What Is Baby Formula Made Of?

What Is Baby Formula Made Of

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Being a new parent can be incredibly exhausting. You never seem to get enough sleep and you’re constantly bombarded with tough decisions. One of those decisions is whether to breastfeed or bottle-feed your baby.

From personal experience working and speaking with Carol and Paige of the Liverpool Women’s Feeding team, it a decision that many do not take enough time to consider – both formula feeding and breastfeeding have their own challenges without even looking at ‘what’s in the bottle’. This means that the decision should not be made solely on this.

However, not enough people have also acknowledged what exactly is in the formula they are feeding their infant. Whenever I spoke with women who were adamant they wanted to bottle feed the main reason was always the need to go back to work and sleep, there was never a consideration for diet.

Here in this article I won’t go into which is best, rather I will list the most common ingredients and talk about why they are in there and what role it plays.

Baby formula can be a very controversial topic among parents. Some people swear by it and others would never use it. So, for you to make an informed decision, you need to ask, what is baby formula made of?

Let’s find out. 

Is Formula milk the same as breastmilk

Breast milk is one of the most unique substances on Earth – it can’t be replicated, even by a breastfeeding mother on her second child. So, it should come as no surprise that it’s taken scientists decades to try to replicate it. However, replicating breastmilk is no easy feat and there is no such thing as the best formula for breastfed babies.

Formula milk is a synthetic substitute for breast milk. It has some of the essential nutrients in breast milk and can keep your baby alive and growing. However, it is inferior and by law no one is allowed to say otherwise in the UK. As a lactation consultant I never went that hard into the messaging as it can often create anxiety for women who simply can’t breastfeed and then feel they have failed.

However, it’s not just the nutritional value of breast milk that makes it special. Breast milk is also much easier to absorb, especially for babies. 

So, while you can substitute formula for breast milk, it won’t be the same.

What Are the Ingredients of Formula Milk and What Do They Do?

Formula milk recipes can vary from one country to another, but in the UK, due to regulations they are identical to each other.

Here’s an example of two different brands (Aldi and Aptamil) – notice they are identical.

Source: Aptamil and Aldi Labels

Demineralised Whey


Whey is the liquid part of milk. Once we collect the whey, brands remove about 90% of the minerals to make it easier to digest. This provides your baby with amino acids so it can make proteins. Whey is not present in breastmilk.

Vegetable Oils

Breast milk is usually quite fatty, so brands add vegetable oil to baby formula to give it a similar consistency to breast milk.


Lactose consists of two sugars: glucose and galactose. Glucose is our main source of energy, making it crucial for growth and development.

Skimmed Milk

Skimmed milk is the base of baby formula. Manufacturers use it instead of whole milk for control over the fat content.

Galactooligosaccharides (Gos)

Humans can’t fully digest galactooligosaccharides. This means they can pass into the colon. There they interact with positive bacteria. The interactions have prebiotic effects on your baby.

Whey Protein Concentrate

The whey protein concentrate helps regulate the balance of proteins in the formula.

Fructo-oligosaccharides (Fos)

Fructo-oligosaccharides act like galactooligosaccharides. They both have prebiotic properties. 

Calcium Carbonate

Calcium carbonate provides your baby with all the calcium it needs. As we all know, this helps us grow strong and healthy bones.

Potassium Citrate

If you’re feeding your baby a cow-milk-based baby formula, there’s a chance your baby may get metabolic acidosis

To address this issue, we use potassium citrate to regulate acid-base balance.

Potassium Chloride

Manufacturers use potassium chloride as a replacement for salt. Not only does it enhance the flavour of the formula, but it also adds potassium to your baby’s diet.

Fish Oil

fish oil

Fish oil has a couple of benefits in baby formula. It can help your baby regulate its blood sugar and build proteins and muscles. Babies will get their DHA from fish oil.

Magnesium Chloride

Since most baby formula comes in the form of a powder, it’s likely to cake and clump together. To avoid that, manufacturers use magnesium chloride as an emulsifier and stabiliser. Calcium Phosphate

They add calcium phosphate as an extra source of calcium. This is necessary for pre-term babies. 

Vitamin C

We all need and use vitamin C daily. This is even more true for babies. They need it to help them produce collagen and to support their immunity systems.

Emulsifier (Soya Lecithin)

This is another emulsifier that stops baby formula from clumping. Soy lecithin also adds a few micronutrients.

Choline Chloride

This chemical provides your baby with its daily requirement of choline and chloride.


Taurine can help your baby absorb fats. This is crucial to maintaining a healthy baby weight.

Ferrous Sulphate

Ferrous sulphate is a great source of iron. Iron is essential for brain development and the creation of new red blood cells

Zinc Sulphate

Formula manufacturers use zinc sulphate to help calm down an upset stomach and prevent diarrhoea. Ironically, caused by the formula itself.


Uridine is one of the main components of DNA and RNA. So, it can help with cell health and brain development.


5-Monophosphate Sodium Salt

5-monophosphate sodium salts help with RNA synthesis.


Cytidine-5-monophosphate acts as an intermediate for several nucleotide derivatives.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E has many benefits for both infants and adults alike. It can improve vision, skin, brain, and the health of your blood.


Inositol is a carbohydrate, but we don’t use it for energy. Instead, we need inositol as a building block for cell development. 


Adenosine-5-monophosphate is important for human metabolism. It’s one of the main building blocks of RNA and DNA.

Inosine-5-Monophosphate Sodium Salt

Just like the other three monophosphates on the list, this one helps with DNA and RNA production. 


 Nicotinamide is an excellent source of vitamin B3. It helps turn food into energy.


Tryptophan is essential for brain development. It can help your baby regulate neurobehavioural patterns like sleep cycles.

Guanosine-5-Monophosphate Sodium Salt

This monophosphate can stimulate growth and a healthy immune system. In addition, it also helps with DNA and RNA production. 


Some organic compounds can be too large to pass between cells. So, L-carnitine works to make transportation in and out of cells faster.

Pantothenic Acid

To make sure your baby is getting the most out of carbohydrates, manufacturers add pantothenic acid to baby formula. It makes using nutrients much easier.

Folic Acid

Folic acid is another vitamin B supplement. However, this chemical focuses on helping cell division and tissue growth. Folic acid is also an important nutrient for mothers to take during pregnancy.

Copper Sulphate

Copper sulphate plays a role in many biological processes. Some of these processes include making energy and forming red blood cells.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A promotes healthy skin and better eye vision. It can also help boost your baby’s immune system.


When it comes to breaking down fats and proteins, biotin is your friend. This is crucial to make sure your baby is getting the most out of food.

Vitamin B12

Most of us are familiar with vitamin B12 supplements. This version of vitamin B helps with red blood production and brain development. A tricky nutrient to get for adults, especially vegans.


Yet another vitamin B iteration is vitamin B1 or Thiamin. Thiamin is responsible for generating energy from nutrients.

Vitamin D3

Many of us get vitamin D the natural way, through sunlight. However, babies that don’t spend much time in the sun will need a supplement. This vitamin increases calcium absorption for stronger bones. 

Vitamin B6

The final vitamin B compound on our list is one of the most important. Vitamin B6 is responsible for the development of the central nervous system.

Manganese Sulphate

Manganese sulphate breaks down into manganese ions. These ions are important for brain development and normal growth.

Potassium Iodide

Some manufacturers add potassium iodide into their baby formula. Its main purpose is to ensure a healthy thyroid.

Vitamin K1

Vitamin K1 can regulate blood coagulation and bone metabolism. It can help prevent excessive bleeding and anaemia. Babies will usually get an injection right after birth.

Sodium Selenite

Sodium selenite breaks down to form selenium. Selenium has amazing antioxidant properties that are good for your baby’s health.

Milk, Fish, and Soya


Milk, fish, and soya are usually only present in trace amounts. Their main function is to add to the taste and consistency to make formula taste like breast milk.

Are All Formula Brands the Same in the UK?

Most countries regulate baby formulas very carefully and monitor their composition constantly. This means that all baby formulas must contain the same nutrients and vitamins.

So, manufacturers can slightly change their baby formula AFTER the first 6 months and offer stuff like follow on milk, hungry baby milk and so on. It is newborn milk which is strictly regulated and with good reason.

Still, at the end of the day, they all have the same nutritional value.


Baby formula has been around for many years, and it’s constantly improving. Still, many new parents debate if they should use it. 

What you should be focusing on is, what is baby formula made of? With this information, you can make a much more informed decision about baby formula.

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