Best Dairy-Free Formula Picks: Nourish Without Compromise

Best dairy-free formula

Choosing the right dairy-free formula is crucial for parents navigating milk allergies or opting for a vegan lifestyle. This article provides a comprehensive look at safe, nutritionally complete, dairy-free alternatives that support your child’s growth. Find out which options have the nutrients most critical for health, and receive expert tips on selecting the perfect formula for your child.

While transitioning to a dairy-free formula, a gradual approach is advised, closely monitoring your child's response to the new formula and consultation with a pediatrician to ensure the appropriate product selection and maintenance of nutritional adequacy.

else dairy free formula



Reasons to Choose Dairy-Free Formula

Under what circumstances would you consider a dairy-free formula for your little one? There exist various situations where a dairy-free formula emerges as the best option. If your baby shows signs of cow’s milk allergy, such as skin or digestive issues, or if a healthcare provider has confirmed a cow’s milk protein intolerance or allergy, a dairy-free formula can offer a vital alternative.

Dairy-free formulas can also align with ethical dietary choices, such as veganism. In such cases, plant-based formulas can provide a balance of nutrients supporting the growth and development of babies with milk allergies or those requiring lactose intolerance diets. Nonetheless, before transitioning to a dairy-free formula, seeking advice from a paediatrician is crucial. This accurately diagnoses allergies or intolerances and helps acquire a suitable formula recommendation. If you want to know more about choosing a dairy-free formula from our specialist, check this article.

Cow's Milk Protein Allergy

Cow's milk allergy (CMA) affects about 2-3% of babies under 6 months, causing symptoms like rashes and breathing difficulties. Identifying whether the allergy is IgE-mediated or non-IgE-mediated is crucial, as treatment strategies differ. For a detailed understanding of the complex symptoms for accurate diagnosis, our FAQ section offers in-depth insights into dealing with CMA effectively.

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance involves difficulty digesting lactose, the sugar in milk, due to insufficient lactase enzyme levels. This condition requires dairy-free formulas to avoid symptoms, while cow’s milk allergies need formula without protein. Symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, and gas are common for those with lactose intolerance, indicating the need for lactose-free or low-lactose formula options. Our article delves deeper into recognizing these signs and helping caregivers make informed dietary choices.

You can also learn about the difference between lactose intolerance and milk allergy in toddlers and kids in our roundup.

Vegan Families

For vegan families, the selection of a vegan formula becomes vital. It synchronizes with their ethical beliefs concerning animal welfare, excludes animal-derived products, and supplements a compassionate dietary regimen. Additionally, vegan baby formulas have a significantly smaller environmental footprint than dairy-based formulas, utilizing fewer natural resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions attributed to the dairy industry.

Vegan families also value nutritional adequacy in baby formulas and may prefer organic, non-GMO, and whole plant-based options like Else Nutrition for their 1 year+ toddlers. However, one challenge for vegan families is the availability of vegan baby formulas, which may necessitate families to order internationally to find a formula that is well-tolerated by their baby.

Top Dairy-Free Formula Brands

Bottle of the milk in the centre around ornaments

While dairy-free formulas are typically more costly than cow’s milk-based formulas, a variety of brands are available to cater to various dietary needs and preferences. Gerber Good Start, for instance, provides a soy-based option that is friendly for those with all allergies except soy and is also more budget-friendly. Earth’s Best Organic offers a soy-based formula that is non-GMO, free from lactose, and kosher-certified, albeit some ingredients may not be suitable for those seeking vegan options.

Some dairy-free formula options for infants include:

  • Similac Soy Isomil, which is designed for infants with lactose intolerance and gas problems
  • Baby’s Only Organic offers a dairy-free formula using organic pea protein for children with allergies to dairy and soy
  • Bebe M provides dairy-free formulas for critical infancy stages, from 6 to 36 months, with certifications like EU and AB France organic certifications.

Soy Dairy-Free Formula Brands

Soy-based formulas examples

Soy-based formulas are a choice for babies with galactosemia or families adhering to a vegan diet. They use soy protein isolate, which provides high-purity protein. Unlike dairy formulas, soy formulas do not contain lactose; they utilize alternatives like corn maltodextrin for carbohydrates. So, if your baby is lactose intolerant, a soy-based formula could be the answer.

Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that soy-based formulas can present certain concerns despite being a lifesaver for some. These formulas contain a certain level of isoflavones, similar to estrogen, which may affect hormonal activity. Some infants, especially those with cow’s milk protein allergy, may be allergic to soy proteins.

Even with these concerns, soy-based formulas remain a recommended option for babies with conditions like galactosemia and for families who follow a vegan diet.

Several common brands of soy-based infant formula are available on the market. Gerber Good Start offers soy formulas for lactose—or dairy-intolerant infants and toddlers. Mama Bear Soy-Based Powder Infant Formula is designed for babies up to 12 months and includes over 25 vitamins and minerals.

Some soy-based formula options include:

  • Enfamil ProSobee Soy Sensitive: a non-dairy soy-based formula
  • Earth’s Best Organic: a non-GMO, lactose-free, and kosher-certified soy-based formula
  • Similac Soy Isomil: a lactose-free formula that includes DHA, lutein, and vitamin E to support vision and brain development.

Hypoallergenic Formula Brands

Hypoallergenic formulas examples

Hypoallergenic formulas are a game-changer for little ones with cow’s milk allergy. These formulas are typically cow’s milk-based but have the allergy-causing proteins broken down, making them ‘hypoallergenic’ rather than ‘partially hydrolyzed.’ Extensively hydrolyzed formulas, which break down casein or whey into smaller peptides, are recommended as the first-line treatment for infants with cow’s milk allergy (CMA), providing relief for over 90% of these infants.

Amino acid-based formula, providing the simplest form of protein, is suitable for infants with severe reactions to cow’s milk proteins or those who do not tolerate hydrolyzed formulas. Hydrolyzed rice protein formulas, presenting no cross-reactivity in infants with CMA, are another viable option. Yet, remember that babies with CMA are advised to steer clear of alternative mammalian milk due to high cross-reactivity with cow’s milk proteins and soy, thereby necessitating their exclusion from formula options. In any case, it is highly recommended to advise the pediatrician on the right formula for babies with CMA.

We have also created an information guide on hypoallergenic formulas, in which we elaborate on the topic. 

Hypoallergenic formulas are a great choice for infants with cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA) or lactose intolerance, as they are made without common allergens. Among the leading hypoallergenic brands are:

  • Neocate Syneo Infant Hypoallergenic Amino-Acid Based
  • Similac Alimentum
  • Gerber Extensive HA
  • PurAmino

Neocate Infant with DHA and ARA is manufactured in a facility free of dairy products and animal proteins, catering to babies with dairy and various food protein allergies. Bebe M is another notable soy and dairy-free formula that excludes dairy and soy allergens to accommodate the dietary needs of infants with CMPA or lactose intolerance.

Plant-Based Formula Brands

Creative display of plant-based milk products surrounded by ingredients like almonds and peas, arranged in a colorful pattern on a dark background

Plant-based dairy-free formulas are specially crafted for infants with specific dietary needs, including milk protein allergies. Brands such as Bebe M vegan baby formula offer various options for these families. Bebe M offers a dairy and soy-free formula made with hydrolyzed rice protein to meet the nutritional needs of infants with CMPA.

For toddlers (babies 12+ months), our Plant-Based Complete Nutrition for Toddlers provides a real alternative to dairy-based formulas. It’s made with over 80% real whole plant ingredients, including almonds, buckwheat and tapioca.

Else Nutrition Plant-Based Complete Nutrition Drink for Toddlers

Dairy-free formula for toddlers

Else Nutrition for Toddlers presents a compelling option for dairy-based formulas for various reasons, catering to the unique nutritional requirements of growing children while addressing different dietary preferences and concerns. Here are the distinguishing features of Else Nutrition: Plant-Based Nutrition: 

Else Nutrition is sourced from plant-based ingredients, making it ideal for parents looking for dairy alternatives. This formula offers essential nutrients without animal-based components, accommodating various dietary restrictions like vegan diets, lactose intolerance, FPIES, or even dairy allergies. 

Nutritional Adequacy: Else Nutrition is meticulously designed to provide the nutritional needs of toddlers for healthy growth and development. It consists of a well-balanced combination of plant proteins, healthy unsaturated fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, promoting health and well-being in growing children. 

Gentle on Digestion: Some children may face digestive issues or sensitivities when consuming dairy-based formulas. Else Nutrition provides a gentle option that is easy to digest. This can be particularly beneficial for toddlers with delicate stomachs or digestive issues. In a post-marketing survey, parents reported that ~80% of children showed significant improvement in their digestive symptoms (following the use of an Else product). 

Sustainable and Ethical: Plant-based formulas like Else Nutrition are eco-friendly and leave a lower carbon footprint than traditional dairy farming methods. By choosing a plant-based alternative, parents can endorse ethical and sustainable food production practices while lessening their environmental impact. 

Transitioning to Dairy-Free Formula

A woman sits attentively as a healthcare professional, identifiable by his white coat and stethoscope, hands her a jar of dairy-free formula in a cozy, child-friendly room decorated with stuffed toys

The transition to a dairy-free formula should be gradual and not rushed. It necessitates consultation with a pediatrician, a step-by-step introduction of the new formula, and careful tracking of the baby’s progress. Babies with digestive issues may initially have more challenges transitioning to another type of formula or from breastfeeding and should be closely monitored for any signs of discomfort or adverse symptoms.

A pediatrician might suggest the following steps for introducing a new dairy-free formula to a baby:

  1. Slowly introduce the new formula, potentially blending it with the baby’s original formula to help them adapt to the taste.
  2. Monitor for any improvements in symptoms or tolerance of the new formula.
  3. If there is no improvement after transitioning or if the baby does not tolerate the new formula, consult a doctor for further advice.
  4. Consider trying another formula as recommended by a healthcare professional.

Consultation with a Pediatrician

When parents contemplate shifting from standard to dairy-free formulas, consultation with a pediatrician becomes indispensable to ensure the child’s health requirements are fulfilled. Lactose-free formulas are recommended for infants who show digestive discomfort with regular cow’s milk formula and do not have a milk protein allergy. Still, a pediatrician’s verification is necessary before making the switch.

The doctor can provide:

  • A thorough assessment of the baby’s health
  • Consideration of any potential allergies
  • Recommendations based on the baby’s specific needs
  • Monitoring of the baby’s response to the new formula
  • Adjustment of the dietary plan as necessary

Gradual Transition

A gradual shift to the dairy-free formula is advisable. This involves blending the new formula with the old one and progressively reducing the quantity of the original formula over time. This helps the baby gradually adjust to the new taste and texture. A one-step transition with no transition time may be appropriate for standard formulas being replaced with easier-to-digest options like hydrolyzed formulas.

It is crucial to consistently offer the new dairy-free formula to the baby at least three times a week to help them grow accustomed to it. Once the baby tolerates the dairy-free formula, it should be introduced more fully, gradually increasing the amount at each feeding.

Monitoring Progress

Upon transitioning to a dairy-free formula, it’s important to monitor the baby’s bowel movements and look for signs of formula tolerance. Parents should carefully observe any side effects during the transition to ensure the baby’s well-being. To reduce the likelihood of discomfort such as reflux after transitioning to a dairy-free formula, it’s recommended to feed the baby in a relaxed setting, choose the right nipple for the bottle, and keep the baby upright post-feeding.

If the baby experiences colic, measures such as:

  • holding them in a sling
  • playing soothing sounds
  • gentle motion
  • massages

may provide relief while monitoring is ongoing, with consultation of a healthcare professional if colic persists.

Should intolerance or allergic reactions, such as rectal bleeding, occur after the switch to dairy-free formula, it is crucial to revert to the previously tolerated formula and consult with a pediatrician.

Nutritional Considerations for Dairy-Free Formulas

Even though these cow’s milk based formulas are dairy-free, they are crafted to provide the same essential nutrients found in conventional cow’s milk based formula, thereby guaranteeing proper infant growth and development. Bebe M’s soy and dairy-free formula, for instance, stands out for its content of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, including DHA, ALA, and LA, which are crucial for infant development.

These formulas have been meticulously developed to maintain a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and essential fatty acids, making sure your baby receives all the necessary nutrients. But what exactly are these nutrients, and why are they so important? Let’s explore further.

Protein Sources

Protein, a vital nutrient for your baby’s growth, is provided from diverse sources by dairy-free formulas. Soy-based formulas, often chosen by vegan families, are fortified with vital minerals such as iron and zinc, which are critical for the growth and development of infants on a vegan diet. Buckwheat, utilized in plant-based formulas, is a source of complete protein as it contains all nine essential amino acids that are necessary for an infant’s growth.

These protein sources provide the building blocks your baby needs for growth and development. Whether it’s soy protein in a soy-based formula or buckwheat protein in a plant-based formula, your baby can get the necessary protein from a variety of sources.

Carbohydrate Choices

Carbohydrates, which fuel your baby’s growth and development, are derived from various sources in dairy-free formulas such as:

  • corn syrup
  • corn syrup solids
  • corn maltodextrin
  • glucose syrup
  • brown rice syrup
  • sucrose

Corn syrup solids and maltodextrin are often utilized in dairy-free formulas because they are cost-effective, sweeter, and more easily digested compared to lactose.

These carbohydrate sources provide the energy your baby needs to grow and develop. Whether it’s corn syrup solids in a soy-based formula or brown rice syrup in a plant-based formula, your baby can get the necessary carbohydrates from a variety of sources.

Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids, including linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), play a pivotal role in your baby’s development. They must be included in the diet since humans cannot synthesize them. ILong-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids like docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA) are also added to dairy-free formulas due to their crucial roles in infant nervous and immune system development.

DHA and ARA are sourced from fish oil or microalgae and incorporated into dairy-free formulas, helping infants receive these important nutrients without dairy.

The balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in dairy-free formulas is designed to emulate the ratio found in human milk, which is crucial for healthy infant development and wellness.


In conclusion, dairy-free formulas offer a valuable alternative for infants with dietary restrictions or allergies. From soy-based to hypoallergenic to plant-based options, various formulas are available that cater to different dietary requirements and feeding preferences. These formulas provide a balance of nutrients, ensuring your baby gets the protein, carbohydrates, and essential fatty acids they need for healthy growth and development. Always consult with a pediatrician before transitioning to a dairy-free formula to ensure a proper diagnosis and the most suitable formula recommendation. Here’s to your baby’s health and happiness!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are dairy-free formulas?

Dairy-free formulas are alternatives to traditional cow's milk-based formulas, catering to different dietary requirements and infant feeding preferences. They include soy-based, hypoallergenic, and plant-based formulas.

How do I know if my baby needs dairy-free formula?

If your baby shows symptoms such as liquid, frothy stools, irritability, stomach aches, bloating, gas, slow weight gain, or nappy rash, they may need dairy-free formula. Consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and advice.

What formula is best for a dairy allergy baby?

The best formula for a dairy allergy baby is an extensively hydrolyzed formula such as Enfamil Nutramigen or Similac Alimentum. These formulas provide complete nutrition and are designed for infants allergic to cow's milk protein.


else toddler formula plant-based omega with toddler

The content and advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, advice for specific medical conditions. Always consult a pediatrician to understand the individual needs of your child. The article expresses the views of the brand editor.

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