We’ve written a lot about breastfeeding, but we know there are reasons parents go the formula route. If that’s you, just browsing the endless formula options can cause mild panic. To help slow down your heart rate, let’s break down the options.
Types of Formula
Cow’s milk -based
The majority of formula sold in U.S. is made with cow’s milk that’s been modified to be similar to breastmilk: Easy to digest and containing all the nutritional elements for optimal growth. Most formula-fed babies do well with this type.
In soy formula the protein comes from soybeans, and the sugar comes from corn or sucrose instead of lactose. This is an option for families who wish to avoid animal products in their diet, or for babies who have trouble digesting lactose (lactose intolerance in babies is rare, but if it’s an issue there are also lactose-free cow’s milk formulas available). Keep in mind that if a baby is allergic to cow’s milk, chances are he’ll also be allergic to soy. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that for babies born full-term, there are few circumstances in which soy formula should be chosen instead of cow’s milk formula.
In this “hypoallergenic” formula, the proteins are broken down to be easier to digest. They are an option for babies with food allergies, or with a family history of food allergies.
Specialized formulas are available for babies born prematurely or who have certain health issues. If your baby’s doctor recommends a specialized formula, keep in mind that guidelines for preparing and feeding it may be different than for other types of formula.
What about generic formula?
The FDA requires that all formula sold in the U.S. meet the same nutrient standards.
What about organic formula?
Whether or not to buy organic formula is a hot debate — one which research hasn’t settled. You can read what the AAP has to say about choosing organic foods here.
What about fortified or enhanced formula?
When browsing different types of formula, you may see these “extras” and wonder if they’re important. Here’s what experts, including the AAP and The American Association of Family Physicians have to say:
Yes – Iron is essential for your baby’s health, growth, and development.
Omega fatty acids
No – There is no compelling research showing benefits of adding docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA) to infant formula.
Prebiotics or probiotics
Maybe – Early research shows that they may promote healthy bacteria growth in the intestines, but more research is needed to establish long-term benefits.
Forms of Formula
Powder formula, which you mix with safe drinking water, is the most common and affordable choice.
This option is more expensive but can be less messy than powder. Like powder, you mix it with safe drinking water.
This option comes pre-mixed. It’s more expensive because it’s convenient, but heads up: It can be inconvenient to carry several bottles if you’re out and about or traveling. In these cases, powdered or liquid concentrate formulas weigh less and take up less space in your diaper bag.
Although we do recommend having certain items ready before baby arrives, hold off on stocking up on formula. There’s a small chance your baby may need to switch types, in which case you won’t want extra containers of formula you can’t use.
Now that you know all about different formulas, it’s time to read about how to safely store, mix, and serve them.