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Parenting

European baby Formula versus US baby formula— What are the similarities and differences?

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European-style baby formula has been trending in the U.S. for quite some time now. Although buying EU formulas is very popular in the US, the FDA has reminded parents here that purchasing EU formulas is actually illegal and unsafe. Luckily, the US now has our own products with many of the same features as European formulas. These include being organic and non-GMO. US made infant formulas are safe, legal and widely available to American parents.

Let’s deep dive together into European baby formula to see how it compares to other formulas on the market. Then we can talk about some of the closest European-style brands available here in the US.

European Baby Formula vs. American Baby Formula

It turns out that Europe does things a little differently!

Understanding the differences can help you save time making the right choice for your newborn. Organic and non-GMO are not EU requirements but are common-place since the EU farming industry is more densely organic in nature.

European Infant Formula

Like any baby formula, European formula is a breast milk alternative for newborns. 

Normal breast milk tastes sweet, so European formulas include yummy lactose derived primarily from cows. They also include animal-based milks to give your babies the protein they need. Europe was the first country to include goat milk in their formula, which is an alternative to cows’ milk.

Never fear—regulators are on the case to help keep your infant healthy. The European Union (EU) is known to have different, and sometimes more restrictive, guidelines than the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in America

For instance, there is a difference in opinion regarding how much iron should be added to formula. European guidelines recommend 1.7mg of iron for older infants, while American formulas recommend between 0.15mg and 3.30mg at any stage in a child’s infancy. 

American Infant Formula

While both European and American formulas are meant to supplement or substitute for breast milk in a baby’s diet, there are a few other key differences to note.

American formula are sometimes sweetened with plant-based ingredients such as corn syrup or sucrose. In Europe, formulas are mostly sweetened using animal-based components.

Several American baby formulas may include milk from other animals such as cows or goats as well to give your baby a great source of energy. Of course, lactose-free formula is always available for children with a lactose intolerance, such as soy formula.

Breastmilk

Many moms choose breast milk as breast milk is developed and sourced directly from the mother

There are natural nutrients present in breast milk, which can provide the infant with the energy, carbohydrates, and protein they need for development. Essential vitamins such as A, D, E, and K are also included.

Living cells, enzymes, and hormones that can’t be added to any type of formula are consistently present in breastmilk.    

One important ingredient that can only be found in breastmilk is leukocytes, which are a type of living cell that is transmitted from the mother to help her infant fight off infection. 

Regardless of whether you choose to breastfeed, formula feed, or combination feed your child, rest assured you’re making the best decision for you and your child’s nutrition.

Europe provides infant formula in stages

While most American formulas go the “one size fits all” route for infant formula, followed by toddler specific products, European baby formulas are categorized by your infant’s stage. These stages have been tailored to the EU regulations for each age group. These stages are based on nutritional development rather than age, although often they will align. They are designed to meet the dietary needs of your child as they grow and develop uniquely at their own pace. Each stage of formula has a specific balance of fats, proteins, vitamins, and carbohydrates that is best suited to each child’s current stage of development.

Why American parents wanted European infant formulas

In the recent past, many new parents were choosing to incorporate European formulas into their babies’ diets. This is because many include goat milk, probiotics, they’re free of GMOs, and often their primary sugar is lactose.

Because the EU regulations are more prescriptive on which ingredients can be used in food, European formulas include more organic and natural ingredients. 

For example, the EU requires docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA) to be added to their formulas, which many parents of formula-fed babies find exciting. Many American formulas also contain DHA, but this is voluntary in the U.S.

The levels of these ingredients are tailored to your infants’ different age groups. Best of all, there are very few preservatives added into the final formula, which can also help babies with sensitive digestive systems.

EU formulas utilize probiotics

Unlike most American formulas, European-style baby formulas contain prebiotics and probiotics that can help support a baby’s beneficial gut bacteria and help with digestion.

Bobbie’s European style infant formula:

Bobbie baby formula is the only EU style formula manufactured and sold in the US. Their recipe is inspired by EU nutritional requirements for infant formula. Like popular EU formulas, Bobbie uses lactose as the only source of carbohydrates, is organic and non-GMO, is easy to digest, and meets EU standards for DHA.

European style means that Bobbie uses premium organic ingredients—like pasture raised dairy—sourced from reputable suppliers, prioritizing local farms, family run businesses, and small batch operations in the U.S. wherever possible.

DHA in Bobbie baby formula:

DHA is required in the EU but not required in the US (It’s optional here).

Bobbie formula has added DHA and meets the EU required levels of DHA. DHA is an essential ingredient that helps with vital parts of infant development, such as the eyes and brain.

Iron in Bobbie baby formula:

Bobbie contains added iron at a level that meets the requirements for both the EU and the US range. 

Risks of importing and using European baby formula:

Since European formula is illegal in the US, EU formula can be seized and may not arrive as needed/timely.

Shipping issues: Since we don’t know how they’ll be shipped, they could be lost, damaged (dented cans are unusable) or could be kept in extreme temps which is not safe for baby formula. Temperature control is important for formula.

Recalls: Since people are not buying from a US company, if there is a recall, parents may never know about it. They are not registered with brands/websites that regularly sent recalls. This poses a serious risk for infants.

Language: Since these brands are not American, most often the formula labels are not in English. Plus they use other measuring/metric systems. If parents mis-read or mis-translate the cans, they could have the wrong formula or measure baby formula incorrectly leading to unsafe and potentially fatal feedings for babies (too much or too little powder vs water is unsafe).

EU formula vs US made formula

Now you know what differentiates European-style baby formula from the rest of the pack. As it stands, the European version can be a “sweet” option for new mothers and newborn babies.

When in doubt, talk to your pediatrician about which formulas are right for your baby. 

Sources:

Questions & Answers for Consumers Concerning Infant Formula | FDA

What’s in Breast Milk? | American Pregnancy Association

The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant's pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.
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The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant’s pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.

Meet the Author

Jenny Altman

Jenny is the head of content at Milk Drunk and a writer for all of her favorite wellness and mom sites including Well+Good, Peanut, Motherly and Scary Mommy. Mom to Luisa, she can be found talking bras and beauty with the moms at school and @IAmJennyAltman

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