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There are many reasons why a mother might not breastfeed her baby, and instead choose to give her baby formula milk.

There is no doubt that breast is best, but in the case where a mother is unable to breastfeed, formula comes very close to the real thing. When choosing a formula for your baby, choosing one which is as close to breastmilk as possible ensures that your baby does not miss out on any essential nutrients and vitamins that they would get from the breast.

Coming close to breastmilk is a difficult, some say impossible, task, but there are a few baby formulas that get it pretty close and help provide babies with a lot of the nutrients and vitamins that they would get from the breast.

With all the different types of formulas and all the different ingredients you need to look for, it can become quite overwhelming to choose a formula for your baby.

Below is a guide on how you should choose a baby formula that is closest to breastmilk, and some of the better options of formula on the market which are the next best option after breastmilk.

What Makes A Baby Formula Close To Breastmilk?

Before deciding on a baby formula, you would need to understand exactly what ingredients to look for, to know what would make it comparable with breastmilk.

Breastmilk contains an incredibly long list of different nutrients, vitamins, essential proteins, and much more. It even includes millions of live cells, made up of immune-boosting white blood cells and stem cells.

This is obviously impossible to replicate exactly in a formula, but, reproducing as many of the essential ingredients as possible, can help make formula as close to breastmilk as possible.

The below ingredients are all essential for a baby’s growth, development, and overall health. A formula containing the right amount of the below will be a great substitute for breastmilk if you cannot, or prefer not to, breastfeed. Most baby formulas have a similar nutrient content, but the brands that include the below beneficial ingredients are a better option:

DHA/ARA

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ARA (arachidonic acid) are two ingredients that are naturally found in breastmilk. They are fatty acids that are essential for the development of the eyes and brain.

There is a bit of a debate surrounding the safety of DHA of ARA used in formula. Some manufacturers use hexane to source the two fatty acids, and some believe this is not safe for babies. There are no studies that find hexane to be harmful, but to be on the safe side, there are some formula manufacturers who use an organic solution to source these essential fatty acids.

Whichever way DHA and ARA are sourced, a formula should contain these two fatty acids.

Probiotics and Prebiotics

Probiotics and prebiotics are good bacteria that are found naturally in breastmilk. In the formula, the probiotics promote a balance of bacteria in a baby’s digestive system and help to keep back the growth of unfriendly bacteria, which could cause inflammation and infection.

Prebiotics help to promote the growth of probiotics, so it is worth looking for a formula that contains at least one of the two.

Choline, Taurine and Lutein

Choline, Taurine, and Lutein are essential nutrients that promote the healthy development of the brain, the eyes, and nerve cells.

These synthetic nutrients are added to some formulas to boost these areas of development.

Sweeteners

Sweeteners in formula act as a primary source of carbohydrates and a formula needs to be sweetened using lactose, or a plant-sweetener.

Sweetening formulas with lactose can be quite expensive, so many formulas are now using plant-based sweeteners, which are derived from potatoes, rice, or corn. Some also use rice syrup or glucose syrup.

You do need to be wary of the sweetener used in a formula, as some could lead to obesity and other health problems. Breastmilk is naturally sweet, so these sweeteners can never be exactly what is contained in breastmilk.

Iron

Iron is an essential mineral for a baby’s growth and development, so a formula needs to contain iron to make up for what a baby might be missing from breastmilk.

Nucleotides

Nucleotides form the basic building blocks of DNA and are found naturally in breastmilk. Nucleotides can be added to baby formula to promote healthy growth.

Curious baby looking outside the window

How Similar Can Formula Be To Breastmilk?

Breastmilk is called liquid gold, and for good reason. There are an invaluable amount of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and immune-boosting components found in breastmilk, all of which play a vital role in helping your baby grow, develop and stay healthy.

While many of these can be substituted by synthetic or natural products in formula, breastmilk is a living product, it contains live cells, including stem cells, which help to boost a baby’s immune system and help with development.

Breastmilk also adapts to your baby’s needs. Incredibly, your baby’s saliva on your breast could send signs that they are at risk of infection, and your body will produce antibodies to send through your breast milk to help your baby fight this off.

Breastmilk changes and adapts to your baby’s needs, and this is something that formula cannot do. However, the formula does come close to providing the nutrients and vitamins your baby needs, but you do need to be picky with the formula you choose, to ensure that it contains as many breastmilk-similar ingredients and benefits as possible.

The Types Of Baby Formula Available

Choosing a formula based on ingredients is one thing, but you will also have to consider the type of formula that you will be using.

Some babies take to certain formulas better than others, and some babies might be allergic to ingredients in a formula and would need to try a different type.

Here are the different types of baby formulas available:

Milk-Based Infant Formulas

Milk-based infant formulas are the most commonly used and are generally more affordable than other types of formula.

This type of formula is based on cow’s milk and offers up good nourishment for babies. It is important to note that while cow’s milk-based formula is safe for babies, cow’s milk on its own is not, and should only be introduced after your baby is a year old.

The cow’s milk is processed to be easier for babies to digest, and extra nutrients and vitamins are added to it to make it more similar to breastmilk. The lactose content in milk-based formulas does vary, and a lower-lactose content might be best for a baby with a sensitive stomach.

Soy-Based Formula

Soy-based formula is an alternative for babies who battle to process lactose, or who are allergic to dairy. The plant-based formula is most commonly made from soy protein, which is processed to be easy to digest.

Soy-based formulas are not recommended for babies who are born underweight, as they might not help them gain weight fast enough.

Hypoallergenic Formula

Hypoallergenic formulas are suited for babies who have digestive problems, or who are allergic to soy or cow’s milk. The proteins in hypoallergenic formulas are broken down into basic forms to be easily digested, and suitable, for babies.

The downside is that hypoallergenic formulas are often the most expensive, so do not start your child on one before checking with your doctor.

Organic Formula

The demand for organic products has resulted in organic formulas being created. These formulas are free from anything synthetic, and if it is a cow’s milk-based formula, the cows were not treated with hormones and antibiotics and were fed food free from pesticides.

Just make sure when choosing an organic formula that it has been certified organic and that it contains all the nutrients, vitamins, and ingredients needed for your baby’s development.

Specialized and Enhanced Formulas

There are some specialized and enhanced formulas on the market that contain ingredients to help tailor them to specific needs. A baby might need extra of a certain component, and they can get this from an enhanced formula. These formulas target specific developments and contain the right ingredients to help with this.

Specialized formulas cater to babies who have specific dietary needs, and who cannot tolerate other formulas. They are suited for babies who have sensitive stomachs or who are prone to allergies.

Fresh cow's milk in a can and glass
Soymilk in a glass mug and soybeans
Glass bottles filled with organic milk

Baby Formulas Closest To Breastmilk

Each formula contains a unique blend of beneficial nutrients and vitamins, while still following the basic guidelines on what it should contain to provide babies with what they need.

Below are the best formulas which are closest to breastmilk. All cater to slightly different needs but are full of essential nutrients and vitamins found in breastmilk so that your baby does not miss out.

Enfamil Enspire – The Closest To Breastmilk

Enfamil Enspire Infant Formula is considered the closest to breastmilk that you could get. It was formulated with the exact purpose of being as similar to breastmilk as possible, and it achieves this well.

Many moms use this formula while breastfeeding, and most breastfed babies take to it quite well thanks to its similarity with breastmilk.

Made With MFGM and Lactoferrin

Enfamil is one of the first formulas to contain both MFGM and Lactoferrin. These two ingredients are naturally found in breast milk. MFGM is a fat-protein blend that helps to support brain development. It is believed to help bridge the cognitive gap found between formula-fed babies and breastfed babies. Lactoferrin helps to build the immune system and is found in abundance in breastmilk. The inclusion of lactoferrin in Enfamil Enspire makes it incredibly similar to breastmilk.

Non-GMO

Enfamil Enspire is made with non-GMO products, so you can be sure that the ingredients used are safe for your baby. There are no hidden hormones, chemicals, or antibiotics contained in the formula.

Enfamil Enspire product image

Contains Probiotics For Gut Health And Immunity

The formula contains a proprietary blend of baby probiotics which help to boost the immune system and to promote digestive health.

Fortified With The Essentials

It is fortified with vitamins D, C, and E, as well as iron to provide babies with the essential vitamins and minerals they need.

Other than these essentials, Enspire also contains DHA, which is incredibly important for eye and brain development and is one of the essential fatty acids found in breastmilk.

Not Suitable For Sensitive Stomachs

As the formula has a cow’s milk base, it is not suitable for babies who have allergies to dairy, or who are sensitive to lactose. There is the Enfamil Gentlease formula that helps babies who are sensitive to lactose.

The Closest Thing To Breast Milk

Enfamil Enspire is probably as close as you can get to breastmilk when formula feeding your baby. It contains the most essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals found in breastmilk, which many other formulas lack.

Check out the latest prices on Enfamil Enspire

Similac Pro-Advance Infant Formula – Enhanced Formula

Similac Pro-Advance Infant Formula is an enhanced formula that contains 2’-FL HMO, which is Human Milk Oligosaccharide and is essential for immune support and development.

The inclusion of this, as well as other nutrients and vitamins, help to make Similac Pro-Advance similar to breastmilk and is also known to help babies who are prone to spit-ups. The formula is suitable for breastfed babies who need additional supplements.

Improved Immune Support

2’-FL Human Milk Oligosaccharide is an immune-nourishing prebiotic found in breastmilk. It helps to feed the good bacteria in the gut, which is where most of the immune system develops.

The exclusive blend includes DHA and Lutein, all necessary nutrients naturally found in breastmilk. Not only do these help to promote an improved immune system, but they support eye health, brain development, and developing cells.

Similar Pro-Advance product image

Non-GMO

The Similac Pro-Advance formula is non-GMO, with dairy sourced from cows who have not been treated with artificial growth hormones.

Parents can rest assured that there are no hidden hormones or additives in the formula.

Suited For Breastfed Babies

While Similac Pro-Advance can be used by formula-fed babies and is a great choice for them, it is also suited to be used by breastfed babies too.

Often, breastfeeding moms need to supplement their milk production, and breastfed babies tend to take well to this formula. There are also all the essentials needed in the formula to ensure your baby is not missing out on too much when not having breastmilk.

Reduced Gas

Many parents have recommended Similac Pro-Advance because it has helped reduce gas and fussiness in their babies.

If your baby suffers from excess gas and spit-ups but is still able to have cow’s milk-based formula, this is a great choice, while still enjoying many of the benefits that come with breastmilk.

Visit here for the latest prices on Similac Pro-Advance.

Earth’s Best Organic Dairy Infant Powder

If you prefer your baby to be on a formula that is more organic, but not miss out on the nutrients and vitamins which make the formula as similar to breastmilk as possible, then you should consider Earth’s Best Organic Dairy Infant Powder.

Non-GMO Ingredients

As it is organic, the Earth’s Best Organic Dairy Infant Powder contains non-GMO ingredients and is made from only organic sources. It is certified non-GMO, so you can rest assured there are no hidden nasties.

Earth's Best Organic Infant Formula product image

DHA and ARA Formula

The formula is fortified with DHA and ARA, which are the fatty acids naturally found in breastmilk, which promote healthy brain and eye development. Your baby will not miss out on these essential nutrients when changing from breastmilk to Earth’s Best formula.

Less Corn Syrup

Many formulas are now being sweetened using corn syrup, or other plant-based ingredients, and these could lead to obesity and other health problems.

Earth’s Best Organic Dairy infant Powder contains more lactose sweetener, and less corn syrup, which provides a great source of carbohydrates.

Similar Taste To Breastmilk

One of the main factors to look for when transitioning your baby from breast to bottle is that the formula tastes similar to breastmilk.

Earth’s Best Organic formula tastes and smells similar to breastmilk, which will make the transition much easier for your baby.

See the latest prices on Earth’s Best Organic Formula.

Happy Baby Organic Infant Formula – Sweetened Only With Organic Lactose

Many parents are hesitant to give their baby formula sweetened by plant-based ingredients. To avoid plant-based sweeteners, particularly corn syrup solids, Happy Baby Organic Infant Formula is sweetened only using non-GMO lactose.

Modelled after breastmilk, this formula comes close and is a great option if you are wanting to go the organic route, without sacrificing any of the essential ingredients.

Organic And Gluten-Free

As the name suggests, this formula is organic and made only using organic ingredients. Furthermore, it is gluten-free. Being gluten-free, there is less chance that your baby might react badly to the formula, and it is gentler on their stomach.

The formula is also non-GMO, made with kind, natural ingredients. Through all of this, there are no sacrifices on essential ingredients that make the formula similar to breastmilk.

Happy Baby Organic Infant Formula product image

Free From Corn Syrup

Not being sweetened by corn syrup makes this a healthier option, and is more similar to breastmilk in this regard. Sweetened only with lactose, the formula is not as sweet as breastmilk, but it doesn’t contain any sweeteners that could lead to obesity.

Made From Organic Whey

The protein in the formula comes from organic whey protein. This makes it wonderfully easy for your baby to digest and makes it full of prebiotics too. These prebiotics are vital for a healthy immune system and ideal gut health.

DHA and ARA

Like breastmilk, this formula contains ARA and DHA, both of which are non-GMO. These essential fatty acids help with healthy brain and eye development and are largely found in breastmilk. The ARA and DHA found in Happy Baby come from non-GMO algae.

Gentle With The Essentials

Happy Baby Formula is gentle on your baby’s digestive system, but still contains all the essential nutrients and ingredients needed for healthy growth. Folic acid, iron, vitamin C and D, zinc, calcium, choline, and more, your baby will be getting everything they need.

Get the latest prices on Happy Baby Organic Formula.

Gerber Good Start Soothe – As Calming As Breastmilk

The Gerber Good Start Soothe was made to be calming, to help with excessive crying. For breastfed babies, breastmilk is incredibly soothing, and Good Start comes close to this with their formula.

Soothing And Calming

The Good Start Soothe formula helps to prevent excessive crying, helping to soothe and calm your baby by preventing excess gas and colic.

The gentle formula works to relieve these symptoms and keeps your baby comfortable during and after feeds.

Gerber Good Start Soothe Infant Formula product image

Essential Probiotics and Prebiotics

Gerber Good Start formula contains hydrolyzed whey protein, which makes processing probiotics easier. This further works to promote good digestive health and boost the immune system.

The probiotics and prebiotics in the Gerber formula mimic those found in breastmilk and provides as good a substitute as possible.

Mild Lactose Blend

To be soothing, Gerber Good Start uses a 30% lactose blend to be gentler on a baby’s stomach. It is more suited to sensitive stomachs than other lactose formulas, which helps to soothe and calm babies more.

HMO and DHA components in the formula help to make it as close to breastmilk as possible and be as gentle as breastmilk too.

Check out the latest prices on Gerber Good Start Infant Formula.

What About Synthetic Nutrients?

In order for the formula to be as similar to breastmilk as possible, some synthetic ingredients will be needed. While there are many nutrients and vitamins found in breastmilk that can be found naturally, some are more difficult to access.

A formula should be as natural as possible, to mimic breastmilk and not contain too many synthetic ingredients, but some synthetic ingredients are okay and are needed to help the formula contain most of the nutrients and vitamins that breastmilk does.

Some of the synthetic nutrients which are okay include lycopene, lutein, nucleotides, and taurine. These are vital to development, growth, and help, and do help to make formula as close to breastmilk as possible.

Which Baby Formula Is Closest To Breastmilk?

While no baby formula will ever be able to replicate breastmilk exactly, there are some that come close, and help to provide your baby with essential nutrients and benefits that they would not be getting from breastmilk.

Enfamil Enspire is considered to be the closest formula to breastmilk, but there are some other great options, such as Similac Pro-Advance, Earth’s Best Organic Formula, Happy Baby Organic Infant Formula and Gerber Good Start Formula.

Whether you use these to formula feed only, or as a substitute for breastmilk now and then, they will offer some wonderful health benefits to your baby, and you can trust they are as close to breastmilk as can be.

Cute baby with dimples smiling at the camera

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Rebecca Brown_One of the stuff4tots authors
Rebecca Brown

Rebecca Brown is a mom to two and writer on all things parenting. She has been focussed on content creation and article writing for the last four years, drawing on the inspiration she gets from her own experience as a mother, and the expansive research the job requires.

When not writing, you can find Rebecca outside with the kids, or hidden away enjoying a good cup of coffee!