Susana has been through CMPI and soy intolerance with two of her daughters and has spent the last decade researching food intolerances.
Specialist Infant Formulas
Updated for 2020
There are a number of reasons for wanting to buy an infant formula that's hypoallergenic, dairy-free or lactose-free.
As well as these types of specialist formulas, there's also goat milk formula, anti spit-up formula and hydrolyzed formula.
But how do you know which one to choose?
These are the most common reasons for choosing one of these formulas:
- your baby has one or more food allergies or intolerances (or you suspect it)
- your baby is gassy, has colic, or spit ups a lot
- your baby gets constipated, has diarrhea or green poop often
- you are vegan and want a vegan diet for your baby
- because of religious food restrictions (Halal or Kosher)
There are a wide selection of specialist baby formulas on the market now, including soy formula, hydrolyzed formula, lactose-free formula, stay down formula, goat's milk formula and hypoallergenic formula.
They are all so much easier to get hold of now that was the case even a few years ago.
**Below you'll find a lot of info about the various types of specialist formulas and which ones to use for which issues.**
Part of being a parent is making sure that your baby gets all the nutrients they need. It seems easy enough. You breastfeed or give formula, you build a healthy bond with your precious baby, and they grow healthy and strong.
But sometimes it isn’t that simple.
When you have a baby that is obviously unhappy and in pain you try everything you can to make them feel better. When no amount of rocking, cuddles or long walks in the fresh air seem to work it's time to look at what baby is eating.
This was the case for us.
My second daughter had acid reflux caused by Cow’s Milk Protein Intolerance (CMPI). And my third daughter had exactly the same but on top of that she also had an intolerance to soy.
The first time round we didn’t discover the cause of my daughter's issues until we went through several hypotheses for what was wrong, several doctors visits and several types of formula.
The second time around we were much more aware of what to look out for and diagnosis was much quicker.
The following information on specialist formulas and the reasons you might need them comes from my many hours of research on the topic and my own quest to find a formula that my babies could tolerate.
The one's I have linked to are the ones we have used successfully.
Is it colic, gas, or acid reflux?
Every baby is going to be fussy from time to time. No matter what you try, they are going to get upset tummies. However, there is a difference between being seriously fussy and having colic, gas, or acid reflux.
You know you have a problem when the baby is gulping down the formula, having trouble breathing after eating or seems to be in pain.
Signs of pain are an arched back, wiggling, being unable to sleep, being unsettled, and crying that is inconsolable.
Signs that it is gas or stomach pain are easier to spot. You may notice that your baby is keeping his/her’s knees pulled up to the belly. They are quieter when you hold them or bounce them. Swaddling calms them down.
If your baby is extremely fussy for more than four hours a day, 3 or more days a week, then you should take them to the doctor. This is a sure sign that they have colic, gas, or reflux or even a food intolerance.
Formulas to Try for Colic, Gassiness & Spit Up
Look at the sections below on Lactose Free Formulas, Goat's Milk Formulas, Anti Spit Up Formulas and Partially Hydrolyzed Formulas to help you decide which option would be best for your baby.
Understanding Cow’s Milk Protein Intolerance (CMPI)
CMPI is a food intolerance. Like most food intolerances it causes a range of symptoms – mostly digestive. Whey and cassein proteins in milk can be hard for your baby’s stomach to break down.
The baby may produce extra gastric acids in an effort to try to break them down and this can lead to reflux. Or the baby may have difficulty with the proteins further down the digestive system causing cramping and gas.
You may notice that your baby is constipated or has diarrhea (or both), is gassy, has stomach pain or is extremely fussy. There may even be blood or mucous in your baby’s stool.
Many symptoms of CMPI don't occur immediately - they can be delayed up to 48 hours or even more in some cases.
Besides fussy bellies and diaper problems, you may find that your baby’s skin is affected as well. CMPI can result in eczema, hives, and even diaper rash. In extreme cases, breathing problems are a symptom as well.
As we continue, we will discover the different types of formulas that are available. You will notice that we have listed the key points surrounding the formula. There is also a list of what formula brands you can find in the US for each type.
All of these are points I came across researching each product. I decided that if it answered the questions we had, it could help you out as well.
Formulas for CMPI
The most common formulas to use for CMPI are soy, fully hydrolyzed and hypoallergenic.
1. Soy Formula for Dairy or Lactose Intolerance
Soy formula is often the best choice for babies who have a dairy intolerance, whether it's due to milk protein intolerance or milk sugar (lactose) intolerance.
It'a also a good choice for vegans and those who want a Halal or Kosher formula.
There have been some scary stories around over the last few years that soy milk is harmful, but this is simply not the case. Soy formulas have been used successfully for over 50 years with absolutely no reports of adverse effects. They meet the full nutritional needs of babies and infants, as well as all safety standards.
Soy formula is also the perfect solution for those who don't want to give their children dairy-based formula milk because of lifestyle, cultural or religious reasons.
There are plenty of organic soy formulas to choose from too, so you can be sure that there are no pesticide contaminants, that the beans are non-GMO and have been grown ethically.
The most readily available soy formulas in the US are:
- Earth's Best Soy
- Gerber's Good Start Soy
- Parent's Choice Soy
- Similac Soy Isomil
- Enfamil ProSobee
The formula we eventually settled on for our second daughter was Earth's Best Non-GMO Soy. We chose it primarily because it was non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organism). We wanted to ensure our baby wouldn't be (potentially) affected adversely by GMO's. Plus we felt the company was the most ethical.
2. Lactose-Free or Low Lactose Formulas for Lactose Intolerance
For fussy babies that suffer from colic and possibly a mild lactose intolerance, there are several brands of lactose-free formulas that have had all the milk sugar removed and replaced with a vegetable sugar (such as corn syrup).
The lactose that gives your baby stomach issues can result in diarrhea, green poop and a lot of gas. That is why there is a special formula for these babies. It is easier for their tiny bellies to digest.
What is most interesting about babies with severe lactose intolerance is that they are often unable to breastfeed. They are more often diagnosed with failure to thrive and bloody stools. For them, this type of formula is truly a life-saver.
The formulas below are made from cow's milk with the lactose removed. Soy formulas are also lactose free so they are an option if you believe your baby has a problem with lactose.
Here is a list of widely available low lactose or lactose-free formulas:
- Earth's Best Low Lactose Organic Formula
- Baby's Only Organic LactoRelief Formula
- Similac Pro-sensitive Non-GMO
- *Enfamil Nutramigen with Enflora LGG Hypoallergenic Infant Formula
We tried a few of these low lactose/lactose free formulas before we knew that the main problem was the milk protein and not the lactose. If I was going to recommend one of these I'd go for the Earth's Best Organic Low Lactose for three reasons.
1. It's the best value option
2. It's organic so no nasty chemicals
3. It's an ethical brand
*Enfamil Nutramigen is marketed as lactose free which it is. It is also hydrolyzed (the milk proteins are broken to make them easier to digest) so you'll see this brand in the hydrolyzed formulas section below.
3. Goat’s Milk Formula
Goat milk has several benefits over cow's milk. The most important it that it is the closest milk to human milk and has been shown to be easier to digest than cow's milk. The proteins and fats are much closer to breast milk than cows milk is so this isn't surprising.
Some babies who have problems with formula's made from cow's milk can tolerate goat's milk much better.
The facts show that goat milk is as good, or even better than cow’s milk.
There are three main goats milk based formula brands to buy but they are only available as follow-on or toddler formulas in the US.
To get goat's milk infant formula suitable from 0-6 months you may have to buy it from the UK or Germany.
These are the main brands:
- Holle Organic Infant Goat Milk Formula
- Kabrita Goat Milk Formula
- Nanny Care Goat Milk Formula
Our babies couldn't tolerate goats milk formula (we did try!) but if your baby is simply gassy or colicky I'd give it a go. A lot of moms report great results and a much happier baby after making the switch.
4. Anti-reflux/Spit Up Formulas
Acid reflux is not fun for anyone. It is even more uncomfortable for babies. Even when medication is prescribed to ease the problem, it doesn’t always help the formula to stay down.
Anti-spit up formula is usually thicker than regular formula. It is sometimes prepared in a different way than standard formulas.
There is a big warning with the extra thick formulas such as the ones below. It must be prepared exactly as directed or it can make your baby sick. It is thick, but it should not be lumpy. You will also need a different type of nipple for this thicker formula.
Here are the most common Anti-spit up formulas you can get:
- Enfamil AR Infant Formula
- Similac for Spit Up
These are both available at around the same price but the Enfamil AR Formula has much better reviews from parents.
5. Partially & Fully Hydrolyzed Formulas
Hydrolyzed formulas are made from cow's milk but the proteins are broken down so that they don't cause problems such as colic, gas, spit up and allergy symptoms.
There are two types.
Partially Hydrolyzed Formulas
Partially hydrolyzed formulas have been created for fussy babies who suffer with gassiness, colic and spit up. The partially broken protein chains are easier to digest and make a huge difference to many babies.
A list of the easiest to find Partially Hydrolyzed Formulas:
- Enfamil NeuroPro Gentlease
- Similac Total Comfort
- Gerber Good Start Soothe
Of the brands above, I'd recommend Gerber Good Start Soothe. Of the three options it is the best value for money and it also has the best reviews from parents.
Fully Hydrolyzed Formulas
Fully hydrolyzed versions are for babies with dairy allergy, dairy protein intolerance or lactose intolerance and are sometimes for other intolerances such as soy and egg. You'll often see them described as pre-digested formulas, which means that the protein chains have been fully broken.
The most common brands of fully hydrolyzed formulas:
- Similac Alimentum Hypoallergenic Formula
- Efamil Nutramigen Hypoallergenic Formula With Enflora
- Gerber Extensive HA
6. Hypoallergenic Formulas
For babies who are intolerant to both dairy and soy (which is very common), or who can't tolerate other formulas for one of the many other reasons, the natural choice is a hypoallergenic formula.
Hypoallergenic formulas are non-dairy and non-soy and are usually made from a blend of amino acids, vegetable fats, corn, and the full range of vitamins and minerals you'd expect to find in any formula milk.
Amino acid-based formula is another name for hypoallergenic infant formula. The difference from other formulas is that it consists of individual amino acids rather than log protein chains.
Amino acids are the very basic building blocks of protein and are so much easier for your baby to process and digest.
The most easy to find types are:
- Nutramigen Puramino
- SMA Alfamino Hypoallergenic Infant Formula
We tried three of the formulas on the list above for our daughter with dairy and soy intolerance but the only one she would drink was the EleCare Unflavored with DHA/ARA. Fortunately, it's also slightly cheaper than Neocate or Nutramigen, especially when you buy in bulk.
To sum up...
Feeding your baby is the biggest priority of all parents. We do everything we can to make sure they are healthy and happy, so when their food is causing problems it can make you feel like it is your fault. Remember that you aren’t alone. Babies have allergies and intolerances just like we do.
Every baby is different and sometimes it can take switching formulas several times before you find the perfect one.
1. Safety of Soy Formula - https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/sya-soy-formula/index.cfm
2. Study on the Digestibility of Goat's Milk Formula - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5704675/
4. Kosher Formula Concerns
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2010 Susana Smith
Mich on August 10, 2020:
What baby formula is non dairy, soy free and gluten free?
Susan De Villiers on August 07, 2020:
from SA. my daughter is11 months and dairy and soy allergy. she in pepticate what formula is similar and what do i give next as this say up to 12 months
Noemi Francisco on May 19, 2020:
My son has G6PDD and soy is not allowed to him. What formula milk has the lowest soy content?
Adriana Tenorio on November 21, 2019:
What formula do you think might be best for an almost 2 week old baby that’s extremely gassy,constipated, fussy, and crying almost constantly!? Please help because he had a Drs appt and she said we just have to find one he agrees with but he is in so much pain...
Susana Smith (author) from UK on May 03, 2019:
I wouldn't give dairy to a child with dairy intolerance. They can't digest it properly and it causes gastric problems including constipation.
Beverly J on April 26, 2019:
I have a 10 month daughter and we thought she had a dairy allergy because she would occasionally have some blood in her stool. We recently did some blood work and it confirmed she is not allergic to milk and she has a dairy intolerance. I’m breastfeeding and supplementing with formula as well. We originally were using nutramingen but once we found out she wasn’t allergic, we transitioned to a milk based allergy. It’s been a month since we made the switch and I’m noticing she been constipated. Any advice on when formulas for a 10 month old with a dairy intolerance? When is a good time to introduce milk products?
Susana Smith (author) from UK on July 08, 2014:
I would definitely recommend choosing an organic formula. I should make sure that is in the article, thank you for highlighting it.
Sonny on June 25, 2014:
Susana this is an older article but why not mention rice which is truly hypoallergenic. Soy is not. Soybeans and corn are the most heavily sprayed pesticide and GMO crops. Labels should read organic or non-GMO to be on the safe side.
elmie on April 19, 2014:
my 3 yr old son is A g6pd positive what milk should we give him while soya is the most contraindicated.
Susana Smith (author) from UK on May 26, 2013:
Sorry, I'm not sure. Your nephews doctor will be able to say which formula he needs.
Charina on May 26, 2013:
Is there an infant formula that has no soy bean? My nephew has G6PD and soybean is not good for him...can you tell me?
Julie on September 04, 2012:
My 4m son got eczema. His dr says try to switch his formula to soy formula just to see if he change. Should I try it?
Susana Smith (author) from UK on May 04, 2012:
I'd say go to the doctors and get your baby checked out. Maybe it's a different kind of digestion issue and not an allergy/intolerance.
Minina on May 03, 2012:
My 4m old seems to be allergic to Nutramigen, and regular Enfamil and Symilac. Wich should we try next?
linnie on December 14, 2011:
To the comment about rice milk formula. Your doctor should prescribe you ellacare amino acid based formula. Its soy and dairy free and my insurance covere mine. Walgreens option care. Pharmacy delivered it monthly. It is also sold on E bay, amazon etc. The dr's often have you try allimentum or a hydrolisate formula first but for a child with true allergy, I wouldn't suggest it. I tried it with my allergic child and I regret it. She suffered from eczema and itching etc. For far longer then she Should have. The Allimentum has small more broken down milk proteins that make many allergic children able to tolerate and digest it without reactions. But from what I have learned the soon you completely eliminate the allergen the more likely the immune system will forget about and outgrow this allergen. Lastly hemp milk is way more nutrition and contains the amino acids and good fat that a young child needs, when transitioning to milk, at 12 months, do the hemp milk as much as possible. It costs more so we do some of both. My childs nutritionist says its so much more nutrient dense and allergen free.
aleida on November 10, 2011:
my 1 month old grandson is allergic to soy bot now the milk he is drinking Fussiness and gas is also making him cry spit and wont sleep, what can i do
Riya on October 12, 2011:
Hi, I am trying to figure out what formula to give my 3 month old baby who is allergic to dairy, soy, peanuts, wheat and onions. His doctor wants me to give him rice milk but it clearly states on the box that it should not be fed to infants less than 5 years old. Please advise as I am extemely confused
Susana Smith (author) from UK on September 19, 2011:
Hi Catherine, I've never seen a formula made from rice. I would advise seeing your doctor so that you can get your sons allergies checked out.
Catherine on September 16, 2011:
Hi, I am trying to find a rice formula for my 2month old. He is allergic to Dairy and Soy (possible corn allergy). I am having trouble finding a formula to give my son.
Thanks in advance.
Susana Smith (author) from UK on September 13, 2011:
Yes of course Rita. It's up to you and what you feel is best for your baby.
Rita on September 13, 2011:
i choose to give my baby soy formula at the age of one month to 4month and now she is 5months and i want to switch to milk formula. Is it possible 2 do so
Susana Smith (author) from UK on November 29, 2010:
I'm a bit confused. Does your son have problems with dairy, soy or both? What are his symptoms?
Babies that have issues with dairy often have difficulty with soy and vice versa. More often than not, in this case, it is a problem digesting particular proteins.
The hypoallergenic formulas have the proteins broken down into their most basic components so that the baby can digest them without problems.
Syed on November 26, 2010:
Thank you Susana. He drinks the soy formula (Similac Isomil) well, although the allergy comes and go. We're also concerned whether he is getting sufficient protein from the soy formula. Sometimes we think whether we should switch to a protein formula, e.g. SMA Gold 1. Often doctors are as helpless as we are. Thank you again.
Susana Smith (author) from UK on November 26, 2010:
Is he allergic to soy? If so then you'll need to use a hypoallergenic formula for as long as needed (it's hard to say what will happen in the future as he may outgrow his intolernance). If he has no problem with soy, then it's safe to eat indefinitely.
Syed on November 26, 2010:
Hello, my 3m son now drinks soy-based formula, along with breastfeeding. Doctor has advised us to try hypoallergenic formula as he has allergy. We tried hypoallergenic formula but refuses to drink, probably due to its taste. My questions are, if we continue with the hypoallergenic formula, how long should we continue? If however, we continue with the soy formula (which he drinks), how long can we continue? Thank you.
Don Simkovich from Pasadena, CA on August 13, 2010:
This is an important Hub. Unique and well written.
Hello, hello, from London, UK on May 13, 2010:
Thank you for your useful and helpful information.