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Breastfeeding provides optimal nutrition for infants. Our recommendations are based on the products we have personally used or researched; they are not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult your pediatrician before making any changes to your child’s diet, especially in cases where your baby has dietary restrictions or allergies.
The days and nights are LONG when your little one is grappling with digestive issues. This is even more true if you’ve already tried adjusting your feeding position, tweaking the nipple size, giving belly massages, doing bicycle kicks, or the numerous other remedies to alleviate these symptoms.
You’re likely now at the stage where you have to consider doing a bit of trial and error with formulas that are designed to be a bit more gentle on a baby’s delicate stomach and hopefully alleviate some symptoms as their digestive system evolves.
As parents ourselves, we all experienced a gassy, bloated, camping, and ultimately fussy baby at some point. It’s really tough on you because you never want to see them struggle. So to take a little load off your already full plate, our team spent 100’s of hours researching formulas and compiled a list of the best gentle baby formulas. Let’s get into it.
The Baby Swag’s best gentle baby formulas
- Best overall gentle formula > Bobbie Organic Gentle
- Best affordable gentle formula > Mama Bear Gentle
- Best goat milk formula > Jovie Organic Goat
- Best A2 formula > Holle A2
- Best sensitive formula > Earth’s Best Sensitivity
- Best affordable sensitive formula > Mama Bear Complete Comfort
- Best plant based formula > Sprout Organics
Jump to a specific section
- What’s in baby formula?
- What’s the difference between a routine, gentle and sensitive formulas?
- Choosing the right formula
- Best gentle formulas of 2023
- Why do parents switch from a routine, standard, formula?
- Choosing the right formula
- A quick guide on what’s in baby formula
- Starting your formula journey or switching formulas?
- What to know about formula recalls
- Formula recalls do happen, be prepared
- Final thoughts on what makes the best gentle formulas
What’s in baby formula?
Let’s take a quick look at what is actually in a baby formula. Well, good news, baby formulas are the most densely nutritious and highly regulated foods on the planet. As they should be.
They are all required to include 30 essential vitamins and minerals that meet a certain set of nutritional standards required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The European Commision (EC) sets similar nutritional guidelines and requirements in the EU
Although the nutritional standards are very similar across the entire formula range, where they can differ quite a bit is in the actual ingredients themselves. Ingredients can be sourced, processed and blended together in very unique ways. This is why we have so many different types of formulas, like all of the more gentle formulas you’ll find below. Each of them has a unique blend of ingredients that offer something slightly different.
What’s the difference between a routine, gentle and sensitive formulas?
Although everything that goes into a baby formula is highly regulated, the language formula brands can use on the packaging is not. We cover this extensively in Formula 101 if you’re interested in learning more. Before you dive into the best of list, we want you to understand two of the most commonly used and commonly confused terms… routine, gentle and sensitive.
- Routine is simply used to describe a fairly standard cow’s milk formula that has fully intact proteins.
- The word gentle is commonly used to describe formulas that include partially hydrolyzed proteins. This means the proteins are broken down so they are more easily digestible. Some people also like to bucket goat, A2 and plant-based proteins in this category since they are viewed as being more easily digestible.
- The word sensitive is typically used to describe formulas that reduce the lactose and replace it with another source of carbohydrates
It’s important to know the difference between these two types of formulas because they serve different purposes.
Choosing the right formula
Formula isn’t just about the ingredients, it’s also about what suits your budget, lifestyle and preferences as a parent. If you want to start with the basics first, we’ve got you covered.
Best gentle formulas of 2023
Best overall gentle formula
Bobbie Organic Gentle
Bobbie’s Organic Gentle is great for babies who don’t tolerate an intact protein formula very well. This typically means they’re uncomfortable and experiencing fussiness, gas or crying. It still features many of the amazing ingredients from their flagship Bobbie Organic formula, but differs in its protein size. Their Gentle formula features 100% partially hydrolyzed whey proteins, making them more tolerable for gassy babies.
Bobbie Organic formulas are free from corn syrup, maltodextrin, sucrose, brown rice syrup, soy allergens, palm oil, or fillers. Bobbie is as transparent as possible about where they source their ingredients, what they believe as a company, and what they’re doing to support families through their feeding journey. They are the best in class right now.
Note: Bobbie is a newer company so they are still ramping up their manufacturing capabilities. So it’s important to note that they prioritize their subscribers and reserve enough formula for you so you’ll never have to worry about it being out of stock elsewhere.
Best affordable gentle formula
Mama Bear Complete Comfort
Amazon’s Mama Bear Complete Comfort is a great choice if you’re looking for something more affordable. Even though it’s more affordable, that doesn’t mean you’re skimping much on quality. On top of all the essential vitamins and minerals, this formula includes two immune-supporting Human Milk Oligosaccharide (HMO) prebiotics, DHA (a healthy omega-3 fatty acid), and choline to help support brain development. It also has no artificial growth hormones and non-GMO ingredients, which means there is nothing genetically engineered.
Important to keep in mind: Perrigo (the manufacturer of Mama Bear formulas) also sells a “Gentle” formula. Their Gentle formula is a combination of some partially hydrolyzed whey AND fully intact proteins. So this is not a 100% partially hydrolyzed formula. The Mama Bear Complete Comfort blend has ALL proteins partially hydrolyzed which is what we’re looking for in a gentle formula for comparison. This is also true for the store brand formula you can also find at Target, Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, etc.
Best goat milk formula
Goat milk formulas are a popular option for parents that are looking for an alternative to cow’s milk. We have talked to lots of parents that have had great results simply by switching to a goat milk formula after their baby wasn’t tolerating a cow’s milk formula.
Nannycare is the OG in the goat milk space. They have been bringing goat milk formulas to the world for 30 years and even helped push new formula legislation in the UK and EU due to their goat milk clinical trials. That’s how much they believe in their products. When you read their website you can feel the passion coming through.
We love seeing how simple their ingredients list is. That means they have managed to create a naturally nutrient rich formula without the need for starches, maltodextrin, palm oil, soybean oil, sugars or corn syrup solids.
This is an amazing formula from a passionate team that you can be proud to give to your little one.
Note: the protein content in goat milk is different from cow milk, but still shares many of the same characteristics. So if your baby has already been officially diagnosed with a cow’s milk protein allergy, goat milk is likely not the magic cure. If your baby just doesn’t tolerate cow’s milk very well, it could be worth a bit of trial and error to see if goat milk makes a difference (which many parents have told us it has).
Best A2 milk formula
The proteins found in milk (whether cow, goat or human) are made up of casein and whey. The ratios in each type of milk differ though. For example, cow’s milk protein structure is roughly 80% casein and 20% whey whereas human breast milk is more like 60% whey and 40% casein. They differ further when zooming in on the casein protein specifically as well. Casein proteins are generally broken down into 2 categories, A1 and A2.
Breast milk and goat milk are mostly A2 while cow’s milk formula is mostly A1. The reason to understand is because A2 proteins are believed by some to be more easily digestible which is why breast milk and goat milk are typically easier for babies to handle.
There are some special breeds of cow’s that still produce the A2 protein though and we think Holle offers the best. The milk comes from European cows that are grass fed and are genetically tested to ensure they only produce the A2 protein.
Holle organic A2 formula stage 1 is made for babies up to 6 months old (stage 2 is for 6-12 months). It has all of the important nutrients required by the European Commission’s regulations to make sure that your baby grows up happy and healthy. It’s certified organic in the EU, has added DHA, is non-GMO, and has no artificial sweeteners. It’s one of the best organic baby formulas made with A2 cow’s milk you can find.
Holle is one of Europe’s most trusted organic formula brands. Many parents have tried their A2 formula to help ease the digestive issues their babies were struggling with, while getting all the benefits of their high quality cow’s milk formulas. Use code 'babyswag' to get 5% off.
Best sensitive formula
Earth’s Best Organic Sensitivity
Earth’s Best Organic Sensitivity has 95% less lactose as compared to standard milk-based formulas. This is designed to help babies that have a lactose intolerance, which is fairly rare because babies begin developing lactase enzymes in utero.
In fact, breast milk contains more lactose than dairy milk so it’s rare that these lactose reduced formulas are actually needed. That being said, you should chat with your pediatrician if you think this is the next best option to choose, because there are some babies that tolerate it much better.
Made with organic milk from grass and grain-fed cows, Earth’s Best Organic Sensitivity has lutein, prebiotics, and DHA and ARA to give your baby nutrients that support immunity, brain development, and eye development. Their formulas are free from artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, GEI, growth hormones, antibiotics, steroids or potentially harmful pesticides/herbicides which made it easy to get certified as USDA Organic & Kosher.
Best affordable sensitive formula
Mama Bear Sensitivity
Mama Bear Sensitivity has 99 percent less lactose than standard milk-based infant formula and provides complete nutrition for our little ones ages 0-12 months.
Mama Bear Sensitivity contains Lutein and Vitamin E, plus DHA, an Omega-3 fat important in brain and eye development. It is gluten free, non-GMO and contains 2′-FL HMO, a prebiotic commonly found in breast milk, which aids growth of beneficial bacteria in baby’s digestive tract for infant immune support.
This is Amazon’s store brand formula that is manufactured in Ohio by a company called Perrigo. It’s a solid formula at a very affordable price.
Best plant-based formula
Sprout Organic is the world’s first 100% plant based, organic and vegan certified formula. They use rice starch as the base ingredient rather than soy which we love to see. (Rice starch has been used in European formulas for many years and soy is a common allergen so it’s not recommended for babies under 6 months).
Their ingredients are 100% plant-based, clean, certified organic and adhere to the HACCP protocol (meaning they know the co-operative regions and growers directly supplying them). Sprout Organic’s plant-based nutrition offers a dramatically lower carbon, water, and ecological footprint compared to dairy-based counterparts.
Sprout Organics is a newer company and is working hard to expand their footprint around the world, including the US. You can order directly from Sprout on their website and have it shipped straight to your door from Australia. How cool is that? Hopefully soon, we’ll be able to update this and tell you it’ll be available direct from US retailers.
Why do parents switch from a routine, standard, formula?
Routine, or standard, formulas are always the best option for your baby to start with unless you’ve already identified a medical reason not to with your pediatrician. The majority of infants have no problem digesting cow’s milk formula and they are the closest formulas we have to breast milk (the gold standard), so we always recommend this as the starting place.
Choosing the right formula
If you’re just starting your formula feeding journey, check out our guide on how to choose a baby formula first.
If you already know or are starting to wonder if your baby might be one of the unlucky ones that may not tolerate routine cow’s milk formulas well, then not to worry. Formula companies have been researching and testing different formula recipes for ~150 years and are getting pretty good at finding new ways to help our more sensitive little ones.
When thinking about switching to a more gentle formula, it’s important to know the difference between the following:
- Milk protein intolerance: this is when your baby’s digestive system struggles to break down the protein found in milk. This is very different than having an allergic reaction to it. The proteins found in cow’s milk are larger than what’s in breast milk so some babies struggle to digest them purely because of how big they are.
- Milk protein allergy: is when your child’s immune system has a reaction to the proteins in milk. This is not something you should diagnose on your own, this is something you should confirm with your pediatrician.
- Lactose intolerance: is a reaction to the primary carbohydrate (lactose) found in breastmilk and most routine formulas. This is actually very rare and is most likely not the cause of your baby’s issues. However, many gentle formulas do reduce the lactose because the formula companies believe it can help ease digestive issues. .
Please note that these formulas we’re recommending are not for children that have been medically diagnosed with a milk allergy or severe lactose intolerance. Talk to your pediatrician if you haven’t already and read our guides on the best hypoallergenic baby formulas and lactose intolerance for more information.
So if you think your baby might benefit from transitioning to a more gentle formula, it’s most likely the protein you need to think about first. There are a few options to consider:
- Partially hydrolyzed formulas: this is when the bigger intact proteins found in routine formulas are chopped up and broken down into smaller pieces, making them easier to digest. This is typically what most formula companies refer to as a ‘gentle’ formula.
- Goat milk formulas: sometimes simply switching from cow’s milk to goat’s milk formula can make all the difference. We’ve talked to 100’s of parents whose baby immediately improved after swapping the protein source.
- A2 milk formulas: switching to a formula that is predominantly A2 proteins has also worked for tons of parents. They get all the benefits of a routine cow’s milk formula but the benefits of what is considered to be a more gentle protein to digest.
- Rice starch formulas: there are newer formula recipes using all plant based ingredients that are worth considering if your baby has just constantly had issues with milk proteins.
- Soy formulas: there are soy-based formulas as well but the American Academy of Pediatrics only recommends soy based formulas when medically necessary. They should really be looked at as more of a last resort. This is why you won’t see any soy formulas on our list below.
Each of the categories above offers parents an opportunity to explore something new when it comes to finding a formula their baby will tolerate and thrive on. So you can make the best decision, let’s give you a quick overview of what is in baby formula.
A quick guide on what’s in baby formula
As we touched on above, it’s important to know what you’re feeding your baby. We like to break it down into two categories… the macronutrients and the micronutrients.
Macronutrients – proteins, carbs and fats make up 98% of formula
If you understand the way proteins, carbs and fats are blended together, you’re going to be well on your way to choosing the right formula for your family. This makes up roughly 98% of formulas which is why we like to start with it.
- Proteins make up the bulk of baby formulas. It is typically a combination of whey and casein proteins. We like to find formulas that have a similar 60:40 whey to casein ratio as breast milk.
- There are 2 types of casein proteins found in milk, A1 and A2. A1 is much more common on formulas since that is what the majority of our cow’s produce, but A2 is the predominant casein in breast milk.
- Protein can be partially or fully hydrolyzed. Hydrolysis chops up large proteins into smaller, more easily digestible pieces.
- Formulas with partially hydrolyzed proteins are commonly referred to as ‘gentle’ and may help prevent atopic disease, food allergy, and type 1 diabetes in babies who are at risk for these diseases.
- Fully hydrolyzed protein should be used only if medically required due to a milk protein allergy.
- Lactose is the carbohydrate source found in breast milk. It’s the main energy source for our little ones. Babies start making the enzyme necessary to digest it while they are still in utero which means it’s rare that babies have a lactose intolerance.
- Most routine formulas have lactose as the primary or sole source of carbs. This is ideal in our opinion but some formulas specifically reduce the lactose or are lactose free because it has been shown to help some babies digest better. These are commonly referred to as ‘sensitive’ formulas.
- We like to look for “lactose” on the list of ingredients – ideally before any other carbohydrates (like corn syrup solids, maltodextrin, glucose syrup, or sucrose).
- Corn sugar (in various forms) is often used as a source of carbohydrate in formula because it’s cheaper than lactose. The long term consequences of consuming corn based sugars during infancy are unknown.
Fats and oils
- The fat in formula comes from a variety of oils that are blended together to closely mimic the fatty acids profile of breast milk.
- Formulas that include palm oil result in slightly lower fat absorption and lower calcium absorption from baby formula and may affect bone density. Avoid it if you can. Palm olein oil is fine for healthy term babies but should definitely be avoided for babies who were born early because these babies have extra bone-growing to do.
- Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides which are very easily absorbed.
- Looking for a baby formula with coconut oil high in the order of ingredients may be a good idea for babies that seem to exhibit problems digesting fat.
Micronutrients – the other 2%
Now that you’ve mastered the first 98% of formula, let’s talk about the ingredients listed after the phrase, “contains less than 2% of”.
This is basically all vitamins and minerals essential for your baby. Among the requirements for infant formulas, the FDA specifies 30 nutrients that must be included in infant formulas.
The names that you see on the formula cans themselves may seem a bit scary but they have to use the more scientific terminology. For instance, “cyanocobalamin” might seem alarming, but it’s simply Vitamin B-12. The other nutrients included here will be really familiar to you as well. It’s nutrients like calcium, zinc, iron, vitamin A, B, and C.
Starting your formula journey or switching formulas?
If you’re just starting your formula journey, we strongly suggest you swap over to our best baby formulas list to see if there is a formula that suits you better there. Most babies can digest routine formulas so we don’t think it’s necessary to spend more on a gentle formula if you don’t need to and potentially lose out on some of the other benefits from some of the best overall baby formulas that most closely resemble breast milk. .
If you are making a transition and have some of the old brand left, you can start by mixing three parts old formula and one part new formula. If your baby takes it down, go to 50/50 the next day and then 1/4 old and 3/4 new and then finally a full bottle of the new brand. You can go cold turkey as well so don’t think you have to do a slow transition.
Your baby might be a bit uncomfortable and probably a bit extra gassy while it gets more accustomed to the new formula, especially if it’s a different protein style or source.
NOTE: In the case of a confirmed allergy, switch immediately without a transition period. You can also do this if you just simply don’t have any of the old formula left. As always, it’s best to speak with your pediatrician before making a big switch to your formula.
What to know about formula recalls
Baby formula is one of the most highly regulated foods, and manufacturers are required to test each bath extensively. Recalls due to potential pathogens are rare, but they do happen. Ask any parent that was trying to feed their child during the middle of 2022 and you’ll know how scary a big formula recall can be.
Sometimes recalls happen for other reasons (such as things ending up in the formula that don’t belong there).
Though potentially harmful bacteria can sometimes come from powdered infant formulas, they can also be introduced during the process of preparing formula and feeding a baby.
Formula recalls do happen, be prepared
As parents who experienced the formula crisis in 2022, we now know more than ever how important it is to stay on top of recalls and be prepared for when they happen.
Final thoughts on what makes the best gentle formulas
Finding a formula that your baby tolerates well is always the number one thing to focus on. And that starts with the protein, carb and fat blend. Find the right formula blend first and then you can search to see if there are other options that may suit your budget and/or preferences better.
We also like to remind parents that as your baby grows, their digestive system matures as well. This means if they were struggling in the early days, weeks or months and you switched them to a more gentle formula, it might be worth trying a routine formula again at some point once they are over 6 months old now that they’re digestive system is likely a bit resilient.
Lastly, it is important to remember that not all infants may benefit from the different types of gentle formulas we mentioned above. The best formula for each baby will be different depending on their individual needs.
If you have any questions, comments or feedback at all, please leave a comment below and we’ll be happy to help 🙂
- How to choose baby formula
- Best baby formulas
- Best hypoallergenic baby formulas
- Best goat milk baby formulas
- Best organic European baby formulas
- Best baby formula alternatives
- Where to buy baby formula & how to save
Things you should know
*Mama Bear formulas are not associated with Abbot Laboratories or Mead Johnson, the manufacturers of Similac and Enfamil formulas, respectively. Mama Bear formulas, manufactured by Perrigo, do not contain the identical proprietary ingredient blend ingredients found in Similac or Enfamil formulas.
Any product prices are accurate as of publication and are subject to change.
We do not take any liability for the products or services we recommend. Please ensure you consult with your medical professional and look at your countries safety guidelines.
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- Updates in Infant Nutrition | AAP
- Standard Infant Formula and Formula Feeding—Cow Milk Protein Formulas | NIH
- Specialized Infant Formulas | AAP
- Human milk oligosaccharides: every baby needs a sugar mama | NIH
- Dietary modifications for infantile colic | NIH
- Lactose-Free Milk or Soy-Based Formulas Do Not Improve Caregivers’ Distress or Perceptions of Difficult Infant Behavior | NIH
- Lactose intolerance in children | American College of Gastroenterology
- Cow’s milk alternatives: Parent FAQs | AAP
- Soy-based infant formula: Are phyto-oestrogens still in doubt? | Frontiers
- Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA). Scientific Opinion on the Essential Composition of Infant and Follow-on Formulae | EFSA
- Health and Consumer Protection Directorate – General. Scientific Committee on Food. Report of the Scientific Committee on Food on the Revision of Essential Requirements of Infant Formulae and Follow-on Formulae | EC
- Title 21 – Food and Drugs, Chapter I Subchapter B – Food for Human Consumption, Part 107 – Infant Formula. Code of Federal Regulations | USDA
- Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2016/127 | EC