Best European Baby Formulas
Baguettes from France are just better. The sausage (and beer!) from Germany kicks my supermarket’s butt. The pasta in Italy is far superior to the elbow noodles in my pantry. The port wine from Portugal … you get it…..
European Formula. Most people think of baby formula from Europe in the same way – that it’s far superior to US formula. When I probe parents who want this often-illusive European formula about why they prefer a European brand –the answers is usually some form of:
“It’s better regulated” or “the ingredients are cleaner”.
Both of these answers are true from a certain perspective. But honestly, it’s real real hard to find clear information about what makes European formula different from (or better than) US formula. There are lots of blogs that give generic differences (like packaging) and hit on the organic issue. But no one seems to be discussing differences in regulatory guidelines or required ingredients or how to get is safely – pretty big issues!
Well, we are gonna crush that topic. In this article, I am going to:
- Break down the differences in regulations and practices between the US and EU formulas.
- Cover the differences in nutrition requirements that could make a big difference for your baby.
- What you need to know before importing a European formula.
- Break down the differences between the 3 major brands of European formula: Holle, HiPP and Lebenswert.
Differences between USA and European Formula Industry:
1) Farming Practices
The short summary is: generally speaking, the EU farming practices are just better from an infant standpoint. The governing body of European formula regulation is the European Commission (equivalent to the FDA in the US). They require that there be no detectable levels of pesticide residues in any infant formula. This means that all European formulas are organic and then some! Most of the formulas are made from milk cows living on a Demeter farm.
Demeter is like organic++. It means the farm is “biodynamic” – so no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers or GMO technology. The farming practices are sustainable, and the cows graze and consume their natural food source, which is grass. This makes for some healthy and happy cows! Grass-fed cows produce milk that may have additional benefits to infants, compared to cows raised on corn (like most in the US).
Sadly, in the US, we have organic formulas, and we have a grass-fed formula (Similac’s Pure Bliss). You can’t get both organic and grass-fed. If you go with a European brand – you can get both… which is pretty awesome.
Lastly, farms used to produce ingredients for European formulas get major points for sustainability. This really doesn’t affect the nutrition the infant receives, but is worth mentioning since it is important to many families. Because many of the farms are biodynamic, they are also carbon-neutral, and you’ll see that phrase on some European formula’s packaging. Secondly, a few of the companies go out of their way to acquire palm oil from sustainable sources – which is unusual. None of the US companies do this.
2) Goat Milk Formula Is A Thing!
The EU is ahead of the US on the goat milk formula front. Goat’s milk is fully approved as a base for infant formula and widely available in the EU. I’ll have an article coming out soon that will break down the regulations and options you have available if you are considering goat milk formula.
The main brands are Holle (a German company) and Nanny Care (a British company). If you want to get cracking learning more about goat milk formula, here is a video I made comparing goat milk protein vs cow milk protein in formula. And here is an article comparing Holle vs Nanny Care vs Kabrita goat milk formulas.
3) European Formula Comes in Stages (This is BIG)
The EU handles formula totally differently than the FDA. In the US, the FDA regulates “Infant Formula” which is formula made for infants from birth – 12 months. The EU separates their formulas into 2 distinct stages:
- European “Infant Formula” is made for babies from birth to the beginning of solid foods (between 4 – 6 months). This is usually labeled Stage 1.
- European “Follow on Formula” is for infants after solid foods have been started (between 4 – 6 months) until 1 year. This is usually labeled Stage 2.
The important thing to know is that: if you choose a European Formula, it’s pretty dang important to get the right stage for your baby’s age! The nutrition is much more tailored for specific age groups. This is quite different from US formulas, where I consider the whole stage approach to be mostly marketing and not really important.
Stage 3 European formulas are what we’d call “toddler formulas”. I’m not going to cover those here since this article would be considered a book at that point.
Differences between USA and European Formula Regulations:
The European Commission regulates European formula, like the FDA regulates US formula. There are a lot of differences in the requirements and nutrients that you need to know about before making a switch.
First (as just mentioned), Europe does formula in stages. Secondly, they also have some special requirements for partially hydrolyzed and fully hydrolyzed protein formulas, since these formulas have a different protein base than just straight cow’s milk proteins (1, 2). The FDA doesn’t distinguish between types of formulas like this – there is only one set of requirements for all cow’s milk formulas – and these requirements are for any baby between the ages of birth to 12 months (3).
There’s lots of minor differences in the minimum and maximum ranges set for various vitamins and minerals. But, I’m just going to give you the major differences that differ between how US and European brands have chosen to adhere to these guidelines (so basically, the differences that matter).
Apparently Americans and Europeans have very different opinions on how much iron should go in baby formula (and how tight men’s jeans should be… but I digress). Here are the limits set by the two governing bodies:
- The FDA requires US infant formulas to have between 0.15 – 3.30 mg/100kcal iron.
- The European Commission requires European Infant Formula (babies 0 – 6 months) to have between 0.3 – 1.3 mg/100kcal iron.
- The European Commission requires European Follow-On Formula (babies 6 – 12 months) to have between 0.6 – 1.7 mg/100kcal iron.
The US range is just much larger than the European range. But here’s where the real difference comes into play. US formulas all seem to follow the classic “more is better” approach and add iron closer to the upper end of the range. For example, here are the iron concentrations in the major US brand formulas:
- Enfamil Newborn Enfamil Infant = 1.8 mg/100kcal
- Similac Advance (and Pro Advance) = 1.9 mg/100kcal
- Gerber Gentle Stage 1 (0 – 12 months) = 1.5 mg/100kcal
- Gerber Gentle Stage 2 (6 – 12 months) = 2.0 mg/100kcal
Notice that allof these US formulas have iron concentrations well above the maximum allowable concentrations set by the EU for babies of that age. This is one of the biggest differences between the continents! You will obviously find different opinions on who is right and should discuss it with your pediatrician. But here’s what matters. If you are using a European formula, you really need to be using a “follow-on” formula (stage 2) once your baby is between 4 – 6 months of age to be sure they are getting enough iron in their diet. Focusing on iron-rich solid foods will also help! It’s a good conversation to have with your pediatrician who will know all of your unique baby’s risk factors for potential iron deficiency.
2) Sugar and Lactose
I do not like seeing sugar (or sucrose) in baby formula and have been talking about it for a while. I am happy to say that Europe agrees with me! European cow’s milk formulas with intact proteins (which is most formulas) cannot have any sucrose at all! Formulas made from hydrolyzed proteins are allowed to have a little sucrose, but no more than 20%. PLUS the European Commission sets a minimum concentrations of lactose so that all formulas have to have at least 30% carbohydrate from lactose. The FDA doesn’t have any such requirements – regarding sucrose, or %lactose. Lots of the “sensitive” formulas in the US would violate this %lactose rule, and Similac Sensitive and most US soy formulas would also violate the sucrose rule. So there’s that ….
3) Other Ingredients
- The Europeans are a little more conservative with their additives than we are. They do not allow any of the following additives to be used in European Formula: locust gum, guar gum, pectins, fructans (like inulin), and carrageenan. Carrageenan is commonly found in US ready-to-feed formulas.
- L-Carnitine is required in European infant formulas (so for 0-6 months) that are partially hydrolyzed. The US doesn’t require it at all.
- Inositol is only required in European infant formulas (so for 0-6 months). It’s not required in the follow-on formula. The US also requires it – and so it’s in all formula in America.
- The EU recently passed new regulation that will require DHA be added to all infant and all follow-on formula to at least 20mg/100kcal (4)! Companies have until 2020 to make this change. The US doesn’t require DHA at all – although most companies do add it. European formulas that do add DHA use some different sources than American companies (like fish oil). So, it will be really exciting to see how the European formulas adhere to these new requirements over the next few years.
- European formulas have different “extras” than American formulas. In the US, you often see carnitine, taurine or nucleotides added to formula. These are not found in any of the main European cow’s milk formulas (HiPP, Holle, or Lebenswert). However, it is common to see single amino acids added to European formulas, particularly phenylalanine, tryptophan, and tyrosine. None of these are required, but they are often added. I point out which formulas add which amino acids in the brand breakdown below.
- European formulas have more soy-free options. This is great for babies who are sensitive, and I wish the US had more such options available for our babies.
What You Need to Know Before Importing A European Formula:
1) Accurate Information is hard to come by!
Well – obviously this article rocks 🙂 But, accurate lists of ingredients are hard to find! I often have to rely on third party websites to find ingredients, or try to translate foreign labels into English. None of this is ideal! It’s important to know that what you get is what you think you are getting! A good supplier will help with this (more on that below). Also, the EU recently passed regulation that will require more foreigner-friendly labeling for us American parents since there has been so much exporting of European formula over the last few years. This is awesome! But, it does not have to be enforced until 2020. So until then, you have to do your own homework.
2) All Countries in Europe Are Not The Same
HiPP formula has manufacturers in 3 different countries: The United Kingdom, Germany, and The Netherlands. All make HiPP Stage 1 and Stage 2 formulas. While they are similar – they are not the same!!! HiPP Stage 1 from the Netherlands & Germany has a probiotic while UK HiPP Stage does not. The Dutch HiPP is soy-free whereas the German and UK HiPP are not.
So, it’s important that you know which specific country you would like to order. And it’s equally important to use a supplier that will not just lump all HiPP formula together and allow you to specify the type you want. Otherwise, your baby could end up going through many inadvertent formula switches, which can be stressful!
3) Pediatrician comfort
Some US pediatricians are just uncomfortable using European formula. This is for a variety of reasons. The biggest is: European formulas adhere to EU standards and are approved in Europe – so they do not go through the FDA vetting process and are thus NOT FDA approved “infant formulas” in the US. Your relationship with your pediatrician is sacred! You guys need to be a tight team. So be sure to have the discussion with your pediatrician. Show them this article if helpful! But just be sure you are using a formula that you are all comfortable with.
What To Look For in A European Formula Supplier:
So, you’ve made the decision to use a European Formula. Now you’ve got to go about the terrifying task of ordering it over the internet. There are lots of suppliers online. There are also a lot of horror stories online about 4-week shipping times, orders that were never filled, and damaged packaging arriving. This is scary because it’s your baby we’re talking about! So here are the things to look for in a formula supplier/vendor to feel comfortable getting started.
- Supply Chain – Look for a company with a good supply chain. This means that they have established relationships with European suppliers so they have consistent inventory coming into the States in a timely manner.
- Only import via air – Look for a supplier that only imports formula via air freight (and not shipping across the ocean). This ensures the formula arrives faster and is not subject to potentially high heat/humidity levels on a cross-Atlantic ship.
- Local Inventory – Look for a supplier that stores formula in a temperature controlled US warehouse – so it is shipped to you from somewhere in the US (not directly from overseas). This way, you don’t end up with an unanticipated 3-week shipping time. Also local inventory will be kept updated, so if something is out of stock, you will know right away and not learn about a backorder 2 weeks after placing your order.
- Variety of options – Look for a supplier that specifically states which country HiPP they are selling so you don’t end up with formulas manufactured in different countries.
- Good customer reviews always help!
I have been approached by quite a few European Formula Sellers, and vetted them all. Also, recently two of the biggest European Formula suppliers have been shut down (eek!). These a few that are still allowed to sell formula, that I like, and that met all the above criteria (according to them):
European Formula Brand Breakdown:
We’re finally here! Now that you have all the background, we can actually talk about the differences between the major European brand offerings: HiPP, Holle, Lebenswert and new-kid-on-the-block, Loulouka.
The chart below does not include HiPP’s partially hydrolyzed (Comfort) and hypoallergenic (HA) formulas. I’ll be covering those in an upcoming article.
|Holle PRE||Whole Milk, Whey, Skim Milk||Lactose||Cream, Palm oil, Rapeseed oil, Sunflower oil||None||None||0.5||Organic, Demeter & Carbon Neutral|
|Holle – 1||Skim Milk, Whey||Lactose, Maltodextrin||Palm, Rapeseed, Sunflower oils||None||None||0.6||Organic, Demeter & Carbon Neutral|
|Holle – 2||Skim Milk, Whey||Lactose, Maltodextrin, Starch||Palm, Rapeseed, Sunflower oils||None||None||0.9||Organic, Demeter & Carbon Neutral|
|HiPP – 1 (UK)||skimmed milk, whey powder|
(60/40 whey/casein ratio)
|Lactose||Palm, Rapeseed, Sunflower oils||GOS (prebiotic)||L-tyrosine, L-phenylalanine, L-tryptophan||0.5||Organic|
|HiPP – 1 Hungry (UK)||skimmed milk|
(80/20 whey/casein ratio)
|Lactose||Palm, Rapeseed, Sunflower oils||GOS (prebiotic)||L-cysteine, L-tryptophan||0.7||Organic, Soy-Free|
|HiPP – 2 (UK)||skimmed milk, whey powder||Lactose||Palm, Rapeseed, Sunflower oils||GOS (prebiotic)||L-tryptophan||1.0||Organic, Soy-Free|
|HiPP – 1 (Dutch)||skimmed milk, whey powder||Lactose||Palm, Rapeseed, Sunflower oils||GOS (prebiotic), L. Fermentum (probiotic)||L-tyrosine, L-phenylalanine, L-tryptophan||0.5||Organic, Soy-Free|
|HiPP – 2 (Dutch)||skimmed milk, whey powder||Lactose||Palm, Rapeseed, Sunflower oils||GOS (prebiotic), L. Fermentum (probiotic)||L-tryptophan||1.0||Organic, Soy-Free|
|HiPP PRE – (German)||Skim Milk, Whey Product, Whey Protein||Lactose||Palm, Rapeseed, Sunflower oils||GOS (prebiotic), L. Fermentum (probiotic)||L-phenylalanine, L-tryptophan||0.5||Organic, Soy-Free|
|HiPP – 1 (German)||Skim Milk, Whey||Lactose||Palm, Rapeseed, Sunflower oils||GOS (prebiotic) |
L. Fermentum (probiotic)
|L-tyrosine, L-phenylalanine, L-tryptophan||0.5||Organic|
|HiPP – 2 (German)||Skim Milk, Whey||Lactose, Starch||Palm, Rapeseed, Sunflower oils||GOS (prebiotic) |
L. Fermentum (probiotic)
|Lebenswert – 1||Skim Milk, Whey||Lactose||Palm, Rapeseed, Sunflower oils||None||None||0.7||Organic, Soy-Free|
|Lebenswert – 2||Skim Milk, Whey||Lactose, Maltodextrin||Palm, Rapeseed, Sunflower oils||None||None||0.9||Organic, Soy-Free|
|Loulouka – 1||Skim Milk, Whey|
(60/40 whey/casein ratio)
|Lactose||Sunflower, Coconut, Rapeseed, oils||None||None||1.2||Organic, Soy-Free|
|Loulouka – 2||Skim Milk, Whey||Lactose, Maltodextrin||Sunflower, Coconut, Rapeseed, oils||None||None||1.5||Organic, Soy-Free|
|Kendamil – 1||Whole Milk, Whey|
(60/40 whey/casein ratio)
|Lactose||Milk fat, Sunflower, Coconut, Rapeseed, oils||GOS (prebiotic)||None||1.1||Organic, Soy-Free|
Kendamil – 2
|Whole Milk, Whey|
(50/50 whey/casein ratio)
|Lactose||Milk fat, Sunflower, Coconut, Rapeseed, oils||GOS (prebiotic)||None||1.2||Organic, Soy-Free|
You are amazing for making it this far! I know it’s so hard choosing the right formula for your precious baby! You should feel really good about everything you just learned that will help you make the perfect choice.
If you’re using a European formula, I’d love to know which one, and how it’s working for you!
Happy digesting to the tiny tummies in your house,
xo Dr. Young
- European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA). Scientific Opinion on the Essential Composition of Infant and Follow-on Formulae. EFSA Journal 2014; 12(7): 3760.
- European Commission; 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. 2003: AXFR/CS/NUT/IF/65 Final. Brussels, Belgium.
- US Food and Drug Administration. Title 21 – Food and Drugs, Chapter I – Food and Drug Administration Department of Health and Human Services, Subchapter B – Food for Human Consumption, Part 107 – Infant Formula. Code of Federal Regulations. Title 21 (2): April 1, 2017.
- The European Commission. Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2016/127. September 25, 2015.
UncategorizedBaby Formula Brands, Choosing Formula, Formula Industry, Infant Health, Supplementing with Formula, Switching FormulaSours: https://babyformulaexpert.com/european-formula/
European Baby Formula That Is Illegally Sold in the United States Carries Risks, Pediatricians Warn
HiPP, Holle and other brands are not registered with the F.D.A., but that hasn’t stopped parents from buying them from third-party vendors.
This story was originally published on June 11, 2019 in NYT Parenting.
For Jessica Bates, 40, a first-time mother in Washington, D.C., it was an easy decision to stop feeding her 2-month-old son American infant formula and to switch to HiPP, a brand headquartered in Germany: Not only did her nanny recommend it to ease digestion, mothers were raving about European formulas on social media.
Buying HiPP online was also easy.
Deciphering the German label was not.
Ms. Bates and her husband could not understand the directions. Further complicating matters, they lost the scoop that came with the container. So they grabbed the scoop from a container of American formula, only to later learn it was larger than the scoop HiPP provided.
“Basically we made it too thick for him the first couple of times and he projectile vomited all over us and we were like, ‘Oh my God, what have we done?’”
They soon figured out the right ratio of powder to water. And even though each 500g container of organic HiPP formula cost nearly $40 — about 80 percent more than the organic American brand Earth’s Best — they stuck with it.
“I think in the moment I was just desperate to make things go as well as possible for him,” said Ms. Bates, who had struggled to breastfeed after her emergency C-section and ended up relying exclusively on formula. To her, the European formulas seemed “more natural,” she said — more like breastfeeding.
In searching for the best alternative to breastfeeding, some parents are turning to formulas produced by European brands like HiPP and Holle, which are assumed to be superior to those made by American companies. But according to representatives from HiPP, Holle and Töpfer, these products are not registered with the Food and Drug Administration and do not have official distribution channels in the United States.That means importing and selling these formulas in the United States is illegal, the F.D.A. said. But they are still entering the country via third-party vendors.
The potential dangers are numerous. Children can fall ill or become malnourished if parents inadvertently use an incorrect formula-to-water ratio; unofficial formula vendors may not store the powdered formula properly, raising the possibility of bacterial contamination, product deterioration or loss in nutrient density; there is no system in place to notify consumers in the United States if any of these formulas are recalled; and while many European formulas contain the nutrients required in the United States, some do not. In addition, parents in the United States may not realize that European formulas labeled hypoallergenic aren’t meant for children with cow’s milk allergies.
Dr. Steven Abrams, chair of the committee on nutrition at the American Academy of Pediatrics and director of the Dell Pediatric Research Institute in Austin, Tex., said he would “strongly discourage” parents from using formulas that aren’t regulated by the F.D.A.
Infant formula “has to be absolutely nutritionally complete and handled in a very safe way, from the moment of manufacture to the moment it gets into their house and into the baby,” Dr. Abrams said. “The laws and the rules exist for a reason. And that’s because even a single mistake in any of this will just have terrible outcomes for babies.”
Bypassing F.D.A. requirements
It is unclear whether any American infants have become ill after consuming European infant formula because products that are not registered with the F.D.A. are not monitored by the agency. However, in 2016 and 2017, the F.D.A. was notified of six adverse events linked to imported European formulas: three from HiPP, two from Holle and one from Lebenswert. The complaints included fever, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and salmonellosis. While there is no conclusive link between these products and the reported illnesses, the adverse events were concerning to Dr. Dina M. DiMaggio, the lead author of a recent study that compared European formulas with F.D.A labeling and nutrient requirements.
In the study, published in May in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, Dr. DiMaggio and her colleagues contacted third-party vendors selling to United States consumers to determine their most popular European infant formulas. They then examined 14 of the most frequently purchased European powdered formulas imported into the United States, including ones distributed by HiPP, Holle, Lebenswert and Töpfer. None of the 14 formulas studied met all of the F.D.A.’s labeling requirements: nine of the formula labels, for example, were not written in English and 10 of the 14 formulas did not have all of the required nutrients listed on their labels.
“Parents should turn to their pediatricians to find out what’s the best formula,” she said. “We’re finding that that’s not the case. A lot of pediatricians don’t know that parents are using European formula.”
The study also noted another potential problem: European formulas labeled hypoallergenic, like HiPP HA Combiotik, contained partially hydrolyzed milk proteins. Although these proteins were once believed to prevent food allergy, they are not meant for children with cow’s milk allergies and would not be labeled hypoallergenic in the United States.
“In the U.S., for a formula to be considered hypoallergenic it has to undergo clinical research trials and be able to demonstrate that 90 percent of those with cow’s milk allergies will tolerate it,” said Marion Groetch, the director of nutrition services at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. These formulas, which are either extensively hydrolyzed or amino acid-based, are usually only available via prescription in Europe, Ms. Groetch added.
‘Parents are being misled’
The F.D.A. maintains a “red list” of international infant formulas that will be detained if they are imported into the United States because they fail to meet the F.D.A.’s nutrient and labeling requirements. It includes formulas from HiPP and Holle.
But third-party vendors keep bringing them into the country. The formulas can be found on eBay, European websites that ship to the United States and American websites that import the formula for commercial use despite the F.D.A.’s restrictions. And once this formula leaves a company’s official distribution channel, the “chain of control” is lost, said Dr. Anthony F. Porto, a pediatric gastroenterologist and associate professor of pediatrics at Yale University who was one of Dr. DiMaggio’s co-authors.
Holle’s website even includes a disclaimer for consumers in the United States.
“We regret that we are not able to address any of your concerns,” the website says, adding that if customers in the United States have purchased Holle from a retailer not listed on the company’s homepage, “kindly direct your inquiry at the retailer from whom you have purchased the product.”
The laws on infant formula importation are somewhat hazy. While Customs and Border Protection says on its website that commercial imports of baby formula require registration with the F.D.A., it also notes that “these requirements do not apply to foodaccompanying a traveler into the U.S. or sent by an individual to someone in the U.S.”
“I didn’t really care what the science said or nutritionally what was in there as long as he was taking it and it was sustaining him,” said Dr. Christina Garza, 40, who used Holle after her breastfed son developed blood in his stool. “There was all this pressure to produce this ‘pure’ food for my kid that wasn’t going to upset his digestive tract.”
Online testimonies expounding on the benefits of European formula are numerous — in some cases, the formulas are touted by bloggers who partner directly with the third-party sellers and profit from affiliate links.
Dr. DiMaggio and Dr. Porto became interested in European formulas after they noticed parents choosing to give their infants HiPP and Holle — and saw the brands popping up in conversations in Facebook parenting groups.
The HiPP & Holle Formulas Parent Support Community Facebook group, for example, has nearly doubled since last year and now has more than 10,000 members.
In a separate study presented in April at a national pediatrics conference, the two doctors collaborated with Dr. Nan R. Du, a pediatric resident at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital, and other colleagues to survey 552 families at Pediatric Associates of NYC, a large private pediatric practice where Dr. DiMaggio works. Of the 372 families who used formula, 20 percent said they were currently using European infant formulas. The survey, which was conducted between November 2017 and March 2018, showed that the two most commonly used brands were HiPP and Holle, the researchers said.
White mothers with college degrees and household incomes greater than $200,000 were the ones most likely to use European infant formulas, according to the survey.
The families’ reasons for choosing European brands included the perception, perpetuated by blogs and social media groups, that European infant formulas contained higher-quality ingredients. In some respects, food safety standards for products sold in the European Union are stricter than those imposed by the F.D.A. But there’s no scientific evidence that imported European formulas are better for babies, pediatricians have said.
“Parents are being misled in their exhausted, 3-o’clock-in-the-morning-my-child’s-not-sleeping-Googling-state,” Dr. Porto said.
Although the F.D.A. does not approve infant formulas, all formulas marketed in the United States must meet federal nutritional requirements.
Each of the European formulas in the May study met these requirements except for Töpfer Bio 1, which listed less than the F.D.A.-required amounts of vitamin A and copper, the study authors reported. The researchers also noted that they could not determine the levels of linoleic acid, a fatty acid that is important for brain development,for 10 of the 14 formulas because they were not listed on the manufacturer’s websites nor on the labels. Those that did include linoleic acid on the label had levels that fell within the accepted F.D.A. range.
Overall, the researchers’ main concern was not necessarily with the formulas’ composition, but with the way they are entering the country and how the labels are being interpreted.
If a formula were recalled in Europe, consumers in the United States would be unlikely to hear about it right away. The French dairy company Lactalis pulled more than 7,000 tons of potentially contaminated baby formula and other powdered milk products across more than 80 countries during 2017 and 2018. This year it issued another recall.
The European Union has been criticized for lax oversight of industrial food companies and weak reporting standards, especially since European governments generally allow food companies to self-report problems to regulators. In the Lactalis case, neither the company nor regulators identified the problems before they reached consumers.
One centralized place to find recall information in Europe is the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed consumer portal, butit does not disclose the names of companies or brands. Those can be found in the alerts generated by each country.
Routine monitoring of powdered infant formula is especially important because powdered formulas cannot be sterilized and are at risk for contamination.
“If you’re getting them from the internet, you don’t know where they’ve been stored, you don’t know how they’ve been transported,” Ms. Groetch said. “You don’t know whether they’re going to last until their expiration date if they’ve been held at very high heat.”
Felix Kurichithanam, a spokesman for Holle, said the company is making plans to register with the F.D.A. and enter the American market in 2020. It aims to make its formula available in brick-and-mortar stores and also online through the company’s distribution channel, currently not available in the United States.
Are European formulas any better?
According to Dr. Abrams, the United States has such a wide variety of infant formulas there’s no need to purchase it from Europe.
“There isn’t something magical about these European formulas. Every single type of formula that they have there exists in numerous different versions in the United States,” he said.
Parents who are looking for organic formula or formula derived from grass-fed cows can find those options in the United States as well, he said, although there is no research to suggest that those types of formula are more nutritious.
“It’s not like you’re buying cow milk off the shelf,” Dr. Abrams said. “All these formulas, especially the partial hydrolysates, are heavily processed. What the cow’s eating doesn’t really affect much of anything.”
Some babies tolerate certain formulas better than others, so it’s common for parents to experiment a bit to find the best one — especially if their child appears to be uncomfortable.
Dr. Garza, whose son was experiencing gastrointestinal distress, used American formulas before discovering that her son seemed to like Holle better.
“Even as someone who’s trained in evidence-based medicine — you know what? If it’s working anecdotally for someone and it will get me sleep and my kid will not be pooping blood, I’ll try it,” she said.
But Dr. Abrams cautioned parents to first speak with their pediatricians and try a brand that is registered with the F.D.A. rather than a European brand sold by a third-party vendor.
“There simply is not any suggestion of a health benefit that is provided by these formulas that is not provided by a U.S. formula,” he said.
[Read our guide on how to feed a combination of breastmilk and formula]
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If you haven’t yet tried a German baby formula, now is the time to take the plunge.
European baby formulas are starting to invade the homes of many Americans. Let me walk you through three reasons why parents are making the switch.
Slip into your Lederhosen, pour out some Earl Grey, and stick that beret back on your head where it belongs. It’s time to take baby formula international.
For you Fast-Moving Friedas out there, I’ve started with the “where to find them”. Keep reading to see the three reasons why you should give them a serious look!
Where to Find European Baby Formulas
You know what’s even more exciting about these European baby formulas?
Instead of telling you how great they are and then ending with a “Hope you know someone in Germany who can send them over!” Fortunately for you, I do know a friendly company who can ship them straight to your door.
If you find these formulas on Amazon, they were purchased by individuals and are being resold. Personally, that makes me a little nervous. The FDA is raiding these home-based businesses like crazy, and you’re taking a risk they won’t have any product to send you! (Although they will have the money you spent for it!) The safest bet is to go with someone outside of the FDA’s jurisdiction. Someone like this.
Reason to Try European Baby Formulas #1:
Truly Organic Organic Farming
Europe practices Biodynamic Organic Farming, which is like organic farming on steroids. (All natural steroids, of course.)
- The entire ecosystem of the farm is considered and maintained: soil, seeds, plants, animals, and humans.
- No pesticides or chemical fertilizers are used in the soil. (Just nature’s favorite fertilizer, poo.)
- There is no genetic modification of plants or animals (GMO’s).
- Certain processing practices (or ingredients) are also prohibited.
You can see a complete description of Biodynamic Organic Farming here, if you’re interested.
What does this have to do with European baby formulas being awesome? Well, the formulas are based on cow’s milk, and years of using the scientific method has taught us that cows that are fed on awesome grass, produce awesome milk, which can be developed into awesome baby formulas, which creates awesome babies.
It’s the cycle of life, really.
How will you know if a European baby formula is using this techniques? (…and isn’t just some knock-off brand using the word “European”.)
They will have the “Demeter” label on them somewhere. This is the trademark of all products and goods sold from Biodynamic Organic Farms. (It’s also the name of the Greek goddess of fertility. #cleverpoints!)
Reason to Try European Baby Formulas #2:
The EU does not allow European formula manufacturers to use corn syrup, glucose, fructose, rice syrup, table sugar (sucrose) or carrageenan. (This is just a few of their strict regulations, if you’re interested in those specifics, click here. They are much more rigid than our own FDA.)
European Baby Formulas Don’t Use the Typical Sweeteners
Yes, there needs to be a sweetener in your baby’s formula. Breastmilk is naturally sweet, and our bodies have been designed to crave some levels of sweetness for proper metabolic function.
Babies know this instinctively, and will refuse to drink something that doesn’t taste good. (How very…human…of them!)
European baby formula manufacturers have discovered other ways to sweeten up the formula, without using the sweeteners American formula manufacturers rely on like corn syrup, glucose, fructose, or sucrose.
- Lactose – Called “milk sugar,” since it’s found only in milk. Provides baby with needed carbohydrates. (Avoid if there is lactose intolerance in your family). HiPP and Lebenswert both use this as their sweetener.
- Maltodextrin – This is a complex carbohydrate that moves quickly through the digestive system, and can be very healthy in small doses. (Only in small doses, which is where many companies get it wrong.) Holle uses small amounts of this as a sweetener.
Having these gentle and natural sweeteners in the formula ensures that your baby will enthusiastically down bottle after bottle, growing into strong lumberjacks yodeling on the mountainside and blowing into Ricola horns.
European Baby Formulas Don’t Use Carrageenan
Carrageenan is an extract from a red seaweed called Irish Moss. Besides being regularly smoked by Leprechauns, it has also been used in traditional cooking in the British Isles as a binding agent to thicken sauces and stews. It’s used prolifically in foods, particularly for Vegan eaters, who want to avoid gelatin (an animal by-product).
It’s currently considered a scientific controversy as scientists debate the possible effects of carrageenan in your diet. I’ll let you form your own opinions on this subject. Due to all the bickering scientists, the EU stepped in and said, “ENOUGH! We can’t handle all the bickering!” and banned it completely from European baby formulas.
Reason to Try European Baby Formulas #3:
An Emphasis on Gut Balance
Although some American cow-milk formulas are catching up, the large majority of them do not contain the probiotics and prebiotics necessary for a healthy and balanced digestive system.
This is particularly important for babies, who only just started using those organs a few months ago! Breastmilk has those nutrients naturally, so it makes sense that having a formula that does the same is a huge bonus.
Several of the HiPP baby formulas contain these, nourishing the gut. This prevents baby from having chronic constipation or diarrhea.
How to Understand the Packages
Obviously, since these are German baby formulas, the packages are going to look a little foreign. Don’t let this intimidate you! You just need a handy dandy little translator. (Like myself!)
#1: Expect Boxes, not Cans
The first thing you’re going to notice is that many of these European baby formulas come in boxes, not cans. Each box contains two pouches of formula.
Sadly, the reason for this is going to have to remain one of Life’s Greatest Mysteries, because I couldn’t find any information on why (and can’t bring myself to read through another technical paper.)
#2: Expect Stages, not Ages
Most of the European organic baby formulas above go by stages, not ages. Here’s an example of how Holle formula organizes each “stage”.
- Stage 1: from birth
- Stage 2: at 6 months
- Stage 3: at 10 months
- Stage 4: at 12 months
#3: Expect Grams, not Ounces
The packages are weighed and measured in grams, so you’re going to need to head back to your elementary days and do some conversions. (Or just ask Siri.)
#4: Expect German, not English
Since this is a German (or in the case of Loulouka, Swiss) baby formula, it makes sense that the package is going to be printed in German. Don’t panic! There are perfect Englishized instructions inside the package.
Here are the most common phrases on the boxes, translated for you. (I just knew that German college course would pay off!)
- Anfangsmilch – means “starting milk”
- Folgemilch – means “follow-up milk”
- Kindermilch – means “children’s milk”
- Nach dem vorbild der natur – means “along the lines of nature”
- von Geburt am – means “from birth on”
- gut sattigend – means “good saturation”
There is an expiration date on the boxes (about a year later), but it’s written in the EU version of dd/mm/yyyy not the traditional American mm/dd/yyyy format.
You Should at Least TRY a European Baby Formula
Since you can’t get these organic baby formula on Amazon, and you can’t stop by Walmart on the way home from work to grab a box, you’re going to have to order online.
Organic Baby Food 24 (OBF24) has been around for over five years and I’ve known them for at least four of those years. (Hey, Phillip!) They are a king of customer service and have a stellar rating at Trusted Shops.
Many parents rave about these European baby formulas, giving them credit for reduced fussiness and colic, improving eczema improvements, and helping with digestive issues.
It makes sense, really. Better ingredients lead to better baby formula. Still not sure whether to give OBF24 a try? Read these parent reviews.
Going Back to Our Roots
I mean, consider all the amazing things we’ve gotten from Europe!
- Germany inspired us with our favorite baseball treat, hot dogs.
- England shared an apple pastry we quickly assimilated: “As American as apple pie…” PISH POSH.
- Greece provided the influence we needed to get our system of government off the ground.
Is it any wonder that more and more parents are loving European baby formulas? Why not see if you’re one of them!
Citations for Extra Reading
Formula Company Biodynamic and Demeter Farming Practices. MyOrganicFormula.com
Demeter Farming. Demeter.com
Food for Infants and Young Children. Europa.eu
Here’s Why European Baby Formula Beats American.Formuland.com
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Formula german milk
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