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Baby & child.

Updated: 20 May 2022

Infant and follow-on formula milk - should you buy it?

Expert advice on what milk to choose for the first year of your baby’s life, the differences between some of the leading brands, such as Aptamil and SMA, and if you need follow-on formula.
Which?Editorial team
Bottle milk 438588

Infant formula milk is often labelled as first milk or stage 1 and is suitable for use from birth.

The products you’re likely to see on shelves are Aptamil First Milk, Cow & Gate First Infant Milk, HiPP Organic Combiotic First Infant Milk and SMA First Infant Milk.

The government recommends an infant formula based on cow’s protein as the only safe alternative to breast milk. Cow’s milk doesn’t have the right level of nutrients or proteins needed for growth, so shouldn’t be given to babies under one as their main drink. 

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Infant formula milk ingredients

The make-up of infant formula is as close to breast milk as possible, however it’s impossible to replicate all the ingredients found in breast milk. The ingredients in infant formula are strictly controlled under The Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula (England) Regulations 2007.

The regulations dictate compositional criteria, minimum and maximum levels of nutrients that must be included, the level of pesticide residue permitted, how formulas can be named and labelled, and how the formulas can be presented (for example, they’re not allowed to include pictures of babies that may idealise the use of the products).

Under the regulations, infant formula is not allowed to be advertised to the public or be offered at a discounted rate (so that it doesn’t undermine breastfeeding).

Does my baby need infant formula milk?

If you’re not breastfeeding or expressing breast milk to feed your baby, then yes.

Infant formula provides the important nutrients your baby needs and is the only safe alternative to breastfeeding or using breast milk. If you receive Healthy Start vouchers, you can use these to buy infant formula.

The majority of infant formulas are cow’s milk based, however there are also formulas available that are based on goat's and which that have been made to the same strict nutritional standards. Goat’s milk formulas aren’t suitable alternatives for babies with cow’s milk allergies (CMA), an intolerance to the protein or a lactose intolerance. The protein in goat’s milk is very similar to that in cow’s, and the levels of lactose in goats milk and cows milk are also similar, so babies who react to cow’s milk are also very likely to react to goat’s milk.

Unless recommended to do so by a doctor, you also shouldn’t use soya milk formula.

What about follow-on formula?

Follow-on formula can only be used from six months (it’s not suitable from birth). All the brands have a follow-on formula and these are usually labelled as stage 2.

Follow-on formula contains the same ingredients as infant formula and the levels of nutrients it contains are also strictly controlled under The Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula (England) Regulations 2007. However, it does contain higher levels of iron and vitamin D.

The restrictions that cover infant formula also cover follow-on formula, except that follow-on formula can be advertised and offered on promotion. 67% of parents told us they have used follow-on formula.

Does my baby need follow-on formula?

No. The government advice is that follow-on formula is not necessary; you can continue to give infant formula if not breastfeeding or using expressed breast milk to feed your baby.

As such, follow-on formula can’t be purchased with Healthy Start vouchers. However, some retailers do offer discounts or money-off vouchers.

Babies are born with an iron store that by six months has started to deplete, so they need a higher dietary intake. Because of this, some people choose to switch to follow-on formula. However, when weaning your baby you can start to include iron-rich foods, such as fortified cereal, red meat and green leafy veg, into their diet which will be enough to meet their iron requirements.

The government recommends that all children from six months to five years old should take a daily supplement that contains vitamin D. However, if your baby is drinking around 500-600ml of infant formula a day then they should be receiving enough vitamin D to meet their needs, so they won’t need additional drops.

Coronavirus update

We know breastfeeding is best for your baby but if you do need to use formula milk, the coronavirus has led to it being difficult to find infant formula in shops.

As a result, we've spotted infant formula being sold at inflated prices. We are raising this issue with the biggest online marketplaces.

If you spot formula milk being sold at an inflated price on Amazon or eBay, you can report it to the retailers by following the steps below:  


  1. Go to the listing and select 'Report item', which you'll find next to the description and postage and payment options
  2. Select the reason from the dropdown menu, then Continue
  3. Fill in any extra information, and click Send


  1. Go to Amazon’s contact us page
  2. Select 'Report listing abuse'
  3. Fill in all relevant information including the ASIN of the product that you are reporting

Find out more about online marketplace price hikes on everyday items that we've uncovered during the coronavirus crisis. Get the latest advice on CoVID-19.

Content last updated 26/03/2020.