Topics » Family & Kids » Whole Food, Plant-Based Baby Formula: Alternatives When Breastfeeding Isn’t an Option
T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that mothers feed their babies only breast milk for the first six months and continue breastfeeding for up to two years while introducing a combination of nutritious solid foods.[1]

But not all mothers are able to breastfeed. Illness, previous breast surgery, and conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), hypothyroidism, or underdeveloped breasts can make it difficult to produce enough milk.[2] Some medications unsafe for babies can contaminate breast milk.[3] And not all employers provide sufficient maternity leave to allow for a full six months of breastfeeding.

If you’re unable to breastfeed for any reason but want to raise your baby on a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) diet, there are several options—including plant-based baby formula—that can provide a nutritionally complete diet for your baby.

Work with a doctor or lactation consultant

It’s not unusual for new mothers to have trouble breastfeeding. Before looking into breast milk alternatives, find out if you can correct the problems you’re facing. Many common issues can be overcome with help and education from your doctor, your baby’s pediatrician, or a trained lactation consultant.[4]

Since regular nursing gets your milk flowing, addressing these problems can also increase low milk supply. Eating a wide variety of healthy plant-based foods, including oatmeal, chickpeas, leafy greens, fennel, and almonds, will help to support lactation as you continue to breastfeed.[5]

Plant Based Baby Formula

Try a plant-based baby formula

If breastfeeding problems persist or you have a condition that makes breastfeeding difficult, you can try a baby formula made with plant-based ingredients.

This gets a little tricky if you’re looking for something WFPB. Most infant formulas contain processed sweeteners, isolated nutrients, and extracted proteins. That’s because the FDA’s standards for formulas are based on the specific combination of nutrients that babies need to thrive.[6] Fortification is necessary for formulas to meet these standards.

Currently, moms in the U.S. have one mostly whole-food option: Enfamil’s plant-based toddler formula, which is suitable for babies when they reach one year of age. If your baby is younger than one, discuss other plant-based formulas with his or her pediatrician. The formula you choose should contain:[7]

  • Vitamins A, D, E and K
  • B vitamins
  • Folate
  • Calcium
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Healthy fats
  • A carbohydrate source

Be aware that the vitamin D3 in many “plant-based” formulas is sourced from lanolin, a waxy substance that comes from sheep’s wool. Some formulas are also sweetened with brown rice syrup, which raises the concern of arsenic contamination.[8]

What about soy-based baby formulas?

Soy formula is a common choice for moms who don’t feed their babies cow’s milk, though there isn’t an absolute consensus among all health officials. Some research shows subtle developmental differences in babies fed soy-based formulas, but these differences don’t appear to cause any health problems in adulthood.[9],[10] Soy intolerance or allergy is another consideration: about 0.4% of infants in the U.S. are allergic to soy.[11]

Avoid homemade plant-based baby formula

Whatever you do, don’t turn to the internet for baby formula recipes. Breast milk contains a balance of over 30 nutrients, and it’s difficult—if not impossible—to match that balance in your kitchen.

Trying to make your own formula can pose serious risks to your baby:

  • A lack of nutrients can affect growth and development at a critical time.[13]
  • Excess nutrients may cause damage to developing organs.[14]
  • Homemade formulas may contain ingredients that can cause allergic reactions or digestive disturbances.
  • Some recipes include ingredients or supplements that are meant for adults.[15]

Plant-based milk is also an inadequate alternative. Even whole-food products lack many of the critical nutrients found in breast milk.[16]

Plant Based Baby Formula

Ask about donor milk from breast milk banks

In special cases, you may be able to get breast milk for your baby from a hospital or local milk bank. The Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) sets safety and sanitization guidelines for its member banks.[17] These include screening milk for illnesses, testing for bacteria, and pasteurizing to remove pathogens.[18] Pasteurization destroys some nutrients and immune compounds, but the milk remains nutritionally sound.

This option is usually reserved for babies with specific needs, such as preemies (babies born premature) , babies with formula allergies, or babies with compromised immune systems. If your baby meets these criteria, ask your doctor if you’re eligible to receive donated breast milk. Note that the FDA hasn’t set standards for milk banks and that HMBANA guidelines are voluntary, so you’ll need to do your research to verify that the proper procedures are followed. [19]

Your doctor and your baby’s pediatrician can help you make the best choice for a breast milk alternative that will start your baby off with all the nutrients necessary to build a strong foundation for lifelong health. If that means choosing a plant-based baby formula that’s a little less “whole food,” don’t worry. You’ll have plenty of time to introduce your baby to all the benefits of a WFPB diet as he or she grows.


  1. Wyckoff, Alyson Sulaski. “Updated AAP Guidance Recommends Longer Breastfeeding Due to Benefits.” American Academy of Pediatrics, June 27, 2022.
  2. Murray, Donna. “Why Some People Shouldn’t or Can’t Breastfeed.” Verywell Family. April 11, 2021.
  3. O’Connor, Amy. “Why You Might Not Be Able to Breastfeed.” What to Expect. July 13, 2022.
  4. Levine, Hallie. “Most Common Breastfeeding Problems and Solutions.” What to Expect. August 17, 2020.
  5. Murray, Donna. “11 Breastfeeding Superfoods to Increase Milk Supply.” Verywell Family. April 20, 2020.
  6. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Questions & Answers for Consumers Concerning Infant Formula.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  7. Watson, Stephanie. “Infant Nutrition: What To Feed Babies During the First 6 Months.” WebMD.
  8. Zander, Tully, and Erin Schenkenberger. “Best Vegan Baby Formula for Infants [100% Dairy-free].” Vegans First. July 20, 2022.
  9. “Babies Fed Soy-based Formula Have Changes in Reproductive System Tissues.” ScienceDaily. March 12, 2018.
  10. Petre, Alina. “Is Soy Formula Safe for Your Baby?” Healthline. February 25, 2020.
  11. “Soy.”
  12. “Is Homemade Baby Formula Safe? (for Parents) – Nemours KidsHealth.” KidsHealth. February 2021.
  13. Bertmann, Farryl, Caroline Glagola Dunn, Elizabeth F. F. Racine, and Sheila Fleischhacker. “Health Risks of Homemade Infant Formula.” EatRight. Accessed July 28, 2022.
  14. Pawlowski, A. “Homemade Vegan Baby Formula Puts Babies in the Hospital: What Parents Need to Know.” February 18, 2021.
  15. Starkman, Evan. “Homemade Baby Formula: Is It Safe?” WebMD.
  16. Wisner, Wendy. “Donating Breast Milk: Is It Safe? And How Does It Work?” Healthline. February 17, 2020.
  17. “Donor Breast Milk.” American Pregnancy Association. June 29, 2022.
  18. “Use of Donor Human Milk.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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