Soy formulas are derived from soy protein and can be used as a substitute for human (breast) and cow's milk-based formulas. Soy infant formula products are intended for babies under 12 months old. These products account for 12% of the formula market.
The use of soy-protein-based baby formula is popular with some parents because they believe that it can help relievegas, fussiness, or colic. However,switching baby formulasdoesn't usually relieve these symptoms. Experts say that parents shouldn't be quick to switch to soy formula over breast milk or cow's milk formula unless it is medically indicated.
Why It’s Used
In some cases, soy-based formula can be an optimal feeding choice for an infant. While soy formula has not been proven to help with things like fussiness or eczema, babies with certain health conditions may benefit from soy-based formula when breast milk is not available by circumstance or choice.
Soy formula may be a good choice for infants living in vegan or vegetarian families or for those with:
- Galactosemia, a condition in which an infant is unable to break down the sugar galactose
- Primary lactase deficiency, a rare hereditary condition in which a baby is born without the enzyme lactase, which is required to digest the sugar lactose
- Secondary lactase deficiency, a temporary lactose intolerance, usually caused by an infection that affects the gastrointestinal tract
- Families who are vegetarian or vegan
The vitamin D in soy formula is generally sourced from lanolin, so soy formulas aren’t purely vegan, but they are likely as close as you can get to a vegan or plant-based infant formula.
Choosing Lactose-Free Baby Formula
Types of Soy Formula
If your pediatrician thinks that soy formula is necessary for your baby, be assured that these products are just as good as other formulas and are readily available wherever baby formula is sold. All brands of formula are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and must meet strict nutrition and safety standards.
Soy baby formula options include:
- Enfamil ProSobee
- Similac Soy Isomil
- Gerber Good Start Soy
- Parent's Choice Soy (Walmart's store brand)
- Earth's Best Organic Soy Infant Formula
Tips for Switching
If you are thinking about making a switch to soy formula, be sure to discuss your plan with your child’s pediatrician first. They will be able to advise you about your specific circumstances.
If your doctor agrees with the need to switch your baby to soy formula, here are some things to keep in mind while you make the transition:
- Ask your baby's doctor whether you should make the transition all at once or if you should gradually introduce the new formula.
- Read the formula label: Be sure to measure and mix the formula accurately.
- Check to be sure that the new formula does not contain ingredients that your baby is sensitive or allergic to.
- Check the container for expiration dates.
While making the transition, watch your child closely for reactions to the new formula. Talk to your baby’s pediatrician if you notice digestive problems, rashes, or blood in your baby's stools or vomit, as these symptoms may indicate an allergy.
Choosing the Best Formula for Your Baby
Is Soy Formula Safe?
Soy milk formulas are approved by the FDA and contain the required nutrition for infants. There are, however, some specific concerns to keep in mind about soy formula.
Phytoestrogens (plant chemicals that resemble estrogen), especially those found in soy, may have estrogen-like activity in the human body. Some experts have raised concerns about the potential for phytoestrogens to affect things like sexual development and immune and thyroid function.
Some research has found a link between heavy menstrual bleeding and soy formula feeding in infancy. Other research suggests that menstruating people who were fed soy formula as infants may be more likely to experience more painful periods. Another study found altered vaginal cell DNA in those who were fed soy formula in infancy.
At the same time, the plant compounds found in soy may offer protection against heart disease and certain cancers. Research is ongoing as to the health implications of phytoestrogens on humans, especially infants.
Soy-protein formula contains a relatively high level of aluminum compared to breast milk and cow's milk-based formula. This exposure is not thought to be a problem for full-term infants but may lead to reduced bone mineralization in preterm babies, especially those with impaired renal function or renal failure. Healthy, full-term infants are not at substantial risk of aluminum overexposure from soy formula.
Soy Formula vs. Soy Milk
Soy formula and soy milk are entirely different products. Soy formula is made of soy protein and other ingredients specifically designed to meet an infant’s nutritional needs. Soy milk, on the other hand, is made of soybeans and filtered water. It does not contain the necessary ingredients to meet an infant’s nutritional needs and should never be used as a substitute for breast milk or formula for a baby younger than a year old.
For toddlers, soy milk is sometimes used as an alternate milk source. Whole milk is recommended for toddlers between 12 and 23 months of age because it contains the fat toddlers require for growth. It’s important to remember that soy milk does not have the equivalent amount of fat per serving as whole cow’s milk (4 grams of fat to cow’s milk’s 8 grams). If you do give your toddler a reduced-fat milk, such as soy milk, be sure to make up for that missed fat in other parts of your child's diet.
When to Avoid Soy Formula
Soy formula is not recommended unless a baby has a rare health condition or a family is strictly vegetarian or vegan. In addition, soy formula is not recommended for some specific situations.
Avoid soy baby formula for:
- Colic or fussiness, since the switch will likely not be helpful
- A cow's milk protein allergy, because many infants who have a cow's milk allergy are also allergic to soy proteins and would benefit more from drinking an extensivelyhydrolyzed proteinformula instead
- A high risk for food allergies, since soy is among the most common allergens
- Premature babies, since soy formula can lead to decreased bone mineralization, even when babies are given supplemental calcium
Unless there is a good reason to start your baby on soy formula, if you stop breastfeeding before your baby is 12 months old or need to supplement, it is best to start with a cow's milk-based formula rather than soy formula.
Health and Hype of the Latest Baby Formula Trends
A Word From Verywell
Unless your baby has a rare health condition or your family's diet is strictly plant-based, soy formula is generally not recommended. Infants with cow’s milk sensitivities or allergies may also have the same reactions to soy, in which case, hypoallergenic formulas are often a better alternative. If you are considering switching formulas, be sure to consult your baby’s pediatrician for guidance.
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.
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