Hungry baby formula may seem like the answer to your prayers after constant feeding, a regularly waking baby, or a growth spurt.
But what exactly is hungry – or hungrier – baby formula? How should you use it? Can it cause tummy problems, or increase the risk of your baby becoming overweight?
What is hungry baby formula?
Milks that say they are for ‘hungrier babies’ are based on the curd of cow’s milk, rather than the whey, and take babies longer to digest than first milks.
Although the proportions of macronutrients such as fat, protein and carbs are the same as regular formula, more of the protein is present as ‘casein’ (20:80) compared to first milks which have a whey: casein ratio of about 60:40.
Examples of hungry baby formula include:
- Aptamil Hungry Infant Milk
- Cow & Gate Infant Milk for Hungrier Babies
- SMA Extra Hungry Infant Milk For Hungrier Babies
- HiPP Organic 2 Combiotic Hungry Infant Milk
Why use hungry baby formula?
Health Visitor Jane Self has 35 years’ experience helping families with feeding and says it is important to recognise that “some babies are better on hungry baby milk and others are not”.
“Sometimes babies have been settled on first stage milk, going about 3 to 4 hours between the beginning of one feed and the beginning of the next, and then start to need milk much more frequently, say, 2-hourly,” she explains.
While some mums choose to start weaning if their baby is older than 4 months, current NHS advice is to wait until 6 months before weaning, so an alternative is to give hungrier baby formula.
Not everyone is convinced about how useful hungry baby formula is, though. Our favourite GP, Dr Philippa Kaye, told MadeForMums:
“There is not any evidence that babies sleep longer or are more settled when using the milks targeted at ‘hungry babies’…. anecdotally there may be, but I am forever saying that the plural of anecdote is not evidence and the evidence base is where doctors advise from.
“The hungry formulas contain more casein than whey and caseine is more difficult to digest, they are suitable for use from birth but it is advised that you speak to your health visitor or doctor first. I would tend to recommend that if your baby is hungry that they have more of breast milk or a first type formula milk.
“You can mix breast and bottle feeding, combination feeding, even if you are using a hungry baby milk.
“I think it is important to remember that not all baby crying is related to hunger, even if they suck and take milk, they may be taking for comfort rather than hunger.”
At what age can hungry baby formula be used?
This is a question that elicited a mixed response as, while hungry baby milks are sold as being suitable for use from birth, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust’s guide to infant formula says that the higher casein levels mean they are not ideal for very young babies.
The milks are regulated under the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula (England) Regulations 2007, but a Department of Health spokesperson told MadeForMums it did not recommend their use for newborns and very young babies.
“We encourage breastfeeding for around the first 6 months of life because of the health benefits to mothers and babies, however, we recognise that not all mothers choose to, or are able to breastfeed,” he said.
Meanwhile, health visitor Jane advises: “In the UK it is quite acceptable to use these milks from newborn [but] it is more usual to start a baby on either breast milk or a first stage milk as these are considered easier for a new baby to digest.”
She adds that they would normally be used from about 4 months if a baby starts feeding frequently, at 2-hour intervals, but are not ready to be weaned as current advice is to start solid foods at 6 months.
However, many MadeForMumers say changing to hungry baby formula was a decision that worked for them.
Caroline explains: “We went onto hungry baby milk at 5 weeks and Bronwyn was feeding every 2 hours or so at that point. It was the best thing I could have done!!!”
Fellow MFMer DawnG agrees: “Cameron also went onto hungry baby milk at around 6wks as he was feeding every 2hrs day and night. My health visitor was against it and told me it was perfectly normal for him to be feeding so frequently, but for my own sanity I changed the milk and didn’t regret it one bit.”
Hungry baby formula at night
Many mums choose to use hungry baby formulas to help tackle sleep deprivation when feeding hits the 2-hourly pattern that Jane highlighted.
“There is no reason why a hungry baby formula milk should not be used day and night,” she says.
The key is to ensure they are being fed regularly enough, and are still gaining weight.
Officially, there is no evidence to show that babies sleep longer when given hungry baby formulas, but anecdotal reports show it may be helpful.
MadeForMumer Laura reveals: “Switched Jack to hungry baby Aptamil 4/5wks it changed everything he was so much more content sleeping 12 hours a night from 6 weeks.”
Can hungry baby formula cause tummy trouble?
Colic, reflux, and constipation are all concerns whenever you try your baby on a new feed, but Jane advises not being overly anxious.
“My experience is that constipation does sometimes occur in very young babies on hungry baby milk,” she reveals. However, she notes that she has not come across it causing other tummy problems or colic, but points out that very young babies might be better off on first-stage milk.
However, one MadeForMumer, Lucy, tried her son on hungry baby formula, but wasn’t happy with the effects on his tummy.
“We changed Ben onto hungrier babies milk, but he ended up having nasty colicky tummy ache on it and wasn’t very happy, so we changed him back to the normal formula and just fed a bit more frequently… Eventually we ended up weaning him a bit earlier than usual,” she says.
Can hungry baby formula increase the risk of baby becoming overweight?
According to Jane, unless the baby is given more hungry baby formula milk than they were having of regular baby milk there is no reason why they should become overweight.
In fact, she explains many babies take a smaller quantity of hungry baby formula, as they are satisfied more quickly with it.
However, research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in March 2014 has found that lower intakes of protein in the first year of a baby’s life can reduce the risk of childhood obesity.
What is the best way to switch to hungry baby milk?
A gradual switchover is recommended, and Jane advises the following timetable:
- Day 1 – change 1 bottle from first stage to hungry baby formula
- Day 4 – change the next feed to hungry baby formula, so baby now has 2 bottles of hungry baby milk
- Day 7 – change another feed to hungry baby formula, if required
- Day 10 – repeat, if required
“This allows the baby’s digestion system to get used to a different milk gradually,” explains Jane. “I would suggest giving up to the same quantity as the baby was taking of first milk but not to be concerned if they take slightly less.”
Can hungry baby milk be used to top up breastfeeding?
Regular first milk is more similar to breast milk in terms of composition, so a more obvious choice for topping up, but Jane says there is no reason not to do so if the baby tends to be very hungry.
Mixed feeding was the method of choice for one mum, who found it helpful to able to take a break.
“I breastfed my baby, and bottle-fed both expressed milk and formula, It really helped as my husband fed her at night feed and we also gave her hungry baby milk before bed which helped her sleep through the night.”
Can mums switch between hungry baby formula and regular formula?
Chopping and changing is not a good idea, as it can lead to more agitation.
But, if you have tried hungry baby formula, and it hasn’t agreed with your baby, then “no harm will come over going back to regular formula,” reassures Jane.
“It is important not to keep changing as the baby’s system then finds it difficult and baby is likely to be unsettled,” she adds.
About the expert: Dr Philippa Kaye, a mum of 3, serves as a GP in both NHS and private practise. She attended Downing College, Cambridge, then took medical studies at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London.
She has trained in paediatrics, gynaecology, care of the elderly and acute medicine, psychiatry and general practise.
Dr Philippa has also written a number of books on topics including pregnancy, baby and child health, diabetes in childhood and adolescence and more. She has advised MadeForMums on numerous child health-related topics over the past 4 years. Read Dr Philippa’s full profile