Choosing the Best Vegetarian Formula for Your Vegan Baby
What you decide to feed your baby, along with the majority of parenting decisions, is a fiercely debated topic, especially when it comes to the idea of bringing a child up without any animal products in her diet.
Unsurprisingly, vegan parents want their morals to extend to purchases they make for their newborn - why would they want to bring dairy products into their home, knowing all the suffering and cruelty that comes from the dairy industry?
When we think about what to feed children, this starts as early as infancy.
When most people think of the newborn diet, they will immediately think of breastfeeding, but in reality, not all women - or babies - can breastfeed. This can be due to an insufficient milk supply, latching problems, or a baby with severe dairy allergies.
While there are formulas on the market now that are dairy-free, rules and regulations by the FDA and other governing bodies make it impossible to find a truly vegan mass-produced formula for babies.
Does this mean that you should give up and turn to cow’s milk formulas? Of course not.
Ultimately, choosing a vegetarian formula is a complex and deeply personal issue, and there are lots of things to keep in mind as you make a decision.
List of Non-Dairy Baby Formulas
A parent looking for a non-dairy formula for their baby can have somewhat limited options, but the five products below are highly rated and contain the necessary nutrients for healthy growing babies.
Read the guide for each product to find which product works best for you, your lifestyle, and the health of your family.
Our #1 Top Choice
Enfamil’s ProSobee Soy Formula is designed as complete nutrition for the first 12 months of baby’s life and is formulated to reduce the fussiness and gas that can come from dairy-based infant formulas. It is milk-free, dairy-free, and lactose-free, and has the same amount of DHA as Enfamil’s dairy-based formulas.
What We Love
The Enfamil ProSobee blend has a much milder smell and taste than most soy formulas, making it a good option for fussy eaters or babies who show a lot of adversity to strong smells and tastes. Reviewers on Amazon also note that this formula helped with gassiness, constipation, and spitting up that occurred on other types of formula.
Reviewers on Amazon have little complaints about this product other than the price - formula can be expensive in the first place, but parents noted they found this product to be on the pricier side, even when purchased in store.
Baby’s Only Soy formula is an organic, USDA certified, and kosher infant formula that’s widely available in stores and online.
It is free of gluten, trans fat, GMOs, preservatives, and artificial coloring, and is fortified with iron to provide babies will all the nutrients they need for healthy development.
The formula includes alpha-linolenic and linolenic fatty acids, which are found in breast milk and are important for brain and retina development.
What We Love
Many soy formulas are very sweet, and contain corn syrup as one of the key ingredients. Amazon reviewers love that this formula does not have a corn syrup base, and does not have any genetically modified ingredients. Moms on Amazon describe this formula as “healthy, tasty, and affordable” options for their children after they had trouble breastfeeding, or could not breastfeed longer due to returning to work.
Baby’s One notes that their formula is not intended for children under the age of one. While it contains the fatty acids found in human breast milk, it’s unclear as to whether or not the formula is not truly safe for infants, or if the company includes this due to legal requirements. If you’re considering this formula, talk to your child’s doctor to see when you can introduce it into your child’s diet.
Similac Soy Isomil prides itself on being comparable to breast milk, full of omega-3, omega-6, soy protein isolate, essential fatty acids, and a blend of two carbohydrates to maximize nutrient absorption.
This product is available in bulk packs through Amazon, which can make the sometimes costly adventure into formula a little more convenient and affordable.
What We Love
Parent reviewers on Amazon note the great growth their children go through while on this formula - nutritionally, it compares well to breast milk, and children on this formula seem to develop at the same rate as children whose diet is mostly breast milk.
The formula is also well-received by babies as far as taste, smell, and texture are concerned, with even some very picky eaters coming around.
Some reviewers on Amazon complain that their children experienced abdominal pain and constipation while on this formula. Some reviewers also expressed frustration that this contains GMO soy products, which are also the topic of fiery debate, especially in the parenting world.
Specifically meant for baby’s first 12 months, Earth’s Best soy blend is patterned after human breast milk and includes high-quality protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids like DHA and ARA.
This blend contains double the amount of DHA as compared to leading organic formulas for healthy brain and eye development and is free of artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, and harmful pesticides and herbicides.
The formula is also kosher and USDA organic certified.
What We Love
Parents of babies with colic, gas, acid reflux, and food sensitives swear by this soy formula - many people report this solving GI issues that nearly every other formula exacerbated.
Reviews consistently note that this formula is easy on baby’s tummy, and moms love that it is certified organic and made in a facility without pesticides.
Some Amazon reviewers complain about the smell of this product - while some people don’t seem to mind, others note that their children won’t touch it due to the smell. The general agreement is that this is the smell of the soy product and not a quality issue, so it may be worth it to sample some if your child is very sensitive to smells.
For many vegan babies, soy formula works just fine to ensure healthy growth, but in some cases, a combination of milk and soy allergies can leave parents with slim pickings as far as formula is concerned.
Neocate’s Infant DHA/ARA is a Dairy-free, soy-free, hypoallergenic, amino-acid based, nutritionally complete formula for babies with severe food allergies.
It has added DHA at a comparable level to that of human breast milk, which has been shown to promote brain and vision development.
What We Love
Neocate is a godsend for parents of children with milk and soy protein allergies, which can make babies refuse to eat and cry incessantly. The formula relieves symptoms of food intolerance and provides an option for babies who cannot breastfeed, who are also sensitive to the proteins in cow’s milk and soy products.
Because Neocate’s Dairy-free, soy-free formula could be seen as a specialty product, it tends to be on the pricier side, even in relation to “regular” formula. This can be frustrating, as babies with these two allergies don’t have much of a choice as far as products, but you can get the best deal on this formula by shopping directly at the company’s website, or in your local store.
What is Vegetarian Baby Formula Made From?
Most vegetarian baby formulas, which tend to be formulated for babies who cannot tolerate cow’s milk, are made from soy.
It’s important to note that soy formula is not the same thing as soy milk - regular refrigerated soy milk is not an acceptable substitute for infant formula.
Soy formula is regulated by the FDA and contains many other essential nutrients that babies need for healthy development. Because of this, formula is the only safe alternative to breast milk.
For babies who have sensitivities to cow’s milk and soy protein, there are some products available that we’ve included in the product guide.
It’s important to note that soy-based infant formulas aren’t recommended for low-birth-weight or preterm babies - you’ll want to consult your baby’s doctor, as low-birth-weight babies have specific nutritional needs that vary from infant to infant. On the whole, though, vegetarian baby formula is 100% safe, and a good replacement for human breastmilk.
However, because of certain rules and regulations by the government regarding ingredients baby formulas must contain, baby formula by definition is not 100% vegan, despite being dairy-free.
Federal Requirements for Formula
To sell out on the market, companies are required by law to add Vitamin D3 to their baby formulas.
While Vitamin D2 can be sourced from plants, Vitamin D3, also called cholecalciferol, is made by the ultraviolet irradiation of a substance derived from sheep’s wool.
Normally, a baby would get an adequate amount of Vitamin D from breast milk.
Vitamin D deficiency in babies would lead to vitamin D rickets, among other bone and development issues. To prevent Vitamin D deficiency in formula-fed babies, the law states that companies must use vitamin D3 in their products, as some research suggests D3 is more efficiently absorbed than D2.
As a result, all baby formulas, even those that do not contain any animal-milk-derived products, cannot be classified as vegan.
And I, a vegan of over ten years, say that you should feel good using it anyway.
How Can I Use a Formula That Isn’t 100% Vegan?
It may be strange to hear a dedicated vegan openly support the use of a product that contains ingredients that were derived from animals, however, in this case, I believe this is perfectly acceptable, and a good place for vegans of all kinds to exercise their judgment.
We must remember that the aim of veganism is to reduce the amount of suffering as much as possible within our means.
When it comes down to it, there is no such thing as the “perfect vegan” - animals are misplaced by our homes, there are animal ingredients in many necessary medications we take, and we have probably, albeit unknowingly, consumed animal products even after taking a vow to exclude animal products from our diets.
To strive for perfectionism as a vegan is to chase an entirely unattainable lifestyle.
It is this unattainability that could also turn people off of the lifestyle who might otherwise consider it - think about the example you would have needed in your pre-vegan days.
If you see a vegan at a restaurant grilling the waiter about whether or not there is honey in the veggie burger bun, would that be an inviting look into the day-to-day life of someone who doesn’t consume animal products? I know it wouldn’t have been for me - in fact, it probably would have made me completely discouraged.
Even PETA, an organization notorious for extreme stances on animal cruelty, has issued a statement on “trace amounts of animal products”, stating basically that there is no such thing as the perfect vegan, and militantly avoiding tiny amounts of animal products in otherwise vegan-friendly choices probably does more harm than good in terms of vegan PR.
Even though soy baby formulas are not 100% vegan, consider the reduction in suffering that happens because of your choice. Instead of a baby formula that includes vitamin D3 and cow’s milk that contributes to the horrors of the dairy and veal industries, you are choosing the plant-based option that causes less suffering in the long run.
If a mother is not able or willing to breastfeed her baby, soy or another non-dairy option is the next best decision for the health of her baby, and for the animals involved. Since veganism is about the overall reduction in suffering, choosing a mostly vegan product instead of an entirely vegan product, in this case, is in line with that vision, and is better for the human and bovine babies.
What Should I Look for in a Non-Dairy Formula?
While options tend to be limited at this point for non-dairy baby formula, it’s possible that more will be released in the future, and you may come across a product not included in our list. A quick look at the ingredient and nutrition panel will tell you if it belongs in your cart, or back on the shelf!
Nutrition is the single most important aspect of a healthy baby formula. First, take a look at the ingredients - a soy formula will include soy protein, vegetable oils, corn syrup and/or sucrose, and sometimes iron. To help baby’s brain, nerve, and eye development, reach for formulas enriched with DHA and ARA omega fatty acids - these are often sourced from algae.
Where it's Made
The next step will be to look at where the formula is made. A formula made in the United States is most likely a safe bet, and a good option to feed your child, while baby formulas manufactured in China have been connected to health concerns, where melamine (a chemical used to produce fertilizers, pesticides, and cleaning products) was added to infant formula.
Because the United States does not allow melamine in food products, it is always a good idea to reach for a formula made in the U.S.
Lastly, you should also consider which form of formula works for you, your family, and your lifestyle.
Powder is the least expensive option and is generally mixed with water.
Liquid concentrates are usually diluted with an equal part of water but tend to be more expensive than the powdered stuff.
Ready-to-use baby formulas, the most expensive of the bunch, are also the most convenient, as they can be poured directly into baby’s bottle.
The type of formula that’s best for you will depend largely on your lifestyle, as well as the room you have in your budget for baby formula.
What About Breast Milk?
While some women and babies are unable to breastfeed due to a collection of reasons, it is important to note that breastfeeding is usually touted as the healthiest (not to mention cheapest) way to feed your baby.
If you’re able and willing to breastfeed, breast milk is in fact vegan - despite the fact that it comes from an animal (the human animal!).
Cow’s milk is not vegan because the cow does not make milk for human consumption - she produces it like all mammals, to feed her baby. When humans consume her milk, they are depriving her calf of the much-needed nutrients in her milk, and since she is not volunteering that milk to us for consumption and sale, it is an exploitation of her body and the materials it makes to feed her young.
However, when a human woman breastfeeds her baby, she does so willingly, because that is ultimately the function of human breast milk. The mother is not doing so against her will, nor is her milk being taken, stolen, and sold.
If you are unable to breastfeed but are interested in feeding human breast milk to your child, there may be a breast milk bank in your area where you can get milk that has been given willingly to feed your baby.
Raising Healthy Vegan Babies
While the addition of vitamin D3 in otherwise non-dairy formulas is certainly not ideal, choosing a soy-based formula is the next best thing a vegan parent could do when raising vegan babies.
Just as someone makes a statement when they choose soy milk over cow’s milk at the grocery store, selecting a soy-based infant formula tells the company that there is a need for non-dairy options, and is a way to vote with your dollars.
Even though infant formulas cannot be 100% vegan, it is always the best method to choose the most animal-friendly option there is.
With research and commitment, it is possible to raise an entirely healthy infant on a non-dairy formula. Soy-based formulas are a perfectly safe replacement for breast milk, and we see it happen in the non-vegan world for babies who have intolerances to the proteins in cow’s milk.
Find the plant-based infant formula that meets your family’s budget and lifestyle, and you’ll get a leg up in raising compassionate, animal-friendly children from day one