Generic baby formula

Sylvia wants to know: “Can I use generic baby formula?  I use generics for myself all the time, but get nervous about the idea with my baby.  (He only eats one thing – I want it to be good for him!)  Are generic formulas ok?  Do I just need to make sure it has the same nutrition info as the well-known brand?”

Generic formulas adhere to the same industry standards as the name brands, and are essentially the same. When you buy the name-brand products, you’re paying more for a label, and you’re paying more for their extensive promotional efforts and giveaways.

I almost always buy generics—including medications, when they’re available. (Except for JIF peanut butter. Mmmmm, Jif!) It’s a myth that brand-name products are superior, a myth allegedly maintained by false or misleading advertising campaigns. There have been times in the past when new developments in baby formula first appeared in the name-brand products, most recently the addition of the essential fatty acids ARA and DHA. At this time, however, the generics have entirely caught up, and you don’t need to spend extra to get the second best product available.

(I forgot Coca-Cola. OK, for the record, all other brands of cola are nasty, especially icky store brands. Mmmmm real Coke!)

Almost all formulas fall into one of these groups, with very little variation within the group:

  1. Standard cow’s milk based formulas, like Enfamil Lipil or Similac Advance or almost any store brand. These are fine, the standard second best thing to feed your baby.
  2. Partially hydrolyzed cow’s milk formulas. A few brands partially “digest” their milk proteins, supposedly making the formulas easier on the tummy. There’s very little data to support their use, but they’re fine if you want to try one, like Gentlease or Carnation Good Start.
  3. Soy formulas, including many generics, Isomil, and Prosobee. There are very few, rare medical reasons to use these; many babies with genuine cow’s milk allergies can’t tolerate soy, and have to use a genuinely hypoallergenic formula. Still, if you’d like to avoid cow’s milk, go for it. These are probably fine.
  4. Reduced-lactose formulas (Similac Sensitive, Lactofree). These are just silly—there is no such thing as lactose intolerance in babies, and these formulas are only there to pander to fears and misinformation. If your child is genuinely allergic to milk, these won’t help.
  5. Hypoallergic formulas, like Alimentum or Nutramigen, are for babies with genuine milk allergies. This isn’t common, but for those babies these products are essential. There are no generics of these formulas, which are very expensive.
  6. Spittin’ formulas, like Enfamil AR or Similac RS, add modified rice starch that thickens somewhat in the stomach, preventing spitting. They seem to help some, but keep in mind that almost all babies spit up sometimes, and most don’t need any medicine or special formula. There are no generics of these moderately-priced formulas.

(I like genuine Ivory soap, too. Smells nice.)

tl;dr summary: If you’re looking to save a few dollars, generic baby formula is fine.

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12 Comments on “Generic baby formula”

  1. adrienne Says:

    I am so glad I found this. We’ve been talking a lot about this issue in my house since my son was born. This helped a lot…then I also read that Consumer Reports has just put out a book where they suggest that parents who use formula should choose store brand. The reasons are the same listed here…FDA regulations! I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t have enough extra money to be supporting marketing campaigns.


  2. Kathryn Says:

    Amen – Coke and Jif – imposters are just wrong!


  3. You can most definitely use Store Brand Formulas for your baby! We used Parent’s Choice formula for my twins when they were babies, and it was great. We saved over $1400 in the time that we spent formula feeding them! Using Parent’s Choice saved us so much money, we were able to use that money to purchase other things we needed.
    What many parents don’t know is that the FDA has such strict regulations on infant formula that all manufacturers have to make the formula nutritionally equal. The only reason there’s such a price difference is the marketing behind the products. The name brand companies buy commercial and ad spots, and pass those costs on to the consumers…
    Save money.. buy store brand! Compare the labels and you’ll see they’re nutritionally equal!
    While you’re at it.. .check out the SavingsCalculator too. it’ll show you how much money you (could) save if you use Store Brand Formulas.


  4. Marie Anderson Says:

    I don’t agree. It depends on the generic. Would you buy your vitamins at the Dollar Tree even if the ingredients were the same? The FDA may regulate based on the required ingredients, but they do not do a good job at regulating quality control of the ingredients themselves. Some of these cheaper formulas have ingredients that are being manufactured in China. There are generic foods I would eat and some I would not even though the ingredients are the same. Unless cost is a real issue in my household, I would not cut corners with my baby. I figure the savings to be about $10 a can and that means a savings of about $4 to 500 a year for one child maximum and that is being generous. There is an old saying “you are what you eat”. Also why feed a baby organic baby food and then buy them generic formula which is their main nutrient? I hope I did not offend but I feel strongly about this.


  5. Dr. Roy Says:


    Just to set the record straight, no milk products from overseas are used in any American formula.

    Thanks for your comment.


  6. Michele Says:

    Just FYI Target and Walmart make rice starch formulas now


  7. Erika B Says:

    While I found the information in this article about generic formulas helpful, the information about milk allergies concerns me.

    Of particular concern are the statements about genuine milk allergic babies not tolerating soy and hypoallergic formulas being safe for babies with milk allergies.

    My 10 month old son has “genuine cow’s milk allergies”. For him, ingestion of milk protiens in any form can result in anaphylaxis. Because of this, we have carried an Epi-Pen, Benadryl and Prednisone every where we go since he was 5 months old. His allergy to milk and egg is so severe that he does not just react to ingesting them, he also reacts to contact exposure!

    His allergist explained that this type of allergy, is a true allergy in that the immune system is triggered. This type of allergy can be confirmed with blood tests, does not cause blood in the stool, and is NOT associated with an allergy to Soy.

    While the other more common types of “milk allergy” do not involve the immune system, may cause blood in the stool, intestinal and reflux problems, and are often accompanied by similar sensitivy to Soy proteins.

    Giving my son a hypoallergic formula could kill him. When I was breastfeeding him, I had to avoid all milk proteins even if it was the last thing in the ingredient list.

    Fortunately, soy formula has worked for him. If it didn’t, his only other option would have been an amino acid based formula that makes the hypoallergic formulas look cheap.

    What’s my point? When I read this article I had visions of well meaning family members or childcare providers giving a potentially deadly bottle of Hypoallergic formula to a baby like mine…


  8. M Says:

    I agreed with your article until you said “These are just silly – there is no such thing as lactose intolerance in babies.” Seriously? My son could not tolerate drinking cow’s milk until he was 3 years old. With the pediatrician’s help we tried 6 different formulas before switching to soy, and within two days of soy he was a completely different baby. No more constant diarrhea, his whole body rash went away, he didn’t spend an hour crying after every single feeding. A single bottle of regular formula and his rash would immediately come back and he would cry again. It’s annoying and angering that people like you make it sound like all of that was made up, that the DOCTOR didn’t know anything.


  9. Dr. Roy Says:

    M, having an adverse reaction to cow’s milk is not the same thing as lactose intolerance. If your son outgrew his problem by age three, it was not lactose intolerance. Also, lactose intolerance cannot cause a rash. He probably had a milk protein allergy, which explains why he needed a soy-based formula. It’s unfortunate that 6 different formulas were tried first.

    Congenital lactose intolerance in human beings is very very rare– because human milk, like that of all mammals, is rich in lactose. Human babies born lactose intolerant would not survive, and the mutation would not persist in our population.

    Until 2009, the only human cases of newborn lactose intolerance occurred in Finland. Since then new mutations have appeared in Japan, but they’re still very rare. Cases of newborn lactose intolerance are caused by a complete deficiency of lactase enzyme, which would not improve with age. However, milk protein allergy is usually outgrown. I am glad your son is better.


  10. Ugh, honestly? Says:

    Did you honestly have to insert a “breast is best” plug at the end of an otherwise informative article about formula? Parents who choose formula donso for good reasons, none of which are anyone else’s business.

    Can you cite 3-5 reproducible studies concluding that breastfeeding has statistically significant better outcomes than formula feeding? Have you actually tried to breastfeed an infant? Because if the answer to both of those is no, I kindly invite you to shut it.

    — extended, exclusive breastfeeding mom investigating supplementation


  11. Dr. Roy Says:

    Ug, honestly — I agree with you. It was kind of jarring and obnoxious. I’ll take out the last paragraph, thanks for posting.


  12. M Says:

    Thank you. Infant feeding is fraught for a number of reasons and postpartum hormones do not help. I hope no other mom ever goes through what I did. There shouldn’t be an existential dilemma over whether the baby gets fed. Ever.


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