Non-organic formulas, in contrast, have some truly scary ingredients: vitamins derived from petroleums, sulfate-based pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, corn syrup solids, etc. These aren't the best ingredients to have in any foods, nevermind them being in the first food your baby consumes.
Here are the Best Organic Baby Formulas of 2020!
HiPP is one of the best-selling European formulas (made in Germany and sold in Dutch, UK, and German varieties), and for some great reasons. This review is of the Dutch version, which we think is the best of the pack (see why here). It is a skim-milk and lactose-based certified organic formula that contains both prebiotics (plant fiber) and probiotics for digestability, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, and uses whey powder (and whey protein) along with a mix of vegetable oils (palm, rapeseed, sunflower). Just like breast milk, it has an ideal whey to casein ratio of about 75/25, and contains lactic acid bacteria cultures (B.lactis) that can help reduce colic and irritability (according to published research). Even more compelling is what this formula does NOT contain, which includes starch, gluten, maltodextrin, processed sugar solids, artificial preservatives or vitamins/minerals, soy (Stages 1-2), or GMO ingredients. It's a very comprehensive infant formula that is widely respected around the world for its macro- and micro-nutrient profile. The addition of prebiotics and probiotics makes this the best sensitive baby formula option, while also making it relatively complete in terms of nutritional value, especially in relation to US formulas and FDA and USDA recommendations. In fact, its ingredient profile is a bit more similar to some US brands such as Baby's Only and Happy Baby, but it excels relative to the typical formula in its sensitivity and nutritional composition, making it a great formula for babies with GI sensitivity and more complex nutritional needs (of course, always ask your pediatrician first!). We have tested the Dutch, UK, and German versions of HiPP Combiotik (called Combiotic in UK) in several infants and toddlers, and found very high acceptance rates, with none of them developing any clear signs of gas or discomfort. All of the moms liked the Dutch formula in particular for its consistency, ease of mixing, and lack of bubbles after mixing. Like all the best organic baby formulas, Hipp Combiotik is relatively expensive in comparison to US products (and even in comparison to other European infant formulas), so keep that in mind when comparing to other options. If you choose any of the European brands, we suggest using OrganicStart for great prices, fast shipping, and responsive customer service! For more details on our testing of HiPP formulas, see our full in-depth review of Dutch, UK, and German HiPP Combiotik. Interested? You can check out the HiPP Combiotik Formula at OrganicStart!
Loulouka is one of the newest European baby formulas to hit the market, and it has quickly become one of the best-selling baby formulas at major online retailers. And for some great reasons! First of all, many parents do not appreciate the use of soy and palm oils in their formulas, and Loulouka listened! This awesome baby formula uses only sunflower, coconut, and rapeseed oils as sources of fat. For carbohydrates and protein, it is based on skimmed milk (first ingredient) and whey powder, achieving a suitable whey to casein ratio similar to breast milk. If you've read elsewhere that Loulouka is a whole milk baby formula, that information is outdated: they adapted their formulas in 2020 to use only skim milk. This decision was in response to emerging EU regulations that will restrict the use of whole milk in baby formula in an attempt to lower rates of childhood obesity. At the same time, Loulouka also updated their packaging, introducing large (900g) flip-top tins that make storage and dispensing really convenient. Second, like HiPP, the Loulouka formulas contain prebiotics (GOS), choline, amino acids (L-carnitine), and Omega-3 fatty acids (ALA, DHA); going beyond many other formulas, they also include Omega-6 (linoleic acid), and inositol. Just as important is what Loulouka stage 1 does not contain: added sugars, palm oil, soy, GMO ingredients, synthetic nutrients or preservatives, starch, or maltodextrine. Third, Loulouka formulas are made in Switzerland using only milk from cows fed organic grass and hay, conforming to high Swiss standards for sustainable organic farming and using locally-sourced ingredients. Most importantly, Loulouka passed our tests with flying colors! We loved the consistency, ease of mixing, and taste - and so did our test babies, who showed high acceptance and no signs of gas, indigestion, or constipation! You can read more about our full review and testing of Loulouka formulas here. Loulouka formulas come in three stages: stage 1 for use from birth to 6 months, stage 2 for 6+ months, and stage 3 for 10+ months. Of the different Loulouka varieties, stage 1 is our favorite because it avoids maltodextrine as a carbohydrate, which is added in Stages 2-3. It is important to point out that Loulouka meets both FDA and USDA guidelines for infant feeding, as well as EU infant feeding requirements and their relatively strict organic food requirements. Overall, we love Loulouka formulas and are thrilled to include it on our list, and we think you'll also be happy to hear that the Loulouka formulas are very reasonably priced for a European formula (coming in at just over $1.00/ounce)! Interested? You can check out the Loulouka Organic Baby Formula at OrganicStart!
The best organic formulas should be modeled after breastmilk and allow flexible supplementing of breastfeeding and facilitate transitions. Just like breast milk, this formula uses lactose as the primary carbohydrate source, and it contains a macronutrient (proteins, fats, carbohydrates) profile that is very similar to breast milk. Protein is provided with nonfat cow's milk and whey protein concentrate, and fats come from palm, soy, coconut, and safflower and/or sunflower oils. Plus some added bonuses like two different prebiotics (FOS and GOS), Omega 3 and Omega 6 (ARA and DHA), and choline. It is organic, non-GMO, and contains no corn syrup solids or other sweeteners, maltodextrine or food starch. Like Baby's Only, the DHA is extracted with a water-based process rather than using hexane or other harmful chemicals. It is also kosher and the packaging and formula itself contain no BPA. There are no surprise ingredients in this formula, and the dairy cows that supply the milk are only fed the best organic diets. About 100 calories, 2 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fat per serving, this formula has a macronutrient profile very similar to breast milk. It also doesn't taste much different from it, though some of our testers thought it's not quite as sweet. And while it does contain iron (1 mg per serving), it doesn't contain as much iron as many other formulas (which are typically around 2mg). Of course, we want to point out that the FDA and USDA advise against iron-reduced infant formulas, and there is no strong scientific basis for iron contributing to constipation in formula-fed infants. So, overall this is an excellent addition to our best baby formula list for several reasons, including its overall quality, ingredient sourcing, and nutritional profile. Cons? We did find it difficult to dissolve in water, taking a lot of shaking and stirring to get it to fully dissolve and not leave any clumps. So that was a bit more work than we may have desired, at least relative to other options on this list. If your baby has any food-related sensitivities, this does contain soy (just FYI). Also, like most formulas it contains palm oil, which is a bit controversial for use in baby formula due to its risk of causing mild gassiness. And it's actually pretty expensive, coming in about $1.50 per ounce. Interested? You can check out the Happy Baby Formula at Amazon.
This is one of the few organic formulas on our list that is specifically targeted toward newborns and infants, rather than just toddlers. This Lebenswert formula sets the gold standard for how organic formulas should be sourced and manufactured. Based in Spain, the Bioland company has been making the top-rated European organic infant formula for several years. The Lebenswert formula is based on organic skim milk, organic whey, organic vegetable oils, organic lactose, and vitamins and minerals. With skim milk as the first ingredient, it seems like a better option overall than several other baby formulas on this list that use things like brown rice syrup (the Baby's Only options), or lactose (Plum Organics, Happy Baby, and Earth's Best). So rather than using a sugar (lactose is a milk-derived sugar, and brown rice syrup is a sugar as well) as a primary ingredient, this organic formula uses milk itself and then adds in the fats and sugars later. And there's other stuff to feel good about - the farms and ingredients are certified organic, they only use the best high-quality raw ingredients, and the company uses its profits to fund conservation of natural resources. Even better, because this baby formula is suitable for use from birth onward, it is great for exclusive bottle feeding, which makes it a really unique addition to the organic baby formula market. In our testing, we found it to taste great without being too sweet or oily, mix well with water, and it caused the least gas of most other formulas on this list. And that's impressive because some of them, like the HiPP options, are also really great at that. This is a baby formula intended for highly discerning parents who are looking for a European baby formula that doesn't break the bank. Cons? In comparison to Holle and HiPP, Lebenswert has been slow to add Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids to their formulas. A new European regulation will force them to include at least Omega-3 in the upcoming months, and bring them up to USDA recommendations. Also, we are partial to Stage 1, and think Stages 2-3 have a lot of room for improvement. Specifically, Stage 1 does not include maltodextrine or food starch, but as you go from Stage 1 to Stages 2-3 they add those ingredients as carbohydrate sources. Finally, if you're intimidated by the fact that the information on the box is not in English, just scroll down on the OrganicStart website to see ingredients and instructions in English. Or for even more details, check out our full review of Lebenswert formulas here. Interested? You can check out the Lebenswert Organics baby formula here.
This organic baby formula is one of the best available this year and is extremely close to breastmilk in its nutritional composition. As of this year, we can't count on both hands how many new parents we know who have made the switch to Holle organic formulas for all their formula needs. Holle formulas are made by one of the oldest and most widely respected baby formula companies in the world, with over 85 years of experience making non-GMO organic baby food products. Based in Switzerland, they work directly with the best German raw organic ingredient suppliers and carefully track the sourcing, sustainability, and quality of every ingredient they include in their baby formulas. Ingredients are sourced from Demeter biodynamic farms, which hold the highest European certification for sustainable farming without chemicals and synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. This is an organic baby formula that you can truly feel good about. The Holle Bio line comes in two infant formula stages, Holle Pre and Holle Stage 1, both intended for birth onward. It also comes in what the company calls "follow-on milk" (stages 2-4). We've personally tested the Pre and stages 1 and 2 varieties, in both Cow and Goat varieties, and are thrilled with what they have to offer. Each has no artificial preservatives, flavors, colors, thickeners, sweeteners, or chemicals. The cow version contains organic whole (Pre) or skim (Stages 1+) milk and whey powder as the first two ingredients, then organic vegetable oils (palm, rapeseed, sunflower), and vitamins and minerals. The goat version is great for infants with cow milk sensitivity, using organic goat milk and lactose, along with the vegetable oils and vitamins and minerals. Check with your pediatrician before switching formulas. In our testing, the Holle Pre was super easy to dispense and mix, and it shows a super high acceptance rate even for primarily breast-fed babies, making it one of the best options for parents who need to switch between breastfeeding and formula, or as a transition formula. We saw very low levels of gas, spit-up, reflux or other gastrointestinal distress in babies using this formula, and many parents we know are using it on recommendation from their pediatrician. We liked the fact that it contains Omega-3 and Omega-6 (LA, ALA, and DHA), and the nutritional profile meets US recommendations (USDA, FDA). Cons? Well, it is pricey, just like the other European formula options, like HiPP and Lebenswert. Fortunately, this European baby formula is available here in the US from certain online stores (like OrganicStart and Little Bundle (formerly Huggable), making it less expensive than it used to be. A package of Holle Bio is 400g (about 14 ounces, which makes about 100 fluid ounces of formula), for about $25, which equates to about $1.75/ounce. By comparison, the Baby's Only organic formula (below) is about $1.15/ounce, and Loulouka is just over $1.00/ounce. If you can afford this level of quality and performance, definitely go for it, otherwise consider the Happy Baby or Baby's Only options. One additional little con is that it contains palm oil, which some believe can cause a bit of gassiness in babies with more sensitive tummies. However, that's true for all but one (Loulouka) baby formula that we know of. For more specifics about Holle, be sure to read our full review of Holle formulas here, and check out our monthly updated list of the best prices on Holle and other European baby formula brands. Interested? You can check out the Holle Bio Pre and Stages 1-4 baby formulas here.
Baby's Only makes five different varieties of organic baby formula, all labeled as Toddler formula. Note that while they label it as such, Baby's Only told us that this is only because they encourage breastfeeding for babies under 1 year old. Some of their more popular formulas, such as the lactorelief version (below) do not contain lactose, which they substitute with brown rice syrup (which is not the best). In this version, the Whey & Dairy with DHA version, the formulation is much more like breast milk, using lactose as the primary carbohydrate. Proteins come from whey powder, nonfat milk, and whey protein concentrate. Fats come from the usual suspects, including soybean oil, coconut oil, and safflower or sunflower oil. But did you notice something missing? No palm oil! It also inclues naturally sourced Omega-3 (DHA) extracted from eggs, choline, and lutein. Baby's Only loves to brag that they are awarded "best in class" by the clean label project among all US formulas, which is a testament to their use of high quality and traceable ingredients. We would brag too! Note also that while this formula uses egg lecithin, testing shows that there is no detectable level of egg allergen in the formula. In our testing, we tried out this formula ourselves and with two babies, one 4 months and the other 8 months. Both were exclusively formula-fed from birth, with one using Similac Advanced and the other using Holle Bio Stage 2. Both of them took to this formula without any issues, and continued feeding with it for several bottles. One of the parents said their baby developed a bit more constipation than they were used to with the Holle, but the other one said everything was moving smoothly. No spit-up or gas in either, but if your baby has a more sensitive tummy we suggest considering the Baby's Only LactoRelief version. That version does not use lactose as a primary carbohydrate, instead replacing it with syrups. Cons? Well, this Baby's Only formula doesn't contain Omega-6 fatty acids, prebiotics, or probiotics. It's a relatively simple formulation, and we believe it doesn't need to conform with FDA or USDA recommendations for infant formulas because it's marketed as a Toddler formula. Overall, we think the Baby's Only option is awesome option, but suggest that it's used for infants over 6 months of age. Interested? You can check out the Baby's Only Toddler Formula with DHA here!
This is one of the original and best organic formulas on the US market, and over the past several years Earth's Best has made several improvements to their formula in response to both parent feedback and changing FDA and USDA recommendations. Like most of the best infant formulas on this list, the Earth's Best infant version uses lactose as the primary carbohydrate, similar to breast milk. For protein it includes nonfat cow's milk and whey protein concentrate, like many other formulas. For fats, it includes the usual suspects: palm oil, soy oil, coconut oil, and safflower or sunflower oils. The macronutrient profile is very similar to breast milk, just like with the Baby's Only formula. In addition, Earth's Best adds in some Omega-3 (DHA) and Omega-6 (ARA) via Alpina and Algal oils, prebiotics, amino acids, and lutein. This is a great overall ingredient profile, very similar to what you find in other front-runners on this list. In our testing, we thought the formula mixed really easily with water, without forming any clumps or major bubbling issues, and without leaving a powdery film in the bottle. The taste was very similar to Baby's Only and Lebenswert, as was the thin consistency similar to breast milk. We gave this formula two two families for testing, one with a 3-month old, and one with a 7-month old. The 3-month old was formula-fed, and 7-month old was weaning from breastfeeding with supplemental formula. Both babies took the formula without any issues with acceptance, though one did have some spit-up and gassiness after. That same baby developed some constipation that was more than her parents saw when her usual formula (HiPP Combiotik Dutch). That might be attributed to the high iron content (1.8mg per serving), though there isn't much scientific evidence that formula iron content is linked to constipation or other stomach distress. Note that Earth's Best also makes a low lactose version, called the Sensitivity Infant Formula. We couldn't find much information about this online, but in comparison to Baby's Only, Earth's Best appears to use the traditional hexane method for extracting DHA and ARA from lab-grown algae and fungus. Hexane is a solvent that is also used as a chemical degreaser and industrial cleaner and is a known neurotoxin. Some think there may be trace levels in baby formulas containing DHA and ARA extracted using hexane. We prefer to stay out of that debate given the lack of sound scientific data one way or the other. Interested? You can check out the Earth's Best baby formula here.
This is an outstanding option for babies who seem to have some issues related to digesting dairy, such as gas, reflux, or bloating. This is a lactose-free organic and kosher baby formula, with high levels of essential fatty acids that the baby's body converts to DHA (an omega-3) and ARA (an omega-6). To our knowledge, it is one of the best high-quality organic formulas for sensitive stomachs made in the US, and parents rave about its flavor - much better than the Similac Sensitive or Enfamil Gentlease, and it has no corn syrup or genetically modified ingredients. It also uses naturally-sourced rather than petroleum-based vitamins, such as vitamin E acetate, DHA sourced from eggs rather than algae, and brown rice syrup instead of corn syrup solids. We are also impressed that Baby's Only has managed to make a great sensitive baby formula without including many of the ingredients that we prefer not to find in a formula, such as glucose or corn syrup solids, palm oil, or DHA sourced using hexane. Instead, they took the high road and used ingredients they could stand behind. Of course there are a couple little exceptions in there like inositol and sodium selenate, but realistically that's minimal and there are no formulas currently available that do not have one or more of these ingredients. European-sourced brands come close. In our testing with 3 infants (two 3 months and one 6 months), both not only readily accepted this formula but also showed no signs of discomfort or gas whatsoever; in fact, the mom of one of these babies immediately switched to Baby's Only after the test! Note that while we are fully aware that the label says "Toddler Formula," the manufacturer claims that this is only because they recommend exclusively breastfeeding babies under 1 year old. It has nothing to do with ingredients or its suitability for newborns (but always check with your pediatrician first). This could be a good option to try before your pediatrician considers antacids. We also want to point out that this is one of the few baby formulas to receive the highest rating from the Clean Label Project, which is one of the best ways to tell you're getting a high quality and reliably sourced product. Negatives? Like any baby formula, some parents suggest that it can cause mild constipation, but we didn't experience any in our tests, and certainly any gassiness will likely be less than with any of the non-sensitive options. Also, while it doesn't contain lactose, we're not super excited about having syrup and maltodextrine as the primary carbohydrate sources. Interested? You can check out the Baby's Only Formula here.
This organic infant formula is offered by Amazon's private label brand Mama Bear, and is a very recent addition to our list of the best organic formulas. Like most if not all Mama Bear products, Amazon works with a major brand and manufacturer of a product to make a Mama Bear branded version. We have no direct evidence of this, but we suspect this product is a slightly tweaked and rebranded Similac or Happy Baby formula; if anyone has the scoop, send us a message on Facebook or email! Mama Bear now makes a wide range of baby formulas, including Gentle, Sensitive, Advanced, and more, but this is the only USDA organic version available. This organic formula is suitable from birth up to 12 months, and is based on organic nonfat cow's milk, with secondary ingredients including maltodextrine, corn syrup solids, and four oils: palm, soy, coconut, and safflower or sunflower. Notice that it doesn't use lactose as a carbohydrate, replacing it with corn syrup solids and maltodextrine, both of which are not ideal in a baby formula. Lactose is the primary carbohydrate in breast milk, accounting for about 40% of all calories found in breast milk; if you're looking for an organic baby formula that is similar to breast milk in terms of macronutrient composition, this probably isn't a good bet. In addition to those fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, it also contains prebiotics, Omega-3 (DHA and ARA), and Omega-6 (LA). The Omega-3 content is derived from M. Alpina oil and Cohnii oil, likely using hexane solvent, acid, or bleach as part of their extraction. Baby's Only, for instance, derives DHA from egg phospholipids using water only to avoid these possible issues. Mixing this formula with water, we found that it blended very nicely and didn't leave any powdery film in the bottle. We also didn't have any big issues with bubbles or foaming. We tried it out with two formula-fed babies, 3 and 7 months old, one who typically drinks HiPP Combiotik and the other Earth's Best. Both readily accepted this formula, which wasn't particularly surprising given its sweetness and otherwise bland flavor. One of the babies didn't drink as much as usual and pushed it away after about 3 ounces, but the other seemed to really like it. Neither of them developed any spit-up or gas that was out of the ordinary, and one of the parents reported that they would consider using it as their primary formula, while the other (the HiPP user) didn't like the maltodextrine, corn syrup solids, or soy. Coming in at only about $1 per ounce, this is the cheapest organic baby formula on our list, and we think it's a great option for parents looking for a formula without lactose. Interested? You can check out the Mama Bear Organic baby formula here.
Similac makes a wide range of baby formulas, including the popular Pro-Advance, Pro-Total Comfort, Advance, Sensitive, Pro-Sensitive, Spit-Up, and Alimentum options. The sheer range of formula options can perplex even the savviest parents, and we find ourselves wondering how much of that range is marketing versus substantive differences in ingredients, nutrition, or sensitivity. This baby formula stands out from the pack because it's one of only two organic options offered by Similac, and the only option we believe is worth having on this list. This organic formula is suitable for infants 0-12 months and is based on organic nonfat cow's milk, with secondary ingredients including maltodextrin, sugar, and three oils: sunflower, soy, and coconut. The maltodextrin is a very common carbohydrate powder that is used as a cheap replacement for lactose, and also as a thickener and preservative; your body processes maltodextrin like a sugar, so it can cause a quick blood sugar increase. A few of the best formulas on this list avoid maltodextrin entirely, such as the Lebenswert, HiPP, Plum Organics, and Happy Baby options, but it is considered a relatively harmless ingredient. Regarding sugar, it's relatively rare for an organic formula to add sugar, but realize that this formula does not use lactose or whey powder, which other formulas use to indirectly add sugar (and at least they didn't try to disguise processed sugar as a syrup solid). We have no major issues with the sunflower or coconut oils, and think they are a good replacement for palm oil, but we also understand that some parents might be avoiding soy due to potential allergies. Other ingredients include a variety of vitamins and minerals (including 1.8mg iron and 1.5IU vitamin E), lutein, DHA, and choline. Just as an FYI because we know parents worry about these things, the DHA in this formula is from alpina oil and c. cohii oil, which are likely treated with hexane solvent, acid, or bleach as part of their manufacturing. Baby's Only, for instance, derives DHA from egg phospholipids using water only. In our testing, we found that this powder did not mix easily or well in water, with the powder never fully dissolving. This made for a somewhat grainy formula that left a residue in the bottle. When we let it sit for more than a few minutes, we would need to shake the bottle again to avoid the water and formula separating. Shaking also created a lot of bubbles that will likely cause issues with babies who are sensitive to gas and reflux. The two babies we tested it on readily accepted its flavor, and we tasted it ourselves and found it to be sweet and a bit tart, similar to breast milk. No issues with gas or discomfort were experienced, but the babies we tested on tend to be pretty resilient in this regard to begin with. Overall, we appreciate this new addition to the organic formula market, and think Similac did a pretty decent job with it. Once they figure out the solubility issues they could have a real winner here, as long as you're OK with the addition of sugar, maltodextrin, and the way they source DHA. Costs about a dollar per ounce if you buy in bulk, which is more expensive than the Similac non-organic options but less expensive than some others on this list. Interested? You can check out the Similac Organic baby formula here.
Conclusions: There are many barriers to breastfeeding that can cause moms to supplement or replace breast milk with baby formula. Whether you have low milk supply, a medical condition, or your baby is having difficulty latching, you should never feel guilty about choosing to supplement or exclusively feed with organic baby formula. The best thing for your baby is that they are loved and nourished, whether it is from breast or bottle!
Here's what we learned by putting together this formula guide: there are very few organic formulas on the market. Especially organic baby formulas that are suitable for newborn infants, those are especially rare. European baby formula companies (like Holle, Lebenswert, and HiPP) have been taking the market by storm, producing extremely high quality organic baby formulas that are suitable for use as infant baby formulas. Five years ago, it was difficult to get your hands on European baby formulas and they were very expensive to import to the US. More recently, companies such as OrganicStart and Little Bundle have popped up to fill the US distribution gap, making it more affordable and efficient to purchase European baby formulas online.
The Similac organic formula was recalled a couple years ago, so that put a bad taste in people's mouths about large companies attempting to pull the fleece over people's eyes and claiming organic while being a bit careless in manufacturing processes. Some formulas labeled as organic contain some questionable, non-organic, ingredients such as petroleum-sourced vitamins and sulfates. Not certain how some companies are getting away with it, but likely because the organic food market is not yet well-regulated. Another more recent option for toddler formula is goat milk formulas, like the Kabrita Non-GMO Goat Milk Toddler Formula. We love that goat milk formula, but it's not a fully organic product so it's not eligible for inclusion on this list. With all that said, we have done our best to find the best organic baby formulas of the year! Whether you're breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, or switching between the two, be sure to invest in one of the best nursing pillows to keep yourself comfortable and your baby well-positioned for digestion. If you have any questions or comments, we invite you to visit us on our Facebook page and send a message!
Baby Formula Ingredients - the Good, Bad, and Ugly: In general, baby formulas need a source of protein, fat, carbohydrate, and vitamins and minerals. For protein, formulas usually include one or more of the following: nonfat milk, skim milk, reduced fat milk, whole milk (milks can generally be cow or goat), soy milk, amino acids, casein, whey powder, and whey protein powder. Breast milk, for reference, is about 60% whey protein, and 40% casein protein; casein protein is digested slower than whey protein. For fats, formulas usually contain a mix of vegetable oils, often palm oil, sunflower oil, coconut oil, and others. For carbohydrates, the best baby formulas usually contain lactose (milk sugar), maltodextrin (plant-based sweetener and thickener), corn syrup solids, glucose syrup solids, brown rice syrup, or just plain sugar. For minerals and vitamins, formulas tend to contain at least iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, folic acid, and vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K. Some infant formulas also add in fatty acids such as DHA and ARA, some add in bacterias, prebiotics, and/or probiotics to aid digestion. Baby formulas vary widely in which of these ingredients they use, and how much of each they use. They also vary widely in the extent to which they use ingredients that are generally safe but might be sourced using harch chemicals. These are all things to consider when picking a baby formula, and things we think about when doing our reviews.
When we review ingredients lists for infant formulas, we are looking for a few primary things that should be included, and some others that should not be included. We categorize these as the good ingredients, the bad ingredients, and the downright ugly ingredients.
Good Baby Formula Ingredients: In general, most of the staple ingredients are safe. These include the primary protein sources such as various milks (cow, goat, nonfat, skim, reduced fat, etc), whey, and protein powders (such as whey protein). Fats are a slightly different story, with certain oils being generally accepted as safe: palm oil, soy oil, coconut oil, safflower oil, and sunflower oil. None of these oils contain cholesterol (which breast milk has), or DHA, which is a fatty acid linked to proper brain development (which is why many formula brands add DHA). Of course, there are reports of some parents finding that certain oils upset their baby's tummy, with palm oil being one example. Also, if you are at all concerned about allergies, then you'll need to decide whether you want to risk coconut or soy oils. In terms of carbohydrates, lactose is generally the preferred source of sugar in formula, though some use maltodextrine or food starch.
Bad Baby Formula Ingredients: These ingredients fall somewhere between "OK" and "run away" and in general, at least one or two of them are included in most baby formulas. For protein sources, most agree that a soy-based formula is not ideal given controversy over hormonal effects of soy consumption, and its generally poor nutritional profile relative to cow or goat milk (i.e., there's no whey or casein). A primary whey protein ingredient is also not ideal for similar nutritional reasons. For fat sources, try to avoid formulas using palm olein (which is different from palm oil) because it's not absorbed very well, can cause reduced calcium absorption, and can cause constipation and gassiness. For carbohydrates, try to avoid formulas using processed sugars such as maltodextrine, food starch, corn syrup solids, glucose syrup solids, and sugar itself. For vitamins and minerals, we get a lot of inquiries from parents who are concerned about the manner in which these ingredients are sourced, which chemicals are used to extract them, and whether they might be harmful to their baby's health. In general, vitamins and minerals will be safe, but we find it more compelling when a baby formula manufacturer indicates how they sourced certain ingredients such as fatty acids, and prebiotics and probiotics. Another concern is some pesky artificial ingredients that still show up in organic products, such as sodium selenate, taurine, docosahexaenoic acid, arachidonic acid, calcium chloride, choline bitartrate, cyanocobalamin, L-carnitine, lutein, cholecalciferol, inositol, beta-carotene, and biotin. While likely not dangerous, it is concerning that these synthetic ingredients are present (in very low quantity) in many organic products. A good example of an organic formula that hits a lot of these negative spots is the Gerber Good Start formula, which is based on whey protein concentrate and contains palm olein, corn maltodextrin, choline bitartrate, and several other ingredients you should try to avoid.
The Worst Baby Formula Ingredients: Most of the really bad stuff is no longer present in baby formulas, especially not the best organic formulas. These include sucrose, dioxins, artificial preservatives, artificial colors, artificial flavors, corn maltodextrin, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup solids, genetically modified soy, and melamine. Some research has demonstrated that as much as 80% of baby formulas contain toxins and heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and acrylamide, giving us some motivation for continuing to pursue organic baby formula options!
Discontinued: The Honest Company Best Organic Formula
The Honest Company was founded by Jessica Alba with the intent to develop and market baby products with high levels of quality and transparency, while offering premium products at reasonable prices. A couple years ago, The Honest Co released two awesome organic infant formulas, one they call Premium and the other Sensitive. The Premium version is intended to precisely replicate breast milk, and the Sensitive version is for infants with gas, bloating, and constipation issues. Both are non-GMO formulas, USDA certified organic (certifed by QAI), contain omega fatty acids DHA and ARA, and contain the prebiotic FOS (fructose-oligosaccharides), which are plant-based fibers that help support the gut microbiome and digestion. We reviewed both options, and thought they were some of the best formulas on the market! Let's start with the Premium version. This is a lactose-based and nonfat milk-based formula with palm, soy, coconut, and safflower or sunflower oils. It also contains whey protein, alpina oil (AHA), algal oil (DHA), and a ton of vitamins and minerals, including iron (1.8mg per 100 calories), calcium, folic acid, choline, and Vitamins A, D, E, C, K, and B (B1, B6, and B12). We were impressed that there were no glucose syrup solids or any other added sugars (other than lactose, which itself is a sugar). Like other formulas that use alpina and algal oils, we wonder about the methods and chemicals used to extract and process those oils from their sources; we have an inquiry into Honest Co about this question but have not heard back at this point. It also contains palm oil, which is a bit controversial and some believe linked to gassiness. In our testing, the Premium formula was surprisingly similar to breast milk in terms of consistency and taste, and our 3 test babies (one 2 month-old, and two 3 month-olds), they quickly accepted it. One of the babies showed some signs of gassiness and spit-up, but he seems to do that with most any formula! Now let's talk about the Sensitive version, which is intended for babies with gassiness. The way they approach the sensitive formula is by removing the lactose and making it a nonfat milk-based formula. But when you remove lactose you also remove the primary sugar in the Premium version, so they needed to replace it with something - they chose glucose syrup solids. This was a little unfortunate because glucose syrup solids are basically corn syrup solids by another name. But in our testing, all three babies readily accepted it and none of them had any issues with gassiness, which was awesome! But that added sugar issue is one that you'll need to think about carefully; if you're concerned, there may be other sensitive infant formulas you should consider that do not add processed sugars (like the HiPP Combiotic). Overall, we were impressed with the Honest Co organic infant formulas, and think you and your baby will be happy with them as well. We prefer the Premium version to the Sensitive version due to the processed sugars in the Sensitive version, but for babies with sensitivity the Sensitive formula is an obvious choice. We don't like the use of Taurine, Sodium Selenite, and a few other ingredients that are not technically organic according to the US Government. But overall they are better than most other US-based formula options, and we give them credit for that!
Discontinued: Plum Organics Best Organic Infant Formula
Note that this Plum Organics infant formula is being discontinued as of 2020; if you've been using it successfully, then you might want to get your hands on some supplies before they're gone! This is the first year that the Plum Organics option is showing up on this list, and we're really excited to see another fantastic organic baby formula option on the market! The first thing to point out is that, like the Baby's Only options, there are no corn syrup solids in the Plum Organics formula. Instead, they used lactose from cow's milk to provide sweetness; lactose is the most abundant carb in human breastmilk, so this was a nice touch and we think it's one of the best approaches to take. It's kosher dairy, gluten-free, and contains no genetically modified ingredients. What it does include is a thoughtful blend of organic lactose, nonfat milk, oils (palm, coconut, soy, etc.), whey protein, and a ton of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, omegas, and antioxidants. Yes, it includes DHA (Omega-3) and ARA (Omega-6) to promote development. It also contains important levels of folic acid, choline, calcium, and vitamins D, E, and K. This is truly an infant formula, suggested for use from birth (not for premature babies, however), all the way up to about 1 year of age. The only downfall here is that they use palm oil as an ingredient, and there is some evidence that babies fed formula with palm oil show decreased bone density, presumably because it decreases calcium, palmitic acid, and fat absorption by the baby. A review of this research can be found here. Of course, nobody knows whether the bone density differences persist past the first year (when varied foods are introduced), and even if they do persist, whether they lead to any functional impact on development. Thus, if you're solely feeding with formula, you might want to consider a formula that has a different predominant oil (like the Baby's Own options). Overall, however, this is a very well tolerated baby formula that is worthy of its position on our list.
Discontinued: Gerber Natura Best Organic Formula
Note that this organic baby formula is being discontinued as of 2020, so if you've been using it successfully you might want to get your hands on any remaining supplies! It was never the best on our list, but it did rank pretty decently next to the other options. Organic baby formulas have been popular for several years now, and Gerber needed to catch up to the market's demand and develop a high-quality organic product that would have a more reasonable price point than some of the more premium organic formulas on the market (like Holle and Baby's Own). This is Gerber's attempt at doing exactly that, and to be honest we are impressed with what they've developed here, especially given its relatively low price under $1.00 per ounce (the premium organic formulas go up to about twice that price). This Gerber formula is USDA organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, and made from cows that are not treated with antibiotics or hormones. It contains iron, DHA, prebiotics to help digestion, and several vitamins (including A&E) and minerals. The prebiotics help counteract some of the constipation common with iron in formula, and there is evidence that the DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) helps with brain and eye development. The DHA (algal oil) is sourced from algea, and the AHA (mortierella alpina oil) is sourced from fungus. In a 5-ounce serving it has 2 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat, which is pretty close to typical breast milk nutritional composition. It also contains lactose as its only sugar; we were happy that it doesn't use any other added sugars (like corn syrup solids etc), but not thrilled that adding lactose makes this less ideal for babies with a sensitive tummy. Other ingredients worth mentioning are soy oil (so it contains soy) and palm oil, which is a bit controversial as a baby formula ingredient due to a risk of causing some mild gassiness. When we tested it (we tested stage 1 and stage 2 formulas), we had very high acceptance rates for both breast-fed and formula-fed babies, which was nice to see. We also didn't have any major issues with constipation or reflux, and the formula was generally well-tolerated; of course, your experience may vary here, but that's what we found in our 3 test babies. Overall, we think we have stumbled upon something really good here, and a truly great option for parents looking for a relatively cheap organic baby formula that will give them a healthy conscious, healthy baby, and keep their bank account balance healthy as well! Only some relatively minor issues such as the sourcing of DHA and AHA, and the addition of lactose, soy, and palm oil. If those don't give you too much anxiety, then this could be a perfect option for your family.
Discontinued: Happy Tot Grow Shine Organic Toddler Milk
This toddler milk (toddler formula for age 12-24 months) contains a lot of great non-GMO organic ingredients for healthy brain and eye development, including choline, DHA, and ARA. Note that the DHA is not sourced with Hexane, so that's definitely a plus. The first ingredient is milk, which we like, and the second and third ingredients are vegetable oils and glucose syrup solids. Note that "glucose syrup solids" is usually just a crafty way of saying corn syrup solids (the Vermont Organics product does the same thing). The Happy Tot brand makes some seriously good baby and toddler foods. So we were expecting a lot from this toddler milk. We weren't disappointed, but we also didn't think it lived up to the Happy Tot brand reputation for taste. In our testing, the taste wasn't quite on par with the Earth's Best or Baby's Only options, but that's really up to your baby to decide! This Happy Tot Toddler Milk comes in a bit less expensive than the others, around 80 cents per ounce.