Organic baby formula is exactly what it sounds like: formula made with the best quality organic ingredients. This means:
- No synthetic preservatives
- No artificial colors
- No pesticide residue
- No growth hormones
- No genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
- No potentially toxic substances
In order for a formula to be certified organic, at least 95% of all ingredients and processing aids also have to be organic. In the US, products that carry the USDA Organic Seal must not contain anything excluded by the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.
Like the requirements for USDA organic certification, the EU organic certification requires that 95% (or more) of the ingredients be organic as well. However, the regulations set by the EU for organic certification are more comprehensive. There is more transparency on products. For example, if the product comes from a farm, the farm location must be indicated on the product. Furthermore, the EU has much stricter regulations on all infant formula, organic or not, in terms of there not being detectable levels of certain toxic substances.
Some European baby formulas go the extra mile by having certifications such as “Demeter” or “Bioland.” For example, Holle is the only European formula milk to be Demeter certified. Demeter is a certificate issued for biodynamic agriculture. The program was established in 1928 as the first ecological label for organic food. Demeter-certified milk, like that used in Holle cow formula, comes from cows that are raised in an exceptionally humane and caring environment. Demeter farming is dedicated to the preservation of the ecosystem by focusing on soil fertility management, crop protection, and promoting biological diversity. These practices, particularly when referencing cow’s milk, results in a wholesome and tasty milk, and of course is extremely beneficial for the environment.
Another certification you will see on some European formulas, like Lebenswert, is Bioland. Bioland is a type of certification whose standards exceeds that of the minimum regular EU organic requirements. For example, for a product to be Bioland certified it must come from a farm that solely produces organic products whereas with a regular organic certification, the product can come from a farm that also produces nonorganic products. Furthermore, the threshold amount of pesticides, like copper pesticide, that can be used for a product that is Bioland certified is two times smaller than a regular EU organic certification. Bioland regulations are more strict than regular organic, but not as strict as Demeter. You can learn more about the differences between Bioland organic and regular organic here.
Lastly, all formulas approved by the European Commission must be produced from animal milk that contains no hormones, no detectable levels of pesticide residues, and no GMOs.
Benefits of Organic Baby Formula
At Little Bundle, we strongly believe that one of the best things you can do for your baby is to provide a healthy, nutritious diet — regardless of whether that comes from nursing at breast or expressing breast milk for baby , formula, or combination feeding.
The best organic formulas “go the extra mile” by closely mimicking the nutritional profile of breast milk. This includes the use of organic lactose as the primary source of carbohydrates and an organic vegetable oil blend that features many of the fatty acids found in breast milk.
Many organic formulas contain additional whey. This makes the protein ratio more similar to the proportions of whey and casein in breast milk.
Prebiotics and probiotics are often added to replicate the immunity-boosting properties of breast milk. Prebiotics such as galacto-oligosaccharides are very similar to human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), while probiotics like Lactobacillus are commonly found in breast milk, along with other types of lactic acid bacteria. We also carry Kendamil Organic, the only European formula with naturally occurring HMOs (probiotic). HMOs in breast milk play a large part in the development of a healthy gut microbiome, which in turn has been shown to reduce the risk of infection and allergy as well as support brain development.
Organic formula provides essential nutrients while also ensuring that no traces of harmful substances make it into your baby’s bottle. This means eliminating pesticide residue, toxic processing agents, chemicals, and GMO ingredients. Organic formulas avoid unhealthy and potentially harmful ingredients such as carrageenan; highly processed sweeteners like corn syrup, glucose syrup, and brown rice syrup; and artificial preservatives.
US Brand Formula vs. European Brand Formula
Not all organic products are created equal.
There are other significant differences between US formula brands and European formula brands as the standards for what can be included in baby formula are stricter in Europe than in the United States.
EU standards prohibit the inclusion of sucrose (table sugar) in infant formula, except in small quantities in specialty formulas for premature infants or babies with allergies.
All European formulas are required to have at least 30% of calories from lactose, which is not a requirement for U.S. formulas.
Many Holle and Lebenswert formulas carry Demeter or Bioland certifications that go beyond the EU’s minimum organic standards. For example, the Demeter certification emphasizes a deep commitment to animal welfare, sustainability, and ecosystem preservation.
With the exception of the specialty formulas HiPP Hypoallergenic, HiPP Comfort, and HiPP Anti-Reflux, all of the formulas stocked by Little Bundle carry the European Union’s organic seal. This means they are made without synthetic or chemical sprays, genetic engineering, artificial flavors, enhancers, colors, or preservatives.
Mother feeding a child with organic formula
Types of Organic Formula
Cow’s Milk Formula
Cow’s milk is by far the most common base for organic formula.
Most organic cow’s milk formulas are made with skimmed milk that has been supplemented with a blend of organic vegetable oils to achieve a fatty acid profile similar to breast milk. Holle PRE and Kendamil Organic use whole milk recipes. Whole milk recipes are exceptional because with using the full cream of the milk, it contains naturally occurring MFGM (Milk Fat Globule Membrane) – a critical component within breast milk linked to improved cognitive development in infants. Vitamins and minerals are also added in quantities that correspond to the correct stage of infant development.
One of the major differences between cow’s milk and breast milk is the proportion of whey and casein proteins. Although mature breast milk contains about 60% whey proteins and 40% casein proteins, cow’s milk contains 20% whey and 80% casein. Since casein proteins circle and take longer to metabolize, this can lead to digestive difficulties such as bloating and gas, especially for young babies. Many formula manufacturers compensate for this by adding additional whey to their cow’s milk formulas. Some of our popular European formula brands such as Kendamil Organic have a whey/casein ratio of 60/40 in Stage 1 and 40/60 in Stage 2. This gradual change is designed to reflect the natural changes in breast milk and helps prepare your little one for weaning.
Goat’s Milk Formula
A growing number of well-known formulas are made with organic goat’s milk, such as Holle Goat, Kendamil, Kabrita USA, and Nannycare.
These formulas provide the same nutrients as cow’s milk formulas, but they may be more suitable for babies who have trouble digesting cow’s milk formula or who display symptoms of milk protein intolerance, such as eczema or skin rashes. Goat’s milk formulas are also becoming increasingly popular as an attractive formula option for any baby, not just those with cow’s milk sensitivity.
Many babies with cow’s milk protein sensitivity have had success with organic goat’s milk formula. Goat’s milk is naturally homogenized, has smaller fat globules and a smaller, lighter curd, more similar to breast milk curds, and is generally easier to digest than cow’s milk.
However, it’s important to remember that cow’s milk and goat’s milk are quite similar in many ways. Babies with a diagnosed milk protein allergy would probably have symptoms after being fed goat’s milk formula, and would most likely require an extensively hydrolyzed or amino acid-based formula to fully eliminate the potential for an allergic response.
The main reason to use a soy-based formula is for infants who are lactose intolerant, have severe dairy allergies, or who must be fed a specific diet for other health reasons. Although soy-based formulas provide sufficient nutrition for babies and may appeal to parents who want a vegan option, they are far from ideal. In the United States, most sources of corn and soy have been genetically modified in some way, so finding a truly “GMO-free” soy-based formula may not be possible.Studies have shown that some soy formulas have high levels of the heavy metal aluminum (American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Nutrition. Aluminum toxicity in infants and children.Pediatrics.1996: 97 (3):413–416). Soy also contains the compound phytic acid, which blocks the absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and iron.
Since they are entirely plant-based, soy formulas are highly processed and are much less similar to breast milk than cow’s milk or goat’s milk formulas are. Due to the presence of ingredients such as synthetic l-methionine, there are no European soy-based formulas that have been certified organic. USoy-based formulas are not usually recommended unless there are overriding religious, cultural, or health reasons for their use.
Since soy-based formulas cannot contain lactose, they must utilize other carbohydrate sources, such as corn syrup or glucose syrup. Baby’s Only is one of the few U.S. formula brands that offers an organic, non-GMO, plant-based formula for babies who are lactose intolerant or who are fed a vegan diet. As a carbohydrate source, Baby’s Only Soy contains organic brown rice syrup, which is preferable to corn syrup but not as ideal as lactose.
Several studies have suggested that consuming significant amounts of soy at a young age could have negative effects on the female reproductive system later in life, causing severe menstrual cramps, for example.
The overall impact of consuming significant amounts of soy in infancy remains unknown.
Father feeding a child with organic baby formula
Feeding difficulties are common among young infants, whose immature digestive systems may need some help breaking down the nutrients in formula.
There is a wide range of specialty formulas that have been developed to help ease some of the most common feeding and digestive issues, such as:
- Spit up
- Acid reflux
For example, HiPP Comfort has hydrolyzed proteins, reduced lactose content, and several different carbohydrate sources, which make it easier to digest. HiPP Anti-Reflux contains locust bean gum, which makes the formula creamier and thicker so that babies have fewer issues with spit-up.
Cow’s milk protein allergy affects an estimated 7% of infants. While infants with a severe allergy are likely to require a special amino acid-based formula, infants with cow’s milk protein sensitivity or a more mild form of intolerance may benefit from a hydrolyzed formula such as HiPP HA Hypoallergenic, in which the milk proteins have been broken down into more manageable sizes.
Although the vast majority of HiPP formula ingredients are organic, HiPP Comfort, HiPP HA, and HiPP AR cannot be officially certified as organic because the hydrolyzed milk protein is not available in an organic form.
How to Compare Organic Formula
In the United States, most baby formula is not sold in stages, which means that the nutrient levels have to be appropriate for babies of all ages. That’s not to say that these formulas aren’t safe for infants, but they don’t meet the specific developmental nutrient requirements as precisely as their European counterparts.
Organic formulas, particularly those from Europe, are typically sold in “stages,” which correspond to different points in a baby’s development.
Stage 1: 0 to 6 months -The nutritional profile of Stage 1 formula corresponds to the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that newborns and infants need. All Stage 1 formulas (sometimes called “first infant milk”) are suitable as a complete source of nutrition, or as a supplement to breast milk.
Stage PRE: From birth – In most ways, Stage PRE formulas are very similar to Stage 1 and are suitable from birth onwards. Despite the name, they are not related to premature babies (“preemies”). The main difference is that Stage PRE formulas do not contain any starch, which can sometimes be difficult for newborns to digest. In addition, Holle Bio Stage PRE contains additional lactose, rather than the maltodextrin found in Holle Bio Stage 1.
Stage 2: 6 months and older – Also known as “follow-on formula,” Stage 2 formula is designed for babies from six months to a year (or, in some cases, 10 months), and has slightly higher amounts of protein and certain other nutrients, to correspond to a growing baby’s needs. The most notable difference in Stage 2 formulas is that Stage 2 formulas contain more iron. By the time your infant reaches 6 months of age, their iron requirements will dramatically increase. Hence why many pediatricians encourage parents to feed iron fortified foods like baby cereal or other naturally iron rich foods. Stage 2 is a good choice if you don’t want to feel pressured to make sure your baby is eating those kinds of foods and is suitable for use alongside solid foods.
Stage 3: One year and older – When a baby turns one year old, he or she may begin drinking whole cow’s milk (or whole goat’s milk). Alternatively, he or she may transition to a Stage 3 formula, which is a nutritionally complete option for older babies and toddlers who are likely to be eating plenty of solid food at this age. Also known as “growing-up milk” or “toddler milk,” Stage 3 formula is intended for use after the age of 10 months or one year, depending on the manufacturer: for products sold in Germany, Stage 3 is labeled for 10 months and older whereas in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands Stage 3 is labeled for 1 year. For Stage 3 HiPP and Holle products are sold in both these countries as their ingredients and nutrition are identical – the age discrepancy is because of the respective country’s regulations.
HiPP, Holle, Kendamil, and Lebenswert are undoubtedly the most popular organic formula brands from Europe. These manufacturers are extremely well regarded, with decades of experience in the organic food industry, and pride themselves on never including sucrose, corn syrup, or synthetic ingredients in their formulas.
HiPP is one of the leading brands of organic European formula. Headquartered in Germany, HiPP is well known across Europe, since manufacturers in the Netherlands, the UK, and Germany each market slightly different versions of HiPP’s nutritionally-complete formulas. HiPP is also famous for its specialty formulas, designed for babies with feeding conditions such as reflux, constipation, gassiness, and colic.
HiPP also manufactures hydrolyzed formulas for babies who struggle with milk protein intolerance. With the exception of these specialty products, most HiPP formulas feature only lactose as the main carbohydrate source, just as in breast milk. All HiPP formulas contain prebiotics in the form of galacto-oligosaccharides, and most contain probiotics in the form of lactobacillus fermentum (the same as found in breast milk!), with the exception of HiPP UK formulas and HiPP Dutch Stage 3.
Some U.S. brands that are slightly similar to HiPP and Holle brand such as:
Baby’s Only Organic Dairy — Manufactured by Nature’s One, this USDA Organic toddler formula is free from corn syrup and GMO ingredients, although it does contain brown rice syrup and soy oil.
Happy Baby Organic — This is another popular organic formula made with organic nonfat milk, lactose, whey, prebiotics, and DHA/ARA. It doesn’t contain corn syrup solids or synthetic nutrients like l-carnitine and l-methionine, and it’s available in stages, just like European formula.
Earth’s Best — Made with organic lactose, prebiotics, lutein, DHA, and ARA, Earth’s Best baby formula is corn-syrup free and USDA Organic.
Plum Organics — Although it contains a few questionable ingredients, such as hexane-extracted DHA and synthetic nutrients, Plum Organics formula is free from corn syrup solids, and uses organic lactose instead
Kabrita USA — This goat’s milk toddler formula includes many of the same great ingredients as European formulas, such as lactose, prebiotics, and DHA.
Founded in Switzerland in 1933, Holle has been an industry leader in organic infant products for over 80 years and is best known for emphasizing clean ingredients such as biodynamic milk, as well as for having a popular goat’s milk formula. You’ll notice the Demeter label on many Holle formulas. Demeter is one of the highest certifications for organic, sustainable agriculture in Europe. It’s essentially “organic plus,” in that not only are Demeter farms free from GM technology, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and toxic manufacturing processes, but they also have to meet strict criteria for ecosystem preservation and animal welfare.
Kendamil Organic Formula
Kendamil Organic is one of the most trusted and wholesome European formulas on the market. This British family company is incredibly passionate about the quality and care of their formulas, all the way to getting milk from happy cows! Kendamil works directly with farmers week to week and day to day taking all seasons and factors into account regarding the raw milk they use. Their products use the full cream of the milk and provide a more natural fat source of Milk Fat Globule Membrane (or MFGM), as identified in breast milk, which has shown to improve infants’ cognitive development. As EU Certified Organic, Kendamil contains plant-based DHA derived from algal oil, which is suitable for vegetarian diets. Kendamil also contains prebiotic and is the first-ever European organic infant formula to contain Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs) as a part of the prebiotic source. HMOs in breast milk play a large part in the development of a healthy gut microbiome, which in turn has been shown to reduce the risk of infection and allergy as well as support brain development.
Also manufactured by Holle, Lebenswert is similar to Holle’s cow’s milk formula in many ways. Lebenswert formulas have all earned Bioland certification, another top award for biodynamic farming. Most Holle and Lebenswert formulas feature organic lactose and organic maltodextrin (and sometimes organic starch) as the main carbohydrate sources, providing babies with longer-lasting sources of available energy. Holle and Lebenswert formulas do not contain prebiotics or probiotics, although as of spring 2020, they do contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, including DHA.
Although infant formula can never replicate all of the components of breast milk, such as antibodies, hormones, and other bioactive molecules, the best organic formulas contain ingredients that approximate breast milk to the highest possible degree.er formulas, which makes it creamier and even more similar to breast milk.