Substituting Baby Formula The Right Way (Healthy Alternatives For Newborns & Toddlers)

Parents should stick to formula or breast milk for babies below one year of age. You can talk to the pediatrician for samples, shop around, order online, switch to available formula, or connect with other parents. For toddlers above age one, you can depend on solid food and try alternatives such as cow’s milk, soy, hemp, and goat’s milk. Don’t make homemade formula or water down the formula. Don’t give toddler formula to your infant or random overseas formula without asking your pediatrician’s opinion.

Many parents rely on formula for their kids for multiple reasons, but it’s a beneficial way of ensuring their little one gets the proper nutrition.

For working parents and single parents, it’s a boon, but due to the current shortage, it’s these parents who are suffering so much, unable to provide for their little angels.

Due to the large unavailability of formulas in the market, it’s only fitting for parents to find ways to substitute for the formula they use.

But is there a substitute that also provides the same kind of nutrition to their baby?

Formula substitute for newborns

Newborn babies have a tiny digestive system until they turn 6 months old. That’s why their appetite is also low, so you see them often feeding in short intervals.

Newborns need to be breastfed about 8-12 times a day in the beginning, but as they turn 1-2 months old, you can start feeding them 7-9 times a day. Gradually their time will be fixed, and they will begin breastfeeding lesser with properly fixed schedules.

If breastmilk is fed, they don’t need any other liquid, including water, juice, or beverage. Breastmilk is their complete nutrition.

Parents who rely on formula for any given reason could switch between these two or even go along with combined feeding.

The most important thing to remember is that during the first 6 months of their life, they should only be fed breastmilk or formula, and any other thing will hamper their digestive system.

If there’s no formula, it’s better to find authentic milk banks and use donated breastmilk, increase your breastmilk production, or find ways to get the formula from different sources.

Here’s how you can increase your breastmilk production:

  1. Start nursing your little one often. Though it will take some time, nursing every 2 hours during the day and every 3 hours during the night will help.
  2. You can also use an electric pump to help with milk production.
  3. When nursing your baby, give 15 minutes to each breast.
  4. Start by massaging your breasts before you latch your little one to them. Massaging increases milk production, and doing it for 20 minutes daily will help.
  5. Eat a well-balanced diet and make sure you stay hydrated.

If you’re finding it difficult, then there’s no shame in visiting a lactation consultant and seeking help.

Formula substitute for 6 to 12-month-old baby

Turning 6 months old is one of the most significant milestones as it introduces babies to new food, texture, and tastes. This is when your little munchkin will start to eat semi-solid food.

Dad is spoon feeding his infant daughter rice cereal as a substitute for baby formula

Although you can start with semi-solid food, breastmilk or formula is a significant source of nutrition.

Finding alternatives to a formula is needed to support your baby’s growth if you can’t provide breast milk.

During this dire time, you can switch to cow’s milk as an alternative for the formula, but only for short-term use. You could feed your little one cow’s milk for a week or two but not more.

This milk isn’t proven to be ideal for them as it needs to contain more iron. Feeding cow’s milk to your baby for the long term might lead to anemia.

In the meantime, while you’re feeding cow’s milk to your baby older than 6 months, be sure to provide iron through other means, such as iron-containing solid foods and baby food made with meat or iron-fortified cereals.

Alternatives to baby formula for toddlers

After turning one year old, your toddler is at a good age where you won’t have to struggle as much, even if you’re facing a formula shortage and need good alternatives.

At this stage, your little one needs more than just milk, so feeding them semi-solid or solid foods is a good source of nutrition.

Although AAP recommends feeding cow’s milk as it’s rich in protein, fat, and other vitamins and minerals such as calcium, vitamin D, and B12, it’s fine if you can’t follow through with it.

Sometimes babies are allergic to cow’s milk, and other times parents want to use plant-based milk as a substitute. Pediatric experts recommend unsweetened, fortified soymilk as the only plant-based milk alternative.

Following are the formula alternatives for toddlers:

Whole cow’s milk

For kids over 1 year of age, whole cow’s milk can support their growth and development when accompanied by solid food.

A big sister is pouring some cows milk for her baby brother to drink from a straw

Containing a good source of calcium, protein, fat, phosphorus, Vitamin A, and Vitamin D, this is something you can opt for without issue if your baby isn’t allergic to it.

Soy milk

Pediatricians recommend soymilk as an excellent plant-based milk source, and parents whose babies have an allergy to cow’s milk tend to rely on it.

Soy milk provides your kid with a good source of calories and protein, and unsweetened soy milk has calcium and Vitamin D.

What are formula alternatives for a baby?

Running out of formula is difficult for any parent, and the younger the baby, the more problematic it is to find a good formula source for their age.

If the little one is at a toddler stage, it’s a bit easier to supplement them with food, but for infants and newborns, anything other than formula is not such a good idea.

If you run out of formula, you can give oral rehydration solutions such as Pedialyte, Enfalyte, or a store brand for a couple of days.

Kids who are older than 6 months of age can feed on pureed foods. If your baby is over one year old, you can supplement their diet with food and water.

But many parents are concerned about providing milk in any form. So they look for different versions of it. But not all of them are nutritionally good for your baby.

Here’s what each different version entails:

Rice milk

Rice milk isn’t good for the growing toddler because it’s lower in protein, fat, calories, vitamin, and minerals than other dairy alternatives.

It’s high in sugar, so choose an unsweetened version fortified with calcium and Vitamin D. Parents chose rice milk only because their kid could be allergic or sensitive to both cow’s milk and formula.

Almond milk

Although low in protein, almond milk has more fat on average. It can be used as a substitute, but only for a short time. Only use it if it’s fortified to get a good source of calcium.

Kids need calcium, and formula or breastmilk is an excellent source of filling this need. Insufficient calcium intake could lead to low bone mass, osteoporosis, and bone fracture later in life.

Go for a brand that’s fortified with calcium and avoid those which are sweetened with sugar.

Hemp milk

This milk is said to have a good amount of essential vitamins and nutrients.

Toddlers with dairy intolerance or allergy can benefit from hemp milk as it contains protein and a low-calorie count.

This milk is suitable for families who adopt a plant-based diet, but remember it can’t be considered a sole source of complete nutrition; hence, it’s only good for toddlers and not babies under one-year-old.

Goat’s milk

Goat milk can be introduced to your baby after they turn a year old, and it doesn’t contain a complete source of nutrition for infants, and according to AAP, it should be avoided.

Feeding goat milk could lead to severe health and developmental consequences as an alternative to cow’s milk or formula.

Pure goat’s milk tends to have slightly more protein and fat than cow’s milk, and it also contains more calcium, potassium, vitamin A, and copper, with other vitamins and minerals.

It has less lactose, and kids with cow’s milk sensitivities can benefit from drinking goat milk.

Coconut milk

As always, nothing compares to breastmilk or formula for infants and newborns under one year, as it can lead to various deficiencies.

A baby boy is happily sitting down and drinking coconut water from a straw

Even coconut milk isn’t a valid substitute for them but for toddlers who have turned a year old could drink coconut milk but in moderate quantity.

Hemp and soy milk are much better alternatives to the formula than coconut milk.

The canned container would be high in saturated fat. The commercial brands would be more diluted with water, and if you go on to make your own milk, it wouldn’t be fortified with vitamins and minerals.

Oat milk

You can introduce oat milk to your toddler once they turn a year old. It’s a good source of fiber and promotes digestion, and prevents obesity.

But it’s low in fats and protein, so it’s not a suitable replacement. If you’re choosing to feed oat milk to your toddler, it should be a fortified and unsweetened version.


Which milk is closest to formula?

If you can’t find formula anywhere due to supply chain issues, you can feed cow’s milk as it’s the closest alternative to formula. But only if you have a toddler over one-year-old.

You can also give soy milk if your child is allergic to cow’s milk.

When can I give goat milk to my baby?

Giving goat milk to a baby who hasn’t turned a year old is not recommended. If you wish to feed goat’s milk, then find a formula-based version and only feed it to your toddler above one year old.

Why is homemade baby formula dangerous?

Making homemade baby formula could seem like a good alternative. Still, it may lead to the risk of contamination, causing infections, or may even cause serious problems with high or low levels of minerals like calcium or electrolytes such as sodium.

The FDA doesn’t recommend parents and caregivers make their formula.

What to do about specialized formula shortage?

If your baby only feeds on specialty formulas, it could be difficult to switch to another formula.

Since this suits your little one best, it’s essential to talk to your pediatrician at such a tricky time.

They could submit an urgent request for a specialized formula to Abbott Nutrition, which is releasing some specialty and low-iron formulas on a case-by-case basis. 

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As a writer for 1happykiddo, Saumya wants to help new parents and older siblings help raise the newest member added to the family. Her parenting tips come from her experience of being 15 years older than her youngest sibling. When not writing, you can find her reading novels, traveling, and cooking nutritious meals.

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