Baby Formula Choices

Question of the Week

A dad buying formula for his baby
There are often a lot of choices of baby formula to buy at the store. Gregory Smith/Getty Images

Q. Recently I took my nine-month-old son to the doctor for his well check. When the nurse asked what kind of formula he was on, I told her that we were giving him Parent's Choice 2, a Walmart brand. She told me that she had gone for an in-service on infant formula and found out that there was a formula that doesn't meet some of the nutritional criteria, however she couldn't remember if it was Parent's Choice, Comfort (a Kroger brand) or Carnation Good Start. We have used Carnation Good Start when we have not been able to make it out to Walmart. Have you heard anything about this? I don't want to be giving my son something that could hurt him. Amy, Toledo, Ohio

A. Was the 'inservice' sponsored by or catered by a baby formula company?

In general, all baby and infant formula brands that are sold in the United States must meet the minimum nutritional requirements of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (the 'Infant Formula Act') and FDA regulations.

That doesn't mean that all baby formula brands are exactly the same, but any of the major brands, such as Enfamil, Similac, or Gerber Good Start, and store brands from Walmart, Target, or Kroger, etc., should meet your baby's basic nutritional needs.

They are certainly safer than using a recipe to make your own homemade baby formula.

Baby Formula Choices

Although all infant formula must meet FDA requirements, there are differences among them.

Not even considering the differences between milk based formula, soy, and lactose free, etc., milk based formulas aren't exactly the same. For example, Gerber Good Start (formally Nestle or Carnation Good Start) is made with 100 percent whey protein, while Similac and Enfamil are made with a combination of whey and casein proteins, like breastmilk.

Another difference is that Similac is made without palm olein oil as the predominant source of fat, while Enfamil is made with palm olein oil.

Of course, each brand of formula markets the reasons that their 'recipe' is the best, but there is no official head to head study that shows that one brand is much better for your baby than another.

Even the American Academy of Pediatrics has never taken a real stand and made any kind of recommendation about formula feeding, except to say that breastfeeding is preferred over formula and that you shouldn't use a low-iron infant formula.

Store Brand Baby Formulas

Parents can be assured that generic or store brand infant formulas are very similar to national brands. They even use similar marketing terms, including:

  • Advantage = Advance
  • Tender = Gentle
  • Gentle = Gentlease
  • Sensitivity = Sensitive

And of course store brand baby formulas also include newborn, toddler, added rice, organic, and soy formula options.

Most contain DHA and ARA, prebiotics, and nucleotides, just like brand name infant formulas.

Almost all, including store brands made for Walmart (Parent's Choice), Target (up & up), Walgreens (Well Beginnings), and Kroger (Comforts for Baby), etc., are made by the same manufacturer - Perrigo Nutritionals.

And while store brand baby formula is not FDA approved, neither is name brand formula. The "FDA does not approve infant formulas before they can be marketed. However, manufacturers of infant formula are subject to FDA's regulatory oversight. Manufacturers must ensure that infant formula complies with federal nutrient requirements.

Manufacturers are required to register with FDA and provide the agency with a notification before marketing a new formula."

Formula Warnings

There was a warning about infant formula from the FDA many years ago, but it was concerning Chinese infant formula called Guan Wei Yuan. The FDA warned consumers not to use this formula 'because the safety and nutritional adequacy of infant formula from China is unknown.' I am not aware of any warning about store brand formula or other infant formulas though.

There was also a recall of powdered infant formula made by Wyeth Nutritionals, Inc., which makes most store brand formula for Albertsons, Safeway, Walgreens, and Parent's Choice.

The recall was because of a worry of bacterial contamination, but that was several years ago and there have been no recent warnings about these formulas.

What To Know About Store Brand Baby Formula

Like brand name baby formula, store brand baby formula meet the same nutrient specifications that are listed in FDA regulations, so parents should feel comfortable using either type of formula if they aren't ​breastfeeding.


Castilho, et al. The history of infant nutrition. J Pediatr.2010;86(3):179-188

FDA. Food advisory committee meeting on infant formula. Accessed June 2016.

FDA. Questions & Answers for Consumers Concerning Infant Formula. Accessed June 2016.

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