What should I know about infant formula?

Firstly, breast milk is the best food for babies. However, sometimes parents are unable to breastfeed, and it is necessary to supplement with infant formula.

  • Formula is a type of milk that has been modified to be as similar to breast milk as possible. They include the fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals your baby needs.
  • Formula fed babies can thrive and grow in the same way as breastfed babies.
  • There is a wide variety of infant formulas on sale in New Zealand, without there being much difference between the majority of them.
  • Your baby will not get all the nutrients she needs on a diet on cow’s milk or other unmodified and unprocessed milks.
  • All formulas sold in New Zealand must meet the New Zealand Food Standards.


Different formulas use different mixing ratios and different scoops, so it’s really important that you exactly follow the instructions on the formula tin when making up formula.

Cow’s milk formula:

  • cow’s milk formula is the most common type of formula used, and all healthy bottle fed babies can drink it.
  • While cow’s milk formulas do use cow’s milk as the base, they have the amount and type of protein, fat, carbohydrates and minerals changed so that the formula more closely resembles breast milk. Most formulas also add iron, which can get depleted in a breastfed baby.
  • You should give more milk, not stronger milk, to your baby as she grows.

Follow-on formula:

  • All infant formulas that are labelled ‘suitable from birth’ can be used from birth til your baby is weaned at 12 months or more.
  • While follow-on formulas are designed for babies over 6 months, there is no need to change formulas at 6 months as they have the same energy content.
  • Follow-on formula is made to be less like breast milk and more like regular cow’s milk.
  • Follow-on formulas contain more protein and certain vitamins and minerals, which are not necessary to your baby’s diet as she will be receiving increases in these nutrients as she starts on her solid food diet.
  • Your hungry baby may find follow-on formula more satisfying, although she may become temporarily constipated as her system adjusts to the change in her diet.

Thickened formula:

  • Thickened formulas are designed for babies with reflux.
  • Their ‘AR’ labelling stands for ‘anti-regurgitation’
  • The thickener in the formula is meant to help keep the formula down after a feed, although it doesn’t always work. Some babies still bring it up, getting more squirmy and become constipated.
  • As this type of formula is thick, you may have to use a fast teat on the bottle so your baby can more easily get at the milk.

Lactose free formula:

  • Lactose (milk sugar) occurs naturally in breast milk and cow’s milk and is in most infant formulas.
  • If your baby is lactose intolerant, it may be suggested that you try one of the lactose free cow’s milk formulas.
  • Another lactose free option is soy formula.

Fully hydrolysed formula:

  • Fully hydrolysed formula is for a baby who has a cow’s milk allergy (where she is allergic to the protein in cow’s milk)
  • This type of formula has the cow’s milk protein completely broken down. They dont’ taste or smell like standard formula.
  • You should get a prescription for this type of formula from your GP to avoid the high cost.

Goat’s milk formula:

  • Goat’s milk formula has had the milk modified so that it’s suitable for your baby.
  • Unmodified or unpasteurised goat’s milk (straight from the farm) should never be given to your baby.

Kidspot is dedicated to the promotion of breastfeeding as the best possible start in life for babies as well as being good for the health and wellbeing of mothers.


Breastfeeding provides babies with the best nutrition and is preferred whenever possible. Good maternal nutrition is ideal for breastfeeding. You should be aware that reversing a decision not to breastfeed may prove difficult. Partially introducing formula could negatively affect your milk supply. Social and financial implications should be considered when selecting a method of feeding. Professional advice should be followed before using an infant formula. Proper use of an infant formula is important to the health of the infant and should only be used as directed.

If you’re worried about breastfeeding, your Well Child nurse or PlunketLine can help.



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