Alternative Formulas for Babies With Allergies

While breastfeeding is seen as the best choice for your baby’s nutrition by many health professionals, including those at the American Academy of Pediatrics, there might be a situation where breastfeeding your baby is not possible. When breast milk as the primary nutrition is not an option, you will need to use formula to feed your baby. For some infants, regular, milk-based formula results in an allergic reaction that might make your baby irritable and fussy. As a parent, you have some alternative formulas available to you to provide nutrition without the discomfort.

Soy Formula

Soy formula is often the first thing that you might research when deciding on an alternative to milk-based formula. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, soy milk formula should not be the first choice for infants with a milk allergy 4. The AAP suggests that 10 to 14 percent of babies with milk allergy will also have an allergic reaction to soy-based formula. The AAP recommends the use of soy formula as an alternative to milk-based formula if you are against introducing your baby to animal proteins; if your baby has a doctor’s diagnosis of lactose intolerance -- quite rare in infants; or if your baby has a diagnosis of congenital galactosemia -- an intolerance to galactose, sugar in both animal and human milk; if untreated this can lead to organ failure and death 7.

Extensively Hydrolyzed Formula

The AAP advises that extensively hydrolyzed formulas can reduce the allergic reaction in up to 90 percent of babies allergic to milk-based formula. The process of making extensively hydrolyzed formula breaks down the protein chains -- the main ingredient a milk allergen baby reacts to -- in the milk into small pieces that can go undetected into your baby’s digestive system.

Partially Hydrolyzed Formula

Partially hydrolyzed formula also breaks down the protein chains in the milk, but in larger pieces than those in extensively hydrolyzed formulas. The AAP suggests that partially hydrolyzed formulas are helpful for infants who have a family history of milk or other allergies, but have not yet been introduced to a milk-based formula 4. Partially hydrolyzed formulas might also be helpful in preventing the development of atopic dermatitis -- an allergic skin reaction common in children with a family history of milk allergies, according to the Kids With Food Allergies website 4.

Amino-Acid Formulas

Amino-acid formulas take the breakdown of proteins one step further 5. These formulas are sometimes called “elemental” formulas and are often recommended for infants who are unable to tolerate the hydrolyzed formulas with broken down protein chains. Amino-acid formulas use individual amino acids that are hypoallergenic and well tolerated by infants who have milk or other food-based allergies, according to HealthPartners 56.


Before switching to an alternative formula, talk with your health care provider about the concerns you have with your baby drinking milk-based formula. Your health care provider might run tests to determine if there is a true milk allergy and make the recommendation for an alternative formula. Cost is another consideration; soy formula is the cheapest option, with milk-based formula with partially hydrolyzed formulas coming in second cheapest, though the cost difference is between the two is only a few dollars 6. Extensively hydrolyzed formula is more expensive with a cost difference of about $10 to $16 dollars higher than regular formula. Amino-acid formula is the most expensive; a 14-ounce can is about $20 more than a 25.7 ounce can of regular formula. Depending on your insurance coverage and the recommendation of your doctor, you may be able to have an amino-acid formula covered by your prescription coverage plan.