Are some formula milk brands better than others?
When surveyed, 56% of mothers with children under three told Which? that they wanted to know the differences between formula brands, 46% wanted to know how formula compares with breast milk and 27% wanted to know whether price reflects quality1.
The best infant formula
So, are some infant formula brands better than others? No, there's no real difference between the different formulas on the UK market.
The composition of all infant formula and follow-on formula in the UK is strictly controlled under The Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula (England) regulations. This means the core ingredients of all formulas are identical.
Claims such as ‘Closest to breast milk’, 'Gold advanced System' and 'Complete nutrition' are meaningless as the exact ingredients of breast milk are unknown and change according to a baby’s age and feeding patterns. However, it's estimated that breast milk contains around 300 ingredients compared with 75 in infant formula.
There's one organic range available on the market - HiPP Organic - however, the pesticide residue level is set at very low levels even in non-organic formulas (residue levels must not exceed 0.01mg/kg of the reconstituted or ready-for-consumption product).
Added ingredients in infant formula
In addition to the core ingredients, all formulas contain extra ingredients, most of which are the same across all the brands. These include LCPs (long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids), nucleotides and prebiotics.
All formulas, apart from SMA, include an additional prebiotic ingredient (Oligosaccharides, which are often referred to as FOS/GOS). However, the efficacy of prebiotics has been questioned by the European Health Safety Authority (EFSA) and the adverse affects of looser stools and the potential risk of dehydration have been highlighted. The EFSA concluded that there was no evidence of benefits of these ingredients to infants, while there were safety concerns.
Other than the addition of DHA, an LCP which the EFSA has accepted contributes to the normal visual development of infants up to 12 months, the other extra ingredients are not of proven benefit. If they were, then the formula milk compositional criteria would be amended to include it.
Cost of infant formula
The four major infant formula brands price their infant formula differently - £7.99-£9.49 per tin and £8.88-£10.55 per kg - which might make you think that some are better than others. But, as we've seen, the ingredients of proven benefit are the same across the board.
Despite the price differential, we've worked out that over a year, following the manufacturers’ instructions, the annual cost is not that different. All the brands cost between £367.59 and £395.46 a year.
1 Online survey between November and December 2012 of 727 mothers with children under the age of three.