Our Formula Feeding Journey + Favorites

Feeding your baby sounds like one of the easiest, most natural things a mother can do.  In fact, it's probably one of the things I researched the least while I was pregnant.

However, there was always a lingering fear in the back of my mind about whether or not I would be able to breastfeed.  But I kept writing it off as yet another moment of pregnant overthinking and anxiety.  Dathan took it upon himself to research the best of the best formula options *just in case* to ease my mind (well, both of ours), so we had a "plan B".  I quietly ordered a few boxes, just to feel completely satisfied.

Fast forward to Hudson's birth, he was absolutely perfect.  8 lbs 6 oz, 21.5" long, a beautiful head of golden brown hair, the biggest blue eyes.  I fought through induction and HARD labor with no meds and I felt like I was hit by 3 trucks then dragged home, but I was alive and FULL of sleepless life because of this perfect boy.  

Until there was no milk.  And I had a perfect baby who lost almost too much of his birthweight to be discharged.  And then he didn't pee, because he was getting no milk.  I did the "baby to breast", pump, rinse, repeat cycle for what seemed like a million years (but ended up being around 6 to 8 weeks) and still, nothing but drops... on a good day.

It could have been a million things, but it didn't matter.  In my frantic, hormonal, mama bear postpartum mind:  it was me.  It was all my fault.  My son would have allergies, asthma, delayed milestones, ALL THE THINGS because I couldn't breastfeed.  My fears were coming true.

After an extra day in the hospital, appointments with lactation consultants, doing quite literally everything I could - we decided it was time to pull out the formula to get baby Hudson some nourishment, and I would keep up the exhausting "trying to produce any sort of milk myself" routine in the meantime.

In our sleepless stupor we fumbled with the foreign cardboard box (literally foreign - all in German) and googled "how to make Holle formula in English", then later "how to store formula", "how long is formula okay before you throw it out", "how many oz of formula for newborn", "best bottles for newborns", "how to use Avent bottle warmer", "does water really have to be boiled for formula", "how to sterilize baby bottles", etc. etc. etc.

Google and online shopping were my best friends (besides my husband who was an ANGEL to me every minute, even when I was acting totally crazy).

One night I purchased around $300 worth of bottle parts, milk supply supplements, and random unneeded baby items from Amazon because it was 3 A.M. and I was crying because I was pumping air, and I hadn't slept for days.  Then all of the boxes showed up on my porch the next day (thanks Amazon Prime) and I returned most of it.  It was a weird time, and I'm SURE at least one of you out there can relate!


Whether it's from your own body, and ALL of the thought and troubleshooting and restricting your diet and waking up to feed baby all through the night on demand and treating cracked/sore nipples and LOVE that goes into that...

OR it's from a box of pre-made formula that you did the best you could to choose and buy and mix and measure and store and wonder about and feel judged about.  UGH.  

I could go on and on.  But my point:  if you are in ANY stage of feeding your baby, and it is hard, you are the furthest from alone.  The role of motherhood is quite literally the hardest yet most rewarding.

It is amazing, but it is hard and it is beautiful and it is weird.  And it seems to open you up to so much freely spoken judgment that is so unwelcome at your most vulnerable moments.

TRUST YOUR GUT!  Do what works for YOU and your family, and let no one else's voice matter.

As I write this, Hudson is 6 months old, at the 99th percentile for height, weight, and head circumference, and quite literally thriving.  He's healthy, happy, crawling, sitting up, chasing after the kitty on all fours, laughing with his two bottom teeth, sleeping through the night, stomping, and splashing through every bath.  HE IS AN ANGEL, and despite our bumpy feeding start - we made it, and everything is completely "okay".  :)

Now more on formula... what we chose, why, how, everything.  So that you won't have to fumble in German at 3 A.M. on Amazon with a hungry baby and confusion.  Well, maybe you still will.  But maybe this will help.

*PS:  I am not a pediatrician.  I'm an SLP, a blogger, a mom... who figured it out as I went with a little research beforehand.  Talk to your own trusted people and make your best decisions, take this for what it's worth.

What We Looked For
  • Organic Ingredients
  • No Soy (adverse effects on estrogen levels in both boys and girls, often GMO, toxins used for production)
  • No Corn (in the forms of corn syrup solids, high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin;  organic maltodextrin can be done well but is still linked to lower nutrient absorption so we wanted to avoid it)
  • No Processed Sweeteners
  • No Added DHA or ARA (these are GOOD things for brain/eye development, but in the U.S. are typically extracted from their source using a "hexane" method, which is an ingredient also used as a solvent for things like rubber cement, paint, and glue.  It's heavily linked to problems with the central nervous system and is something we wanted to avoid/source separate from formula)
  • No Lutein, Lycopene, Nucleotides, Taurine, L-Carnitine (due primarily to production & extraction methods with neuro-toxic and/or cancer-causing concerns)

Why We Avoided U.S. Brands

The U.S. is far behind in many of its recommendations and mandates for nutrition.  Their standards are low, especially in comparison to the EU.  Currently, the FDA mandates certain nutrients in formula that can ONLY be created synthetically.  These are ingredients that are not even LEGAL in Europe due to their associated health risks, yet are required here.  

In short, I don't trust the standards for baby formula in the U.S., and am grateful that I can get my hands on better so quickly & easily.  We wanted the best we could get for Hudson's important early days & months, so off to Europe we went!

Note on cost:  I've been asked "is it worth it" to pay more for higher quality.  1000x Yes!  It's like paying more for organic, grass fed, free range, antibiotic/hormone free, etc. foods for ourselves.  Totally worth it.  But when it comes to a brand new baby starting from scratch, building & growing every tissue in its body?  SO MUCH YES.

I've been asked for cheaper alternatives, I don't know of any!  I have heard that you can purchase European brands in bulk directly from websites "across the pond" and save money (but pay for shipping), but I haven't done it myself.  If you have, I'd love for you to tell us more in the comments!

What We Chose

  • Organic
  • Soy Free
  • Corn Free (not even Maltodextrin; they use Lactose instead which is naturally occurring in milk; this is also the only ingredient that sets it apart from their original "Holle Stage 1" formula)
  • No Processed Sweeteners (just Lactose, which is naturally occurring in milk)
  • Simple Ingredients (no added pre/probiotics or DHA/ARA ... refer to my supplements section for how/why we make up for this!)
    • Demeter Biodynamic Certified (a super strict farming standard that few brands meet; one step beyond "Bioland Certified" including complete prohibition of pesticides/fertilizers, stricter animal welfare standards, animals fed only with feed from other Demeter farms to completely eliminate added chemicals or hormones)

Links to the labels in English HERE.

***Check out this article HERE which has a great chart comparing popular European brands & what sets them apart.  Lots of options depending on what you are looking for, but Holle ticked all of the boxes for us!

Runners Up:

  • Holle Stage 1
    • only drawback was Maltodextrin used as carbohydrate vs. Lactose in PRE
  • Lebenswert
    • really similar to Holle, but "Bioland Certified" vs. Demeter which is one step above
  • Hipp 
    • we wanted to source our own probiotic & DHA for the best production method and quality; also NOT Demeter OR Bioland Certified, just organic

NOTE:  We'll stick with PRE as long as Hudson is drinking formula.  The main difference between PRE & Stage 2 and beyond is the addition of starch to keep babies fuller longer as they get older and more active.  We would rather make up for that difference in energy needs with nutrient-dense whole foods than formula bulked up with starch, so we're going to stick with PRE and add in solids.

What About Dairy-Free?

Holle makes a goat's milk version that we actually tested out for Hudson for a few weeks (he was dealing with some patches of eczema, and we wanted to see if a change in his diet made a difference).

We didn't have a good experience.  It smelled a little funky (we're just not used to goat's milk), Hudson wasn't into the taste, and he was constipated.  TMI?  Probably, haha.  But this was just our experience!  I know MANY moms and friends of mine who have had great luck with this as an option for their babies.

We personally wanted to keep high quality cow's milk in Hudson's diet as long as he did well with it (as opposed to other formula options).  And it turned out the eczema was not diet related, so we're back on the Holle PRE train and happy about it!

If your babe is dairy free for whatever reason, definitely worth a try!  It gets great reviews.  Read more about the goat version as an alternative to hypoallergenic formulas in this article.

Where We Buy

We have had great luck with the cost (check out the bulk pricing options), ease, and shipping speed (SO fast with their free shipping) from OrganicStart.com.  They bulk import formula from Europe to their American marketplace, where they ship out from warehouses in New York and Las Vegas (yes, these are the things I research, haha) - so they ship fast.  We typically get ours within 2 to 3 days of placing an order, with the free shipping option.

We shopped this site once when the goat formula was sold out with Organic Start and had an equally good experience.  No complaints!  I would go with whichever site has better pricing for the particular formula you're looking at, and maybe check which has a warehouse closer to you so it spends less time in transit.

How Much Formula?

I cannot tell you how many times I googled this and all but demanded this answer from our lactation consultant & pediatrician.  They kept telling me to "go off baby's hunger cues" and number of wet/soiled diapers (which I did ultimately find to be most true) but it did not satisfy my Type-A rule following needs in the moment.

After much digging, the best recommendation I found was to aim for 2 to 2.5 x the baby's bodyweight in pounds during the first 4 months.  

So, for example, if he weighed 11 lbs, I would aim to offer 22 to 27.5 oz total in a 24 hour period.

This gave me something to go off of, which really helped me mentally.  From there, I relied on Hudson's cues and he definitely let us know when he wanted more or less!

In terms of the number of ounces per bottle, I found that this will totally differ based on your individual baby's size, sleep patterns, mood, etc.  There are so many variables.  We kept in mind that Hudson is a large baby - in the 99th percentile in all areas of growth.  So he has always  been eating more in line with what a typical baby of his size would be eating (even if a bit older)... I hope that makes sense!

It's definitely trial & error.  Spitting up easily right after eating = maybe too much.  Hungry really soon after or not sleeping decent stretches for their age = maybe not enough.  

Following his cues ended up being our best bet, then watching his patterns on our feeding tracker app and following his lead to create a flexible "schedule".

Bottles & Cleaning

We started with Avent Anti-Colic Bottles and started with a slower flow nipple then worked our way up until he was eating efficiently, but not TOO fast.  It took some trial & error!

Once we found a good nipple size for Hudson and he started drinking more at a time (closer to 4-6 oz), we upgraded to a set of 6 large glass bottles.  We love the glass, and they wash up really well.

For daily cleaning, we use our regular dish soap that we keep by the kitchen sink in a hands-free dispenser.  We put the bottles & nipples in the dishwasher on a hot cycle (using these fragrance free dishwasher detergent pods) a couple of times per week.

I bought this bottle sterilizer but feel like the hot dishwasher works just as well, so we haven't used it much.

We're able to reach into his bottles easily because of the wider opening of the ones we have, but this bottle brush does come in handy!  It has a large brush on one end, smaller detail brush on the other for getting into small areas.

We use this drying rack to dry/store his bottles and love it.  It's large enough to dry bottles and toys, but still fits in the dishwasher when we want to clean it.

How We Prepare It

Ready for my favorite baby purchase OF ALL?  The BabyBrezza.  I get asked about this thing all of the time.  I wish this post was sponsored by them, and I was getting a free machine and all sorts of cash money for talking about it, but I'm not.  I just LOVE IT and I swear it saved our lives.  

We made it a couple of short weeks mixing/heating/storing/being confused by formula, and then we bought this as a Christmas present for ourselves.  LIVES CHANGED FOREVER.

It measures and dispenses formula, mixes it with perfectly heated water.  It's basically a Keurig for baby, and it is wonderful.

A few tips:
  • Make sure you adjust the settings to the exact brand/type of formula you are using, then it will mix the correct amount.
  • Give it a light shake before serving to make sure it's completely smooth/mixed thoroughly (just a shake or two holding your finger over the top will do)
  • The machine will beep when it's time to wipe down the opening of the powder dispenser, every 4 bottles or so (this is super easy)
  • Give the machine a deep clean every month, before adding a new package of formula (just wash with hot soapy water and dry, also very easy)

When we're on the go, we just bring bottled water and mix using the scooper that comes in the package, and he takes it at room temp.


Depending on which formula you choose, you might want to add some supplements.  With Holle PRE's super simple ingredients list, we wanted to add two things:  a probiotic and DHA.

I like having these separate from the formula itself, because we can be choosy with our source, change them up if we want to try something new, and adjust how much we are adding.

Right now we are using (and happy with):

If you have questions, comments, advice to share, please leave them in the comments below!  I would love to hear about your experiences with formula feeding (or not!) and what has worked for you.

I hope this helps, in any small way!
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Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info! How long does one bag of formula typically last?

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for this post. Very informative. I am 13 weeks today and haven't really started researching feeding options, but will definitely come back to this a little later on as we start to make those decisions. I really appreciate your honesty and willingness to share as I know this is such a personal journey for every mom and baby, so thank you for helping us soon to be, first time mom's. I love all your content, but definitely plan to go back to all the pregnancy/baby posts throughout my pregnancy!

Jessie B said...

Of course!! It will depend how much your baby eats but I believe one box makes 90 oz of formula- so however long it takes your baby to drink that much!

Bethany said...

Loved your post! I’m wondering if you would be willing to share what was causing Hudson’s eczema? My 3 month old just had some show up and I am really hoping it’s not diet related! I feel overwhelmed by the number of possibilities of what it could be. Any info would be appreciated!!

Jessie B said...

@Unknown - your comment means the world! SO happy it can help / be a resource if you end up needing it. CONGRATS on your pregnancy!!!

@Bethany - I felt the same way - sooo overwhelming trying to figure out what could be the trigger! His seemed to be pretty clearly related to the 4 month vaccines he got. Maybe a reaction to one of the preservatives, or some other ingredient. Patience was the biggest thing - it went away with time. But Tubby Todd All Over Cream, lukewarm/less frequent baths (with super gentle soap), lots of moisturizing throughout the day with coconut oil, and loose clothing / not letting him get overheated helped big time until it all went away!