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Your Guide to Understanding Organic Infant Formula Labels [2021 Update]

Your Guide to Understanding Organic Infant Formula Labels [2021 Update]

You’ve heard the mantra "breast is best" a million times. 

But what if it’s not actually true for you?

Perhaps your baby struggles to latch, or has a tongue-tie. Maybe you need to take medication that’s vital to your health, but could damage your baby (and your baby needs a healthy mom more than anything). 

Or maybe you’re working full-time, and struggling with the reality of performing 100% in your job while pumping round the clock. Getting called into an emergency meeting just when you were about to head out to pump, and you’re starting to leak into your bra, is seriously hard. 

There are plenty of good reasons why breast might not be your, or your baby’s, best choice. So consider this your permission to lay down the guilt...

And if it helps, remember that these crazy new baby months are short, but the love and nurturing you’re giving your little one now will add up to a lifetime of joy and happiness for both of you.

It also helps to know that you’re feeding your baby the highest quality, most nutritious formula you can lay your hands on. That’s not usually going to be the box you pick up from the supermarket.

Thousands of moms are switching to organic European formula brands, because they:

  • Understand the benefits of organic formula
  • Know that formula can contain harmful ingredients
  • Have discovered that European organic standards mean superior milk
  • Have spent time researching different options to pick the very best one for their baby.

In this guide, we’ll take you through exactly what’s in that formula box, so you can easily compare conventional supermarket brands to European organic brands.

Why are so many parents switching to organic formula?

Let’s get one thing out of the way: organic formula is more expensive than conventional formula. 

And you've probably wondered if the extra dollars are really worth it. 

Organic formula has very clear, specific benefits for babies' health, now and in the future – not to mention the planet they’ll get to grow up in.

Manufacturers of organic formula must meet rigorous standards covering every step of the production, preparation, and distribution process. You probably already know that organic foods are free of chemicals and pesticides. But you may not know that organic producers also avoid genetically modified organisms (GMOs), hormones, and antibiotics. 

Choosing organic formula means you can be 100% sure your growing baby won’t be exposed to harmful substances that might have long-term health consequences. 

As reported in Parents magazine, if your baby has endocrine disruption or a compromised immune system, you'll need be especially careful to avoid formula that contains traces of pesticides, as these can exacerbate existing health problems. 

Of course, choosing a formula isn’t just about  avoiding health issues, but making sure your baby has the complete nutrition they need to fuel their growth, fire up their developing brain and lay the foundations for a long and healthy life. Many organic formulas contain health-giving ingredients that conventional formulas may not, such as essential fatty acids (EFAs) that promote brain development, plus  pre and probiotics that support the development of healthy gut bacteria.

What does ‘organic’ mean in Europe?

The European Union (EU) has strict organic regulations that guarantee the quality of products labeled organic. Many producers go much further than even those tough regulations, meeting regional or speciality standards including:

  • Bioland – founded in 1971, Bioland is Germany's largest organic food association. To gain Bioland certification, farmers must dedicate their farms to organic production and limit the number of animals they raise, so that they all have the space they need to mature healthily. Lebenswert formula meets this standard.
  • Demeter – a biodynamic agriculture association, Demeter emphasizes a holistic approach to agriculture that honors the Earth's natural cycles and interrelationships. Holle formula meets this standard.

Why you should always read the label on a box of formula

Parenting a newborn can be exhausting...so it’s incredibly tempting to just sling the nearest box of milk into your supermarket trolley without much label-checking.

But harmful ingredients in formula can cause both short-term discomfort and potentially even long-term health problems. 

Reading formula labels can be eye-opening. You may feel like you need a Ph.D. in biochemistry at first, but you can quickly learn which ingredients to seek out and which to avoid. 

All formula should have three essentials: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. These should be easy to digest and not synthetic. And look out for aluminium. This research study found that over 30 baby formulas contain aluminum, known to cause neurological damage. 

What are the top formula ingredients to avoid?

It’s often easier to pick out a formula by looking for the ingredients you want to avoid, rather than searching for the ingredients you’d like your baby to have. Here are six questionable substances, found in many conventional formula brands, that you should seek to avoid.

#1: Carrageenan

Made from red seaweed, Carrageenan is a commonly-used stabilizer in conventional formula.

Medical research has shown that carrageenan can cause intestinal inflammation that could lead to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and ulcers. It’s legal in other parts of the world, but carrageenan is banned in EU formula.

#2: Oils extracted using hexane

Long-chain fatty acids (such as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ARA (arachidonic acid)) are good for growing brains. That’s why you’ll find them in most brands of formula. 

But not all DHA or ARA is equal. They’re often extracted using hexane, a petroleum-based solvent. Hexane is neurotoxic. In other words, it can alter the activity of the nervous system. 

Formula manufacturers remove the hexane, but traces can remain after processing. And it’s not the only option: AHA and DHA can be added to formula from other sources. 

Any formula labeled organic in Europe can't use hexane for extraction. 

#3: Palm oil

Some formula producers use palm oil to replicate the levels of palmitic acid that occurs naturally in breastmilk. 

Unfortunately, palm oil doesn't react the same way in your baby's stomach as palmitic acid does. Palm oil combines with calcium to form soapy substances in babies' intestines, which can lead to digestive problems. 

Although formula, including European-made formula, often includes palm oil, health-savvy producers always avoid it.

#4: Processed, refined sugars

Breastmilk has a naturally slightly sweet taste thanks to the lactose it contains. 

To save on production costs, some formula manufacturers substitute processed sweeteners, such as sugar, brown rice syrup, corn syrup, or maltodextrin. 

Choosing a formula that contains lactose rather than processed sweeteners means choosing a formula that’s closer to breastmilk. 

#5: Soy oil

You should also avoid soy oil, lecithins, or proteins in baby formula. 

Why? As reported by the National Institute of Health, soy contains isoflavones called phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens act like the estrogen in the body.  

Since infants’ development is affected by estrogen, and also by phytoestrogen. Scientific studies have linked early phytoestrogen exposure to early-onset puberty.

#6: Synthetic nutrients

When you pick up any brand of conventional formula, you'll often find a laundry list of synthetic nutrients, such as l-carnitine, lutein, lycopene, nucleotides, and taurine. 

Manufacturers use chemical solvents to extract these nutrients, then remove the chemicals after processing. Even so, trace amounts can remain. 

Which European baby formulas should you consider and why?

It’s clear that European organic formula meets much higher standards than conventional formula. But there’s still a lot of choice. Which one is right for your baby?

HiPP

HiPP formula is praised by nutritionists. The company goes above and beyond the already-strict European organic standards with a stringent quality control process. It even has its own HiPP organic seal that signifies the brand's commitment to excellence. 

HiPP comes in three forms: Dutch, German and UK. They’re all made in Germany using milk from happy, pasture-raised cows, and include lactic acid cultured from real breastmilk. 

They also include prebiotics and probiotics for digestive health, along with DHA and ARA for brain development, and are free of potentially harmful ingredients such as added sugar, synthetic nutrients, gluten and soy.HiPP Dutch and HiPP UK comes in 3 stages: Stage 1 for 0-6 months, Stage 2 for 6-12 months and Stage 3 for 12 months+. 

HiPP German has some extra options. For newborns, choose from Stage Pre for 0-3 months or Stage 1 for 0-6 months (Stage Pre is designed to be particularly gentle for the smallest babies). 

For 6-10 months choose Stage 2 (no starch) for babies who might find added starch hard to digest, or standard Stage 2 (which includes mild, organic starch to keep hungry babies satisfyingly full). 

Stage 3 is for 10-12 months and Stage 4 for 12 months+.

Shop HiPP Formula

Loulouka Organic Swiss Infant Milk Formula

Made in Switzerland, Louloka is made using milk from healthy grass-fed cows, treated with compassion and care and raised on the slopes of the Swiss Alps. 

Designed by an expert team, Loulouka formulas feature Swiss whole milk and organic raw materials to provide an optimum balance of the vitamins, fats, and minerals babies need to grow. 

Loulouka contains both DHA and prebiotics but is free from palm and soy oil. Instead, it contains coconut oil – better for your baby and the environment. 

You can start your newborn on Loulouka Stage 1, move to Stage 2 at six months, and continue Stage 3 from 10 months onward. 

Shop Loulouka Formula

Holle Organic Formula – Cow Milk

A trusted German formula producer with decades of experience, Holle maintains a deep commitment to biodynamic agriculture. 

Holle never uses pesticides or chemicals and only uses raw, organic ingredients to make safe, healthy formula. Always free of GMOs, Holle formula also avoids artificial colors and flavors and never contains preservatives or sugars.

With Holle, you can start with Stage 1 for birth to six months, move to Stage 2 for 6-12 months, Stage 3 for 10-12 months and then their 12+ month formula. 

You can use formulas for younger infants exclusively or combine them with breastfeeding, while Stage 3 and Stage 4 formulas are ideal for a mixed diet.

Shop Holle Formula

Lebenswert Bio Organic Baby Formula

Owned by Holle, Lebenswert maintains the same commitment to healthy, organic farming as its parent company. 

All Lebensweert formula features the highest-quality organic milk from cows raised on biodiverse fields in southern Germany. Every farm that produces milk for Lebenswert surpasses strict EU organic standards and has been granted Germany's Bioland organic certification.

With three stages, Lebenswert formulas can grow with your baby. Lebenswert formulas include healthy ingredients like lactose, DHA and important vitamins and minerals. They never contain GMOs, added sugars, soy, or synthetic nutrients.

Shop Lebenswert Bio Formula

Nannycare Goat Milk Formula

Parents looking for a cow's milk alternative can opt for goat milk formulas from UK-based Nannycare. 

Why choose goat milk formula? Goat milk features small soft curds that are gentle on babies' tiny stomachs, making Nannycare formula easy to digest. They're an excellent choice for little ones with lactose intolerance.

All Nannycare formulas are made using milk from grass-fed New Zealand goats that never receive growth-enhancing drugs, stimulants, or hormones. They also contain DHA for babies' growing brains and vital vitamins and minerals.

Shop Nannycare Formula

Specialty formulas

Many babies struggle with milk protein allergies, acid reflux, or digestive issues.

For these babies, you can find specialty European formula made to the same high EU organic standards.

  1. HiPP HA. Ideal for babies with milk protein allergies, HiPP HA contains milk that has been split into simple molecules to mitigate allergic reactions. It also contains prebiotics and essential fatty acids to support optimum development.
  2. HiPP Anti-Reflux. The only organic anti-reflux formula, HiPP anti-reflux features locust gum, a natural thickening ingredient proven to reduce reflux. 
  3. HiPP Comfort. Perfect for babies with colic, constipation, and flatulence.

Choosing the right organic formula for your little one

As a parent, you want to do what's best for your baby – even if you can’t breastfeed. Organic formula is a safe, alternative, free of harmful additives and full of nourishing goodness.

Many European formula producers exceed the strict EU organic standards, so you can be certain that, whichever European formula brand you choose, you'll be giving your precious little one the healthy start they need.

At My Organic formula, we only sell carefully selected European organic formula that meets these high standards. But even though every product in our store is nutritionally complete and as close to breastmilk as possible, we know there’s no accounting for tiny tastebuds!  

Not every baby will like every formula.  That’s why, if the formula you choose doesn’t work out, we’ll give you a we store credit to try another, making switching to European organic risk-free. 

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