Deciding what to feed your baby is one of the first decisions you make as a parent—and it’s an important one. Whether you’re opting to go exclusively with formula or plan to incorporate it into your breastfeeding routine, it’s hard to overemphasize the importance of choosing a healthy option. After all, your choice will make up the entirety of your child’s diet for their first few months of life.
Table of Contents
- Why Choose Organic Formula? (Is It Even Possible?)
- American vs. European Baby Formula
- Baby Formula Stages: What They Mean
- What’s the Deal with DHA?
- Best U.S. Brands of Organic Infant Formula
- Burt’s Bees Baby Organic Formulas
- Earth’s Best Organic Dairy
- Happy Baby Organic
- Parent’s Choice Organic GMO- and Gluten-Free Powder Baby Formula
- Bobbie Organic Baby Formula
- Kabrita Goat Milk Formula
- European Brands
- The Takeaway: Choose Your Formula Carefully
Many parents equate ‘organic’ with better in regards to baby products and consequently seek out certified organic infant formula. But what does this really mean, and what brands should you add to your shortlist?
Here, we’ve dispelled some of the mystery behind organic baby formula brands and share some of our top options from both Europe and the United States.
Why Choose Organic Formula? (Is It Even Possible?)
While all infant formula in the U.S. needs to meet strict FDA standards for nutritional content, non-organic formulas face less regulation overall. This increases the chance that they could contain undesirable compounds like heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and growth hormones.
There’s also a higher chance that non-organic baby formula will contain unhealthy and unnecessary ingredients like added sugars, corn syrup, fillers, soy and palm oils, and partially hydrolyzed whey protein. While these ingredients on their own pose minimal health risk, they add little value and take up valuable space in tiny bodies that are better served with more nutritionally-rich meals.
American vs. European Baby Formula
Due to differences in certification standards, there are significant differences between American and European baby formulas.
In the United States, USDA-certified organic products must legally contain 95% organic ingredients, while products labeled as “made with organic ingredients” must contain at least 70% organic compounds. The standard is slightly higher in the EU, where products must contain 98% organic content.
Likewise, US regulations allow for the use of synthetic ingredients that have been banned in European formulas due to their questionable health effects. These include ascorbyl palmitate, beta carotene, lutein, lycopene, L-methionine, and I-methionine.
If you’re on the hunt for plant-based formulations instead, check out our roundup of the best plant-based baby formulas here.
Baby Formula Stages: What They Mean
Not only do compositions differ between US and EU infant formula, but the marketing strategies do as well. Most US formula is considered “one-type-fits-all-ages,” meaning you can stick with one variety from infancy through toddlerhood.
EU formulas, in contrast, typically come in stages:
- Stage 1: birth to six months
- Stages 2 and 3: six months to a year
- Stage 4: toddlers over a year
This means you’ll switch up the formula variety as your child ages to meet their changing nutritional requirements.
What’s the Deal with DHA?
One thing you’ll likely encounter on formula labels is the presence (or lack thereof) of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). This essential fatty acid is a natural component of breastmilk and critical for a baby’s brain, nerve, and eye development over the first few months of life. Baby bodies can produce this compound independently, but they still benefit from receiving a steady supply through breastmilk or formula.
While this crucial compound is a common formula additive, it’s considered controversial, depending on where it’s sourced from. Synthetic forms of this fatty acid are common, as are forms derived from fungus or microalgae. The problem comes from the extraction method, which typically relies on a neurotoxic chemical called hexane. While the hexane is removed from DHA before the fatty acids are added to formula, the safety of using it at all has been in question since the mid-90s.
Today, you can find many organic formula brands that utilize DHA sourced from safer extraction methods. Others are ditching the compound altogether, noting that babies get all they need naturally and that studies show the benefits from supplementing are minimal.
Best U.S. Brands of Organic Infant Formula
These days, American parents can choose from many types of certified organic baby formulas. Here are the brands that top our list.
Highlights: A general crowd-pleaser, Burt’s Bees formula is gentle on little tummies and contains plenty of supplemental nutrients.
- Varieties: Ultra Gentle, Infant Milk, Sensitive
- Pricing: $31.99 for a 23.3-oz canister at the time of writing
- Price Per Ounce: $1.37
Though the brand may be better known for its skincare products, Burt’s Bees offers a range of quality infant formulas designed to work with sensitive digestive systems. The brand strives to mimic the nutritional complexity of breast milk with easy-to-digest formulas that should reduce gas pains in tiny tummies.
Each of the three available varieties are milk-based, USDA-certified organic, and contain supplemental amounts of iron, calcium, and vitamins D, E, and K to promote healthy development. They are gluten-free, GMO-free, and considered best for children under a year.
Customer reviews show that most buyers believe these formulas live up to the Burt’s Bees name and offer an affordable organic option, though some think the powdered formula can be a challenge to mix.
Highlights: This iron-rich formula relies on water extraction for DHA and offers soy-based and lactose-free alternatives.
- Varieties: Original with Iron, Low Lactose, Gentle with Iron, Toddler
- Pricing: $29.99 for 21 oz at the time of writing
- Price Per Ounce: $1.42
Earth’s Best Organics formulas work for infants through toddlers. The brand’s lactose-based blends are made from organic milk formulated to aid digestion in children under a year. The company uses a water extraction process for the formula’s DHA, which, when paired with ARAs and lutein, helps support brain and eye development.
The entire product line is kosher, non-GMO, and free of artificial colors and flavors. Just note that some parents complain it gets foamy when you mix it, which can lead to gassiness in sensitive digestive systems. The extra iron in some of the formulas may also lead to constipation for some.
Note: Earth’s Best offers a variety of soy-based and lactose-free formulas as well.
Highlights: Filled with probiotics to help build baby digestive systems, Happy Baby Organic is easy to pack and suits even sensitive eaters.
- Varieties: Stage 1 Infant, Sensitive, Stage 2
- Pricing: $29.99 for 21 oz at the time of writing
- Price Per Ounce: $1.42
Modeled after breastmilk, Happy Baby Organics contains a blend of prebiotics and probiotics to support digestive health. The certified organic formulas come in BPA-free containers, and each variety is free of GMOs, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and other questionable ingredients. Babies with gas issues may appreciate the sensitive formula, which is made with 75% less lactose than the standard option.
Many caretakers rave about the formula’s packaging, which comes in a tight rectangle designed to tuck in nicely into a diaper bag. Just note that this formula takes longer to dissolve than some of its competitors, and its foamy texture might throw off babies that are used to breast milk.
Note: As of writing, Happy Baby is dealing with supply chain issues that make their formula hard to find in many areas. They expect to fully restock by summer 2022.
Highlights: This budget-friendly organic formula isn’t a compromise on quality—even breastfed babies seem to love it.
- Varieties: Organic Infant Formula with Iron
- Pricing: $18.48/ 23.2 oz at the time of writing
- Price Per Ounce: $0.79
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly organic formula, it’s hard to beat Walmart’s Parent’s Choice Formula brand. You’ll pay under $20 for 23.2-oz, making it significantly cheaper than its competitors. It contains milk-based ingredients, supplemental iron, and is a good source of DHA, lutein, and vitamin E for proper development.
According to reviews, parents love this formula’s low price point with many commenting that their babies responded as well to it as they did to brands that cost twice as much. Others noted that it’s an easy formula to switch between when you’re still providing breastmilk.
Just note the formula is only available at Walmart and can occasionally be hard to find in stock.
Highlights: Designed like EU baby formulas, Bobbie is readily available in the United States and makes a good compromise for parents who value FDA certification.
- Varieties: Organic Infant Formula
- Pricing: Starts at $1.84-oz. Note: currently only available to existing subscribers, a waitlist is available.
- Price Per Ounce: $1.84
Though a U.S. brand, Bobbie Baby formula is comparable to some of the best European brands while still meeting FDA safety standards. Its milk comes from cows that are part of the Organic Valley Cooperative of family farms across the US, and the formula is free of all sweeteners except milk sugars—no corn syrup or maltodextrin to be found. It’s also devoid of palm oil, gluten, and GMOs.
At writing, Bobbie is one of the only U.S. formulas to meet EU standards for DHA content (derived from algae) at 20 mg/100kcal. This female-founded formula was also awarded the Clean Label Project Purity Award and Pesticide-Free Certification for containing safe ingredients.
Customer reviews show parents love this nutritionally complete formula and appreciate the faster (and free!) shipping compared to sourcing similar products from the EU. Pricing is at a premium compared to other US-based brands, but hundreds of caregivers confirm that it’s worth it.
Note: Bobbie is currently only available from the brand website on a subscription basis. As of early summer 2022, Bobbie isn’t accepting new customers due to surging demand and formula shortage. Sign up for the waitlist to gain a spot as they become available.
Highlights: For babies that don’t tolerate cow’s milk well, Kabrita’s Goat Milk Formula offers a cost-effective alternative.
- Varieties: Goat Milk Toddler Formula
- Pricing: $42.99 for 28-oz at the time of writing
- Price Per Ounce: $1.53
Kabrita USA is a division of the Dutch company Ausnutria that sources goat milk from farms in the Netherlands and Missouri. This female-founded company is committed to providing products that are non-GMO, hormone and pesticide-free, and formulated to mimic the fats in breastmilk. Your child will benefit from the added prebiotics, as well as the fish-derived DHA and ARA.
Goat milk makes sense in infant formula because it’s structurally more similar to breast milk than cow’s milk is. It also tends to be more alkaline and richer in prebiotics, which supports healthy gut development. This makes goat milk formula easier to digest for babies with a cow’s milk protein allergy or sensitivity. Goat milk also naturally contains less lactose, meaning that it can ease digestive discomfort for babies that are sensitive to it.
Just note that goat’s milk formulas tend to have a distinct taste compared to cow or breast milk, and picky babies may not want to make the transition.
Kabrita aims to support women and families worldwide through several measures, including donating baby food Baby2Baby to fight childhood poverty in the US and financial contributions to Girl Up to support female health and safety worldwide.
If you’re willing to forgo FDA approval and deal with delayed shipping, there’s a big world of European-based organic baby formulas to choose from. Here are the ones that stand out.
Highlights: Surprisingly affordable, Loulouka formula contains the milk from happy Swiss cows and DHA from fish oil.
- Varieties: Organic Cow Infant Formula (Stage 1 and 2), Goat Infant Formula (Stage 1 and 2)
- Pricing: $39.99 per 31 oz, available at specialty stores in the US and directly from the EU here
- Price Per Ounce: $1.29
This Swiss-made made formula uses the nation’s own milk supply paired with coconut oil (never palm oil) to give babies all the essential nutrients they need at the start of life. Loulouka is certified organic and is a good source of iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin D. It does not contain soy and instead provides protein from milk and whey. Even better, its only sugar comes from lactose, and the formula’s DHA is derived from fish oil.
The company believes its formula is superior because Swiss cows live better lives—farms have just 23 cows on average, and most get to roam free over the Swiss Alps with ample rest opportunities in the summer.
Caregivers can choose from the brand’s three stages of cow-milk formula or two of goat milk for balanced nutrition through the toddler years. Customer reviews indicate that this formula stands out for its smooth texture and ease of mixing. Your baby will rarely encounter lumps, making it a popular choice for those used to breastmilk.
Highlights: HiPP’s abundance of options makes it easy to find a formula that fits your baby’s developmental stage.
- Varieties: Pre, Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 2 No Starch, Stage 3, 1 Year, 2 Year, Comfort, Anti-Reflux
- Pricing: $35.99-$39.99 for 21 oz at the time of writing
- Price Per Ounce: $1.71- $1.90
This German infant formula is certified organic and contains an impressive blend of prebiotics, omega 3 from fish oil, and essential vitamins and minerals. As you’d expect, it’s entirely free of GMOs, soy, gluten, nuts, artificial growth hormones, and added sugars.
The brand may seem hip (pun intended), but HiPP has actually been in business for over 120 years and has maintained its status as one the most popular formula brands in Europe since its founding in 1899. Today, HiPP remains a family-owned business that works with over 6,000 farmers to source its raw ingredients.
What makes this brand stand out is its broad range of specialty formulas for babies with eating conditions. For example, dairy-sensitive babies may respond well to the brand’s Hypoallergenic Infant Formula, which is starch-free, whey-based, and contains hydrolyzed milk proteins to reduce the likelihood of triggering an allergic response.
Highlights: Holle baby formula is designed for all stages of development and is formulated without any synthetic ingredients.
- Varieties: Pre, Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, Stage 4, Stage 1 Goat, Stage 2 Goat, Stage 3 Goat
- Pricing: 24.99-$30.99 for 14-21oz at the time of writing
- Price Per Ounce: $1.47- $1.75
An established brand in Switzerland since the 1940s, Holle offers one of the only certified biodynamic infant formulas on the market today. Choose between goat or cow milk varieties—both are hydrolyzed to make the milk proteins easier to digest.
All Holle formula is free of GMOs, added sugars, soy, corn, and synthetic ingredients. The cow’s milk formula includes a balance of whey and casein proteins, which are designed to ease the transition process from breast milk to formula for picky eaters.
Choose from formula options designed for five stages of development, from birth to over a year old.
According to the parents who use it, babies often prefer drinking Holle over breastmilk. These easy to digest formulas rarely lead to constipation, making their extra expense and relative difficulty to source worth it.
The Takeaway: Choose Your Formula Carefully
Deciding what to feed your baby is not a decision to make lightly. Infant formulas range considerably in cost and quality of ingredients. Consider experimenting with several brands before determining what works best for your child.
It’s also smart to talk with your pediatrician about any concerns with formula before beginning to ensure you get professional advice for making the right nutritional choices for your child.