With the recent formula shortage, conversations around feeding options for babies are everywhere. Sorting through all the information and opinions can be daunting, especially when it comes to making a formula choice for your baby.
But the good news is that awareness about alternatives to the commonly used formulas is growing, and one of those alternatives is goat milk formula. Goat milk formula (not to be confused with fresh goat milk) is an option you may have heard about, but is it right for your family?
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Experts weigh in about what you need to know when using goat milk formula for babies.
Cow milk and goat milk formula have similar nutrition profiles
Cow milk may be popular in the U.S., but according to pediatrician and best-selling author Tanya Altmann, MD, FAAP, goat milk is consumed by more people around the world than cow milk due to its availability and traditional use as an easier-to-digest source of dairy protein.
Goat milk and cow milk-based formulas are similar in nutritional content, says Dr. Altmann, who’s on the advisory board for Aussie Bubs. A recent study comparing goat milk formula to breastmilk for newborns found it was safe, tolerated, and resulted in similar growth patterns to the babies receiving breast milk.
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The FDA only approves infant formulas that have met specific criteria for nutrition and safety, so all formulas on the market in the U.S. provide complete nutrition for babies. Goat and cow milk formula have similar amounts of fat, protein, carbohydrates and other nutrients to meet baby’s needs.
Goat milk formula has a slight advantage for iron and copper absorption, according to Dr. Altmann, which are essential for immune health. But overall, the two share similar nutrition profiles.
Goat milk may be easier for babies to digest than cow milk
Parents may choose to use goat milk formula for their baby for various reasons, from personal preference to health concerns. Dr. Altmann tells Motherly that goat milk formula has several health benefits, but a big one is that it could be easier to digest.
“Many parents report that goat milk is easier for their infants to digest, especially for little ones who may be fussy, gassy or have reflux.” She explains that the fat molecules found in goat milk are smaller and shorter, similar to breast milk, making them easier for a baby to break down.
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While the total protein content is similar to cow milk, the type of protein found in goat milk could play a role in its digestibility. “There are lower levels of lactose and casein in goat milk,” Dr. Altmann shares. Lower levels of these types of proteins could be part of the reason why some parents find their babies have less tummy trouble when drinking it.
Goat milk also contains prebiotic carbohydrates called oligosaccharides, also found in human breast milk, and can help support a healthy gut. Studies show that these oligosaccharides positively impact the growth of beneficial bacteria while making it harder for the not-so-friendly bacterial species to grow in your baby’s gut.
What to look for in an infant formula
No matter the type of formula you choose for your baby, Dr. Altmann recommends avoiding formulas with added sugars, corn syrup or GMOs whenever possible.
She also suggests looking for formulas that have been third-party tested for toxins or contaminants. “This evidence-based verification gives parents peace of mind in knowing that a formula provides nutrition free from heavy metals, pesticide residues and other chemicals and toxins.” Dr. Altmann suggests looking for the seal from the Clean Label Project, or other options include the USDA Organic label or the Non-GMO Project Verified seal.
Related: How to choose an organic baby formula
That said, with the ongoing formula shortage, you may have to be open to trying new brands or types of formula—whatever you can find that meets your baby’s needs—and that’s OK.
One thing to note: Goat milk formula could be a good option if your baby has digestion issues stemming from a dairy sensitivity, but, as Dr. Altmann shares, “If a baby is truly allergic to cow milk protein, they will also be allergic to goat milk protein.” Before making the switch, she recommends working with your pediatrician to be sure it’s the right call for your baby.
Here are a few of our favorite goat milk formulas of 2022
Dr. Tanya Altmann, MD, FAAP is the founder of Calabasas Pediatrics, best-selling author of What to Feed Your Baby and an Aussie Bubs™ brand ambassador. Find her at drtanya.com.
He T, Woudstra F, Panzer F, Haandrikman A, Verkade HJ, van Lee L. Goat Milk Based Infant Formula in Newborns: A Double-Blind Randomized Controlled Trial on Growth and Safety. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2022;75(2):215-220. doi:10.1097/MPG.0000000000003493
Leong A, Liu Z, Almshawit H, et al. Oligosaccharides in goats’ milk-based infant formula and their prebiotic and anti-infection properties. Br J Nutr. 2019;122(4):441-449. doi:10.1017/S000711451900134X
Stergiadis S, Nørskov NP, Purup S, Givens I, Lee MRF. Comparative Nutrient Profiling of Retail Goat and Cow Milk. Nutrients. 2019;11(10):2282. Published 2019 Sep 24. doi:10.3390/nu11102282