Should I Use Stage 3 Formula Instead of Whole Milk?

You’ve made it through the first year of your baby’s life, and as the months passed by, so did the milestones. You’ve giggled at sweet toothless grins, washed endless loads of laundry, and recorded halting first steps. At last, it’s time to ditch the formula and make the move to whole milk. Right?

Maybe.

Stage 3 formulas built just for toddlers might provide the extra nutritional boost you’d like to incorporate into the foods in your baby’s diet. And although milk is the safe, traditional, physician-approved suggestion, Stage 3 formula is purpose-built for growing young toddlers. 

But what is Stage 3 formula all about – are the differences from whole milk so great that it will make a meaningful difference in your baby’s health? And does that mean you should use Stage 3 formula instead of milk?

What are the ingredients in Stage 3 formula?

The ingredients in all baby formulas – not only Stage 3 formulas – are regulated for safety and nutritional value. But as your baby grows and changes, so do his nutritional needs, and Stage 3 formula is created with these needs in mind. 

At Little Bundle, we carry a range of Stage 3 formulas from producers including HiPP, Holle, and Lebenswert. The ingredients and amounts between these brands of Stage 3 formula can vary, but in many cases, you’ll find:

Prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics and probiotics play essential roles in gut health, according to Harvard. Research continues to emerge, but what’s certain about what’s known is that prebiotics and probiotics play essential roles in gut health. Why does that matter? A healthy gut can boost your baby’s immune response. Cow’s milk does not contain prebiotics naturally, although yogurt is fortified with probiotics. 

ARA and DHA. You’ve probably heard the news that ARA and DHA, long chain fatty acids, are nutrients that help develop brain health and reduce inflammation, according to the National Institutes of Health. They’re considered so important to human development that in Europe, their inclusion in baby formulas is required. When you use Stage 3 formula, you’ll give your baby an added boost of these essential nutrients. Cow’s milk is not a natural source of DHA or ARA, although some suppliers add them – look at the label to see if they’ve been incorporated.   

Omega-6. This polyunsaturated fat is good for the heart and fights insulin resistance. Unlike its better-known cousin omega-3, omega-6 comes from plants. And since it comes from vegetable oils and other plant-based foods, omega-6 is not in cow’s milk.

Whey and lactose. Worried about missing the protein and healthy carbohydrates from milk? Don’t be. Some Stage 3 formulas contain both of these essential nutrients, helping your baby grow and fueling her energy reserves. Long story short, with Stage 3 formula, you’ll get the protein and carbs your baby needs.

When is Stage 3 formula better than whole milk?

Ultimately, that depends on your pediatrician’s recommendation and what you’re comfortable with as a parent. In an ideal environment, your baby – now a toddler – will naturally ingest essential nutrients by consuming a diet composed of a variety of healthy foods. But if you’re concerned that won’t happen (parents of picky eaters, we’re looking at you), Stage 3 formula can certainly help!   

Also, if you are concerned about your baby’s vitamin D levels, one benefit to continuing with a Stage 3 formula is that your child’s Vitamin D levels may improve while on a higher formula stage. Based on a study done by HiPP, children who continued on to drink a Stage 3 formula after 12 months of age had better Vitamin D levels compared to their counterparts who transitioned to whole milk. 

What foods include the nutrients in Stage 3 formula?

If you’d prefer to use cow’s milk then you can ensure your baby gets essential nutrients by including certain foods as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Fiber and healthy bacteria. Foods high in fiber are a fantastic source of prebiotics. Bananas – a favorite of babies everywhere – have tons of prebiotic fiber! And probiotics, a healthy type of bacteria, are often added to products like yogurt, another toddler favorite. The point is, you don’t have to rely on Stage 3 formula or enriched milk to give your baby the fiber and healthy bacteria they need.

Long chain fatty acids. ARA and DHA are the long chain fatty acids naturally found in breastmilk and supplemented baby formulas that support neurological development. Fish and eggs also contain ARA and DHA, but make sure you check with your pediatrician on the appropriate time to introduce these foods. 

Polyunsaturated fat. Vegetable oils, nuts, eggs, peanut butter, and meats – including chicken and fish – contain the unsaturated fat omega-6. Again, use caution when including these in your baby’s diet plan. Foods like peanut butter, for example, are best introduced at older ages to limit the chance of developing a life-threatening food allergy, according to Healthline. Your pediatrician can advise you on the types and best times to introduce polyunsaturated fats.

Whey and lactose. In addition to milk, cheese and yogurt contain copious amounts of dietary protein and carbohydrates. They’re also baby-friendly snacks. Just be mindful of foods with added sugar (like sweetened yogurt) that can harm new teeth and influence taste preferences for years to come.

Should I use Stage 3 formula instead of milk?

If you’re looking for nutritional certainty and your baby enjoys formula, using Stage 3 formula is a good idea. Keep in mind that formula isn’t a substitute for a diet composed of a variety of healthy fruits, vegetables, and proteins. And since your baby – now a toddler – will want to eat solids anyway, this won’t be a challenge, since they’ll probably be grabbing bites from your dinner plate.

If your toddler is an adventurous eater, Stage 3 formula may not be necessary. Listen carefully to your pediatrician’s nutrition advice and your toddler will grow and develop before your very eyes.

Overall, Stage 3 has more nutrients than whole milk and other milk alternatives (almond milk, coconut milk etc). However, since it is considered a "weaning" formula, it is not as micro and macronutrient dense as Stage 2 formula. Thus, Stage 3 compliments your baby's diet instead of replacing the nutrients your baby would be getting from solid food. 

If you’re looking for more details on the European Stage 3 formulas that we carry, check out our Toddler Formula Guide for more information. 

We're here to help.

Still feeling a little unsure? Use our live chat or send us a message. Our Customer Success team of Infant Nutrition Technicians have a top priority to help you provide the best nutrition for your little one.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published