Baby Formula 101

If you decide not to breastfeed, or are unable to breastfeed, commercial iron-fortified formulas can provide adequate nutrition for your baby. Infant formulas contain adequate amounts of protein, calories, fat, vitamins, and minerals for growth. Types of infant formula include:

  • Cow’s milk-based formulas

This type of formula should be your first choice if not breastfeeding. Most infants should be able to tolerate a standard cow’s milk formula that is recommended by your child’s physician. These formulas use cow’s milk as a base, but have been modeled after breast milk with added lactose as the carbohydrate (sugar) source and fats that are more easily digestible.

Most formulas have the fatty acids DHA and ARA added to them, which are believed to be important in the development of the brain and vision. They are available in ready-to-feed cans, liquid concentrate, and powder.

  • Soy-based formulas

These formulas can provide adequate nutrition for your infant and can be used if an infant is not tolerating the sugar (lactose) found in cow’s milk-based formulas. This is usually a temporary condition after diarrhea and is rare long term in infants. Soy formulas do not contain lactose as the sugar source nor do they contain the same proteins as milk-based formulas. Sometimes, soy formulas are used if your infant is not tolerating cow’s milk protein. However, as many as half the infants who are truly allergic to cow’s milk formula can also be allergic to soy-based formulas. Consult your baby’s physician before changing his or her formula.

  • Protein hydrolysates

Often referred to as “predigested,” these are special formulas usually used if your baby is unable to tolerate standard infant formula. These formulas are more expensive than standard formulas. Often these formulas are used if your baby has a cow’s milk protein allergy or if he or she is unable to digest a standard infant formula. These may also be very helpful in those infants who are at increased risk of developing eczema or food allergies as they may be delayed or avoided. Consult your physician before using these formulas.

  • Low-iron formulas

Standard cow’s milk-based formulas are also available in low-iron forms. Iron is a very important mineral for growth and development. A lack of iron in the diet can cause iron deficiency anemia. Many people think that the iron in formula can cause constipation. This is not true. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend low iron formulas.

Keep your baby on formula until he/she is 1 year old. After this time, you may change over to whole milk. Children under 2 years should not drink skim or low fat milk.

Online Medical Reviewer: Jovino, Louise DO

Date Last Reviewed: 4/9/2015

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