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Finding the Right Hypoallergenic Formula When Your Baby Has Food Allergies

You want the best for your baby, but there are many reasons breastfeeding may not be the best option. The decision is only more complicated when your baby has a food intolerance or a food allergy. Your baby’s health and well-being are your top priority, so it’s important to know your options for supplementing breastfeeding or using all formula.

For parents whose infants have food allergies or protein intolerance, finding the right formula can seem daunting. You may find yourself scrutinizing labels trying to find the best fit to meet your little’s nutritional needs without activating their symptoms.


Thankfully, scientists have created hypoallergenic formulas that are safe for babies with various food intolerance and allergies. Your doctor can help, and so can our team of consultants. You can take steps toward a solution by doing some research on your own, too. Read on for a four-step guide to finding a formula that works for your family.

1. Know the Difference Between Hydrolyzed and Elemental Formula

Hydrolyzed Formula

‌Cow’s milk is one of the most common food allergies in infants. Milk proteins are present in most formulas. Hydrolyzed formulas are labeled as “hypoallergenic,” but these formulas still contain milk proteins. To reduce reactions in babies with food allergies, manufacturers of hydrolyzed formula break whey proteins and casein proteins into smaller pieces, making them easier to digest.

‌These types of formulas are either partially hydrolyzed or extensively hydrolyzed. In formulas that are extensively hydrolyzed, milk proteins are broken down into even smaller pieces, offering complete nutrition that is easier for babies to tolerate. About 90% of babies who are allergic to cow’s milk proteins can digest extensively hydrolyzed formula [1].

Elemental Formula

‌If you’ve tried hydrolyzed formula but your baby is still showing symptoms, you might consider an elemental formula, also known as an amino acid-based formula. In elemental formulas, all amino acids are 100% broken down.

Along with cow’s milk, allergies to other proteins also affect many infants. In an elemental formula, all proteins, protein equivalents, and fats are broken into simple building blocks. In essence, the formula is already partially digested for them.


An elemental formula can meet your baby’s nutritional needs even when they can’t digest milk proteins. Elemental formulas do not contain dairy. If your child has been diagnosed with a dairy allergy and cannot tolerate extensively hydrolyzed formula, an elemental formula is a good option.

Elemental formulas do have some drawbacks. Many of them smell bad, and your baby might not want to eat them. They can also cause smelly spit-up and bowel movements.

If your baby won’t eat their formula, try mixing it with their old formula and changing the ratio until they can tolerate the formula on its own. You can also try mixing it with a food you know is safe or try flavoring the formula.

These formulas tend to be more expensive than traditional formulas. In some cases, hypoallergenic formula is up to three times more expensive.


Any formula you try might include ingredients that aggravate your child’s food allergy, so make a list of ingredients and note the brands that cause a reaction to look for a common factor. ‌‌

2. Check the Formula Ingredients

Amino acid-based formula is more expensive, and some babies don’t like it. Try hydrolyzed formula first. Consider a formula made with goat’s milk rather than cow’s milk. A study published in 2017 indicated that goat’s milk may be easier for infants to digest than cow’s milk [2]. However, it is important to note that a majority of children who react to one will react to the other.

‌‌Children with severe protein allergies need amino acid-based formulas. There are several brands of hypoallergenic formulas you can try with your baby. Common ingredients include corn syrup solids, amino acids, sunflower or safflower oil, and triglycerides.

‌If your child has a soy allergy, you won’t have as many formula options, since many elemental or amino acid-based formulas contain small amounts of soy protein. Some children with cow’s milk allergies are also sensitive to soy, making it challenging to find a good substitution.

‌Try a rice milk formula, or look for the Neocate line of products. Neocate is a brand of formula that does not contain soy protein, and the formula is made in a dairy-free facility. If you’re concerned about additives and other ingredients, look for organic, non-GMO, corn-syrup-free options. Check your existing formula for DHA, iron, and other essential nutrients, and make sure your substitute formula has these ingredients as well. Alternatively, if your baby is reactive to corn you may have more success with Alimentum Ready-to-Feed which is corn free but does contain soy derivatives.

‌Once you’ve narrowed down your preferred list of ingredients, shop for different formulas and try feeding them to your baby. You might have trouble bottle feeding at first. ‌‌

3. Address Bottle Aversions