What is the best vegan baby formula and which one is right for my baby?
Now more than ever, there is an interest in the vegan diet. This leaves many vegan families asking what is the best vegan baby formula? Here we will take a look at many plant-based formula options, including vegan formulas.
Is breastmilk best?
I’m sure you have heard before, that breast milk is best. Study after study proves this is nutritionally accurate. However, there are times that a mother is physically or mentally unable to breastfeed. In these circumstances, breastmilk isn’t the best option anymore if it compromises the mother’s wellbeing.
There are many reasons a mother may not be able to or choose to breastfeed. She may have a low supply of milk that is unable to keep up with her baby’s needs, or she may be adopting or fostering a baby and breast milk is not an option. It could also be that she has no desire to breastfeed and it isn’t a good fit for her family. There are also rare occasions where a baby has an allergic reaction to human breast milk.
The Best Vegan Baby Formula
After having my first baby, I went back to work full time. It wasn’t what I desired to do, but financially, we couldn’t afford any other way at the time. Within one month, my milk supply had dropped substantially. I did everything I could to get it back up. I supplemented with fenugreek and maca root powder, and I increased my water intake. Power pumping became a normal sport for me as I took more breaks than I should at work to try and get my milk back. From staring at my baby’s photo while pumping to drinking mother’s teas, I did everything I could, But it never came back.
I felt like such a failure. What do you do when breastmilk is best but you don’t have enough? You cry. And then you get educated and figure out what the next best option is for you and your baby. And in time, you applaud yourself for feeding your baby well, meeting their nutritional needs, and taking care of your own peace of mind by letting go of what you believed was “perfect.”
I’ve heard of many mothers’ stories where they were encouraged to breastfeed as much as possible in the wake of postpartum hemorrhage or other medical issues. In these cases, their bodies do not tend to make enough milk. We can’t ask something of a mother that she is incapable of. She must do what’s best for her baby AND for herself.
The Best Vegan Baby Formula
According to the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), babies need breastmilk or formula exclusively for the first six months of age for proper nutrition and healthy development. Infant nutrition is important! The first year of your baby’s life is packed with brain and body development and growth. It isn’t recommended to offer your baby solid foods or baby food until they are six months old. Offering food too early can cause allergies and digestion issues. Be sure to ask your pediatrician any questions you may have about your baby’s diet.
Baby formula is regulated by the FDA and is required to meet certain nutritional standards. Whether formula contains dairy products or plant-based products as the main ingredients, it must have essential nutrients for your baby. Arachidonic acid (DHA & ARA), omega-3 DHA, vitamin b12, and vitamin c are a few you may see in the ingredients panel. It’s always a good idea to scan the ingredients of the formula you may use so you know what your baby is taking in.
Formula feeding can be a terrific option for vegan parents. As the vegan diet has become more mainstream, vegan mothers are looking for options for their baby’s diet. This is where it gets a little tricky.
The Best Non Dairy Baby Formula
For us who lives in the United States, it can be difficult to find a truly vegan formula on the market. Even formulas that are mostly plant-based, require Vitamin D3 because of FDA regulations. Vitamin D3 typically is derived from an animal product. Because formula companies aren’t required at this time to be transparent with their source, you won’t know if it’s animal or plant-derived.
Overall, vegan formula is a non-dairy formula. It will contain zero animal products. Because of the increase in demand over the past several years for vegan options, it is much easier to find a formula that more closely fits a vegan babies needs. However, finding a completely vegan option is difficult in the US. There was only one I was able to locate and it is designed for vegan children and toddlers, not infants. It isn’t available at your local grocery store, but your store will have plant-based options.
Because there is only one truly vegan labeled formula as of now in the United States (and it’s for toddlers), the options I will focus on will be plant-based formulas. I have heard from other families on vegetarian diets that it’s possible to order a vegan formula from Europe and have it shipped here.
Baby Formula Options
There are two main types of formulas on the market. Plant-based such as Similac Isomil, and cow’s milk-based such as Enfamil Neuropro. There are other types to choose from, but these two dominate the market.
Vegan or plant-based formulas are not cow-based formulas. They do not contain cow’s milk or goat’s milk and are dairy and lactose-free. To be clear, A vegan diet excludes all meat and animal products (meat, poultry, fish, seafood, dairy, and eggs), A plant-based or vegetarian diet excludes meat, poultry, ﬁsh, and seafood, but may include things like eggs.
Donor Breast Milk
There have been huge leaps and bounds made to the donor breast milk programs in the U.S. over the last couple of years. Many NICU units across the states are now able to receive screened donor breastmilk for sick babies. Mothers who are unable to breastfeed but desire to, or whose baby needs more milk than they are able to make at the time have been able to request donor breast milk to meet their baby’s nutritional needs. For premature or sick newborn babies this can be a huge game-changer.
Do your research. Search for milk banks in your area. Check for their screening process, and read reviews. All of this will let you know if they are reputable or not.
Organic baby formula
The majority of organic baby formula options on the market are from organic cows (meaning they contain dairy), but there is a handful that is a good option for the plant-based diet. Organic formula contains only organic ingredients and organic products. This means there are only non gmo ingredients used and no pesticides. If it’s a cow based formula, they are only fed an organic diet.
True Vegan Formula Options
Though I was only able to find one true vegan option, I believe that this is a growing market and new products will become available in time.
Else Vegan Formula (for toddlers)
Else is one of the only whole-food based, clean formula options on the market. It is dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free, corn syrup free, and non-GMO. It is vegan and organic. Else comes in original flavor, vanilla flavor, and omega 3&6 option. It offers complete, clean nutrition for babies one-year-old and older.
Plant-Based Formula (Dairy-Free Formula)
The words “plant-based” have become buzzwords in the last few years. Make sure to check the ingredients of any formula labeled “plant-based” so you know if it’s soy based, pea protein based, or rice milk based.
These are dairy-free baby formulas made from soy milk or soy protein and one of the most popular and easiest to find vegan formulas for babies.
There is some debate on whether soy is completely safe for babies. Some sources say yes and others say its questionable. Poisonous pesticides are one concern. Another is phytoestrogen that soy contains. For this reason, I don’t typically recommend soy formulas for male babies unless they are unable to digest the others. If a baby needs soy formula, the safest bet will be an organic variety. It is up to the parents to decide if this type of formula is right for them.
Similac Soy Isomil or Enfamil Plant-Based
Both of these brands are some of the OG’s of baby formula. They are still the top brands of most hospitals. Both Similac Isomil and Enfamil Plant-Based are soy formula options.
Earth’s Best Plant Based Formula
I have yet to find a soy based formula that is also organic. This one comes the closest. Though Earth’s Best Plant Based Formula isn’t organic, it is non-gmo. That’s a plus.
Baby’s Only Plant-Based Formula (for toddlers)
Baby’s Only Plant-Based Formula is designed for babies over 12 months old. It’s main protein is pea protein and it is dairy-free and organic. The Baby Only company is quick to admit that breastmilk is best, but also encourages parents talk with their pediatricians to see if this formula may be right for your baby. Their customer service is also available to do a side by side comparison of formulas you have your eye on.
Though Nutramigen does have some milk protein in it, I am including this for the following reasons.
Nutramigen is a good option if your baby has a soy allergy. It is one of the best formulas on the market for colic and one that NICU staff uses often for babies with reflux issues. One con is that it is very pricey. But the pros are that it seems to be a “miracle” formula. When a baby is spitting up with everything else, Nutramigen seems to do the trick. Nutramigen does contain hydrolyzed milk protein (casein) but it is so broken down that even baby’s with a cow’s milk allergy do well on it.
The Best Vegan Baby Formula
It’s a bit of a bummer that the baby formula market is so large, but there is currently zero vegan baby formula available in the United States for infants under 12 months old. I foresee this changing at some point. I certainly hope its sooner than later.
In the meantime, I can’t encourage parents enough to do their research when it comes to their baby’s formula. If you can breastfeed, breastmilk will fit your baby’s nutritional needs best. But there’s a time when it isn’t healthy for the mother to nurse anymore. These include physical, emotional, and mental reasons.
There is no shame if a mother is unable to nurse her baby. Making sure your infant gets baby formula or donor breast milk that works for them is the sign of a loving and responsible parent. When I was unable to breastfeed, I initially looked for a goat’s milk formula. I soon found out it isn’t available for baby’s under 12 months old. So I went with an organic milk-based formula for my baby, and he did great on it. I was thankful!
It may take some trial and error for you to find the formula that is right for your baby. If you have any questions along the way, be sure to reach out to your baby’s doctor.
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