Objective The marketing of infant/child milk-based formulas (MF) contributes to suboptimal breast-feeding and adversely affects child and maternal health outcomes globally. However, little is known about recent changes in MF markets. The present study describes contemporary trends and patterns of MF sales at the global, regional and country levels. Design Descriptive statistics of trends and patterns in MF sales volume per infant/child for the years 2008-2013 and projections to 2018, using industry-sourced data. Setting Eighty countries categorized by country income bracket, for developing countries by region, and in countries with the largest infant/child populations. Subjects MF categories included total (for ages 0-36 months), infant (0-6 months), follow-up (7-12 months), toddler (13-36 months) and special (0-6 months). Results In 2008-2013 world total MF sales grew by 40·8 % from 5·5 to 7·8 kg per infant/child/year, a figure predicted to increase to 10·8 kg by 2018. Growth was most rapid in East Asia particularly in China, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam and was led by the infant and follow-up formula categories. Sales volume per infant/child was positively associated with country income level although with wide variability between countries. Conclusions A global infant and young child feeding (IYCF) transition towards diets higher in MF is underway and is expected to continue apace. The observed increase in MF sales raises serious concern for global child and maternal health, particularly in East Asia, and calls into question the efficacy of current regulatory regimes designed to protect and promote optimal IYCF. The observed changes have not been captured by existing IYCF monitoring systems.