Formula feeding: Best types of baby formula in South Africa

While “breast is best”, there are times when a mommy cannot breastfeed her little one for various reasons. When you have to turn to formula feeding, how can you make sure to optimise the health of your formula-fed infant and what should you generally know about formula feeding?

It is very important to highlight that the only acceptable alternative to breast milk is commercial infant formula.

Children should not be fed cow milk at any time during the first 12 months of life due to the nutrient content of nature of cow’s protein being difficult to digest for infants. Cow’s milk also contains substances that could cause other health problems in babies.


No feeding-formula contains the immune molecules passed in breast milk from mother to baby, but many formulas contain the same types and amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals as breast milk. Luckily, infant formulas are constantly improving and the research on breast milk alternatives is growing by the day.

A good example of such development is that most infant formulas now contain types of omega-3 fatty acids (DHA: docosahexaenoic acid and ARA: arachidonic acid) and other essential fatty acids that have been shown to enhance visual and neural (mental) development in infants and play an important role in brain function.

“No feeding formula contains the immune molecules passed in breast milk from mother to baby, but many formulas contain the same types and amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals as breast milk.”

Whether you are a first-time mom-to-be or you’ve been through the process before, one thing is for sure: the variety of infant formula available on the market is overwhelming! The four top-selling brands are NAN, Novalac, S26 and Similac for reasons specific to each one.

formula feeding aisle in supermarket
Image: ValeStock/Shutterstock

Types of formula milk in South Africa

1. Regular formula

Most infant formulas are made from cow’s milk that has been adapted to be suitable for babies. The proteins are changed to be easily digestible, milk sugar (called lactose) is added to resemble breast milk more closely, and vegetable oil is replaced for butter fat.

a) Starter formula:

These milks are suitable from birth to six months of age. They are usually based on the whey of cow’s milk, which is known to be more easily digested. This lighter protein is preferred for younger babies, as their digestive systems are still very immature.

b) Follow on formula:

Follow-on milks are suitable for babies from 6 to 12 months of age, covering the nutritional requirements of the infants as part of a diversified diet. These milks tend to be predominantly based on the casein of cow’s milk, which is referred to as the “heavier” protein type to digest. The reason for changing the protein profile is for easier weaning, to prepare baby’s gut for the digestion of solids.

c) Growing up formula:

These milks are suitable for babies from 12 to 36 months of age. As your child grows and develops, their nutritional requirements change. Often toddlers tend to be fussy eaters and may be at risk of nutrient deficiencies. Growing up formulas could provide your toddler with those nutrients that they might be lacking.

2. Hydrolysed formula

These formulas are defined as cow’s milk-based formulas that are treated with enzymes in order to break down most of the proteins that cause symptoms in allergic infants. The protein content is broken down into smaller proteins, making it easier for baby to digest. Partially hydrolysed formulas are often recommended by healthcare professionals for infants that are allergy prone/have a family history of allergies in order to prevent these allergies from occurring in the infant. The higher the level of hydrolysis, the more the protein is broken down and the better the product is in preventing allergies.

3. Soy-based formula

Soy-based formulas are made from soybeans and supplemented with vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. However, soy formulas are even more different from breast milk than cow’s milk and they are not generally recommended as a first-choice infant formula. Some healthcare professionals might still recommend soy-based formulas for babies with a cow’s milk allergy, but it is common for infants with a milk allergy to also be sensitive to soy protein and so the choice to use soy formula in this particular case is also debatable.

4. Special formula

Special formulations are available for special medical purposes such as for premature babies, babies that suffer from severe cow’s milk protein allergies or maybe metabolic disorders. However, these infant formula products should be used only on the recommendation of a healthcare professional such as your baby’s paediatrician.

For babies that struggle with more common tummy troubles such as colic, reflux, constipation and diarrhoea, there are also infant formulas on the market that are specifically designed to address these problems.

spoon with baby formula and bottle for formula feeding

How to help your baby to feed from a bottle

Feeding is a perfect opportunity to help you and baby form a close loving connection, so here are a few pointers to get you into the swing of things:

  • To help your baby feel safe and loved, always hold your baby close to you and look into their eyes when feeding.
  • Try to hold your baby fairly upright, with their head supported in a comfortable, neutral position.
  • Hold the bottle horizontal to the ground, tilting it just enough to ensure your baby is taking milk, not air, through the teat. Babies feed in bursts of sucking with short pauses to rest. In this position, when your baby pauses for a rest the milk will stop flowing, allowing him to have a short rest before starting to suck again.
  • Brush the teat against their lips and when they open their mouth wide with their tongue down, help them draw in the teat.
  • You will see bubbles form in the bottle as your baby feeds. If you can’t see any bubbles, break the suction between their tongue and the teat from time to time by moving the teat slightly to the side of their mouth. You should then see bubbles rushing back up into the remaining milk.
  • Interrupting the feed from time to time also gives your baby a chance to register how ‘full’ (satisfied) they are and control their intake.

We also came across this wonderful “Guide to bottle feeding” leaflet with information from UNICEF that gives information on:

  • How to make up a feed
  • Feeding your baby
  • How often should I feed my baby?
  • How will I know if my baby is hungry?
  • How do I know if my baby is getting enough infant formula?

Download here.

Disclaimer: This post has not been sponsored. BabyYumYum reserves the right to its opinions and fully supports the notion of promotion that breast is best in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) infant feeding guidelines. Breast milk is the best food for infants. Good maternal nutrition is essential to prepare and maintain breastfeeding. If breastfeeding is not applied, an infant formula may be used according to the advice of healthcare professionals. Preparation and storage of any infant formula should be performed as directed on the tin in order not to pose any health hazards.

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