European Baby Formula Stages Made Simple

By: Suzanne Renee' - October 09, 2023 - 9 Minute Read

Baby with Bottle of Milk | The Milky Box

Each family has a distinct approach to providing optimal nutrition for their infants. In cases where breastfeeding is not an option, baby formula can serve as an outstanding substitute. It is meticulously designed to meet infants' physical and cognitive needs, delivering a perfectly balanced combination of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and carbohydrates at every developmental phase.

European manufacturers and farmers recognize that the closer your little one’s bottle is to breast milk, the better it is for the baby. One of the thoughtful aspects of European baby formula is the division into different stages that emulate the natural transitions in mother's milk. This approach supports the baby's growth and development while providing appropriate nutrients at each stage.

What Are Formula Stages and What's Their Purpose?

To ensure balanced nutrition for infants and young children, the EU Commission has specific rules for infant formula, follow-on formula, and toddler products to maintain consistency across brands.

Three Phases of European Baby Formula | The Milky Box

Stages of European Baby Formula

The labeling of stages is standardized across European formula companies,although the wording may differ depending on the brand. The system, however, remains the same.

Families may see the stage numbers spelled out as first, second, third, or fourth on the can or box. Alternatively, they are more likely to come across a simplified version of labeling such as PRE, 1, 2, 3, or 4.

European Baby Formula Stages | The Milky Box

What are the Differences Between Stages?

Every stage of European baby formula is carefully crafted to provide the necessary nutrients that are typically found in mother's milk while also catering to the unique developmental needs of babies at various ages. These formulas are specifically designed to support a baby's growing body and brain and to help them reach important developmental milestones.

Some types of European baby formula are formulated to be used from birth onwards, while others are intended to be used alongside solid foods as a baby gets older. In addition to providing essential nutrients, these formulas also help to promote healthy digestion, immune function, and overall growth and development in babies.

Infant Formula

Early infant stages will be labeled PRE, stage 1, or first-milk. Nutrients are carefully thought out to support your little one from the first day. This stage serves as a viable supplement to a mother's milk supply when needed and can also be used as the sole source of nutrition for infants who are not breastfed.

Each European brand takes meticulous care to meet a baby's nutritional requirements, ensuring proper growth and development.

Stage PRE-Infant Formula

There is a common misconception that European Baby Formula Stage PRE stands for premature or preemie. In fact, it indicates a nutritional stage that is gentle on the digestive system of an immature, still developing newborn.

This stage is the gentlest of all and is suitable for babies from birth onwards. Unlike other stages, it does not contain starch and maltodextrin, making it easier to digest. Despite being easier on the digestive system, it still provides all the necessary nutrition that a newborn requires.

Stage 1 Infant Formula

From birth onwards, this stage of nutrition can serve as a supplement or a nutritionally complete alternative to breastfeeding, much like Stage PRE.

One of the key components of this stage is its primary protein source, which is usually derived from whey obtained from cow's milk or goat's milk. The reason behind selecting whey protein is because of its high digestibility and absorption rate, which minimizes inflammation and adverse reactions in newborns and infants.

This makes it an ideal protein source that helps support the healthy growth and development of the little ones.

Infant Formula | The Milky Box

The primary difference between Stage PRE and Stage 1 lies in their carbohydrate sources. Specifically, Stage PRE relies solely on organic lactose, whereas Stage 1 may include the addition of starch or maltodextrin. 

Follow On Formula

Follow-on formulas are recommended for infants in Europe starting at six months of age, in conjunction with the introduction of solid foods. These formulas differ from first infant milk in containing higher levels of iron, a critical nutrient for normal brain development and health. Some follow-on formula brands may also contain elevated levels of vitamin D, calcium, and protein.

As such, it is essential for parents to carefully evaluate the composition of the formula they choose to ensure that their infant receives the necessary nutrients for optimal growth.

Stage 2 Follow-On Formula

Follow-on formulas are specially designed with ingredients suitable for the introduction of solid nutrition. As the balance of ingredients changes during this stage, it allows for a varied diet and weaning. Therefore, it is not recommended for babies under six months of age.

Stage 2 formulas are similar to infant formula in terms of ingredients but with increased levels of iron and vitamin D. Additionally, some stage 2 formulas include starch and maltodextrin to create a richer and more satisfying texture.

Stage 2 Follow on Formula | The Milky Box

Stage 3 Follow-On Formula

From the age of ten months, this stage provides nutrition with a higher calorie count and more vitamins and minerals to support active little ones. It strikes a perfect balance of nutrients to complement a diverse solid food diet.

The age range for which follow-on formulas are intended varies depending on the European baby formula your family prefers. Some companies make these formulas for babies who are ten months old or older, while others opt for 12 months.

These formulas are designed to meet the increased energetic demands of growing older babies. Therefore, these formulas often contain higher energy, nutrients, and starch contents suitable for a more developed digestive system.

Stage 3 Follow on Formula | The Milky Box

Toddler Formula

As babies grow and develop, they move out of their first year and into a stage where they are transitioning to toddlerhood. At this point, their diet starts to include more solid foods, and they require more calories to support their growth and development. Toddler milk can help fill any nutritional gaps that may arise during this stage.

In addition to providing the necessary nutrients to support your growing child's needs, toddler milk can also help with the transition from breast milk or formula to whole milk. It's important to note that while whole milk is a suitable option for most toddlers, some may benefit from the additional nutrients and vitamins that are present in toddler milk.

Toddler Formula | The Milky Box

When Should I Change Formula Stages?

As your baby grows, their nutritional requirements change. Hence, it's essential to transition them to higher formula stages. However, moving to a new formula stage is more complex than by age.

It's crucial to keep an eye out for certain signs and observations that indicate it's time to introduce the next stage. These signs can include the baby's appetite, weight, overall health, and developmental milestones. By carefully monitoring these factors, parents can ensure that their baby is getting the right nutrition at the right time, and they can make a smooth transition to the next formula stage.

How to Choose Baby Formula?

The European Commission has established regulations for infant and follow-on formula to ensure that each stage is produced to meet the nutritional needs of babies under 12 months of age.

Without a doubt, infants will start with Infant Formulas before the six-month mark. These early stages are the best choice for providing your newborn with all the necessary energy, proteins, vitamins, and minerals.

If your baby is thriving and has no digestive issues after six months, switching to solid food is a personal decision.

Switching at 6 Months

After 6 months, families may choose the next stage. Follow-on formulas are specifically designed to complement solid food, which means they are not intended to be used as the sole source of nutrition. Families should wait until their baby is six months old before introducing follow-on formulas. At this point, the baby's digestive system is more mature and better equipped to handle these formulas.

These formulas contain added vitamins and minerals to support the baby's growth and development, but it is important to remember that they should only be used as part of a balanced diet that includes a variety of solid foods.

Why Should I Change Baby Formula Stages? 

Infant formula is formulated to mimic the nutritional complexity of breast milk. Breastmilk is a dynamic fluid, meaning its nutrient composition changes throughout lactation. As babies' metabolic needs change, breast milk provides the necessary nutrients to support their development. For instance, the protein content of breastmilk decreases as the baby grows, while the fat content increases to provide them with adequate calories.

On the other hand, baby formula has a static composition that doesn't change. Although formula manufacturers have tried to replicate breastmilk's nutritional profile, they cannot match its complexity. To address this, researchers have suggested that infant formulas should be designed to cater to the changing needs of babies as they grow older.

This staging concept would help improve the nutrition of formula-fed infants. For instance, the formula for newborns could contain a higher protein content to support their growth. In contrast, the procedure for older babies could have more iron and calcium to support their bone development. By doing so, formula-fed babies could receive the nutrients they need at different stages, just like breast-fed babies do.

Reasons to switch Baby Formula Stages | The Milky Box

European Baby Formula

Choosing the right formula for your baby can be a challenging task. Fortunately, European Baby Formula offers a wide range of options that cater to each stage of your baby's development. 

Whether your baby prefers goat milk, cow milk, or a vegan-based formula, you can find the perfect match that suits your family's lifestyle, digestive needs, and developmental requirements. With the European Baby Formula, you can know that your little one is getting the best nutrition for their growth and well-being.

The Milky Box looks forward to helping you find your baby's best formula and stage. Our nutritional experts are available and ready to serve your family.


Please be aware that this information is based on general trends in babies, and it is not medical advice. Your doctor should be your first source of information and advice when considering any changes to your child’s formula and when choosing your child’s formula. Always consult your pediatrician before making any decisions about your child’s diet or if you notice any changes in your child.

Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby because breast milk provides your child with all the essential nutrients they need for growth and development. Please consult your pediatrician if your child requires supplemental feeding.

Suzanne Renee' is an accomplished professional with extensive expertise in the area of infant nutrition, dedicated to promoting the health and wellbeing of children. She started this journey as a foster parent. Suzanne has emerged as a strong proponent of the European baby formula and has become a full time writer of the subject. In her free time, she enjoys camping, hiking and going to church.

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Reviewed by Dr. Eric Wood, ND, MA

Dr. Wood is a licensed naturopathic doctor, with a doctorate degree from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto, Canada. He received his post-graduation certification in Mind Body Medicine at Harvard University.

With 15 years of experience, Dr. Wood is an Associate Professor of Holistic Nutrition at the American College of Health Sciences in Portland, Oregon. Dr. Wood is an educator, clinician, author, media figure, consultant, and owns his own holistic (naturopathic) medical practice in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Dr. Wood is currently researching and drafting books on cancer and pediatrics.

Outside of the medical profession, Dr. Wood loves singing with the Miami Lyric Opera and is an avid musician in South Florida. He also loves spending time with his wife and kids.