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Choosing an Infant Formula

Whether you’re supplementing while breastfeeding, exclusively formula feeding, or just wanting to have a back-up ready, choosing an infant formula can be a daunting task. The formula aisle is filled with competing claims all stating that their formula will make your baby stronger or smarter. How do you even get started?

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Infant Formula Basics

In the United States, all formulas must follow specific regulations set out by the FDA. This means that no matter which formula you end up choosing, your baby will be receiving the nutrition they need! In general, most parents start with a standard formula. These formulas work for most babies. If your baby is not tolerating the formula or has a specific diagnosis, they may need a specialty formula. Within the standard formula categories, you also have the option of looking for organic options or non-GMO options if that is important to you (do note that research does not indicate any nutritional difference between organic and non-organic formulas). You may also notice a difference in the protein source between formulas. Most formulas use cow’s milk as the protein source, but there are soy options available. Recently, goat milk infant formulas have become available as well. Many stores will offer generic options of name brand formulas. These are often nutritionally equivalent, but cost much less.

infant formula, baby bottle, rattle

Types of Infant Formula

This is by no means an exhaustive list of every type of formula. There are many specialty formulas available and many more examples of each of these than I am providing.

Standard Term Formula

Recommended for most healthy, term infants. Some examples include Similac Pro-Advance, Enfamil Neuropro, Gerber Good Start, and store brand alternatives

Organic or Non-GMO Formula

Recommended for healthy, term infants with parent preference. Examples include Similac Organic, Earth’s Best, The Honest Company, Plum Organics

Soy Formula

Recommended for vegan families (not recommended for premature infants or for infants with cow’s milk protein allergy). Some examples are Prosobee, Gerber Good Start Soy, and Isomil.

Gentle Formulas

Recommended for healthy infants who may not tolerate standard formulas. May have a higher percentage of whey protein or less lactose. Examples include Similac Organic A2 and Baby’s Only Gentle.

Partially Hydrolyzed or Sensitive Formula

Recommended for infants with some gastrointestinal discomfort on standard formulas. Examples include Enfamil Gentlease, Enfamil Reguline, Similac Total Comfort, Gerber Good Start Gentle, Gerber Good Start Soothe

Thickened Formula

Thickened Formulas: Recommended for infants with gastroesophageal reflux (speak with a doctor before starting). Some examples include Enfamil AR and Similac for Spit Up.

Extensively Hydrolyzed or Amino Acid Based Formula

Recommended for infants with cow’s milk or soy allergy, multiple food allergies, short bowel syndrome, malabsorption, or other reasons discussed with doctor. Some examples include: Alimentum, Pregestimil, Nutramigen, Elecare, and Neocate Infant.

Purchasing Options

Within each type of formula, you also have some options on how to purchase it. For the most part, this comes down to preference. The easier it is on you, the more expensive it will be, so you’ll need to do a cost-benefit analysis.

Ready to Feed

This is a done for you option. The formula is already mixed and all you need to do is pour it into a bottle and serve. It also comes sterile, which is great if your baby is at increased risk for infection. This will be a more expensive option, but can be very convenient, especially if you know you will be in a situation where you won’t be able to mix.

Liquid Concentrate

This is not an option for every formula. You will need to dilute this formula with water, but it is also sterile, like the ready to feed option.

Powder

Generally, this is what most people choose. It is the cheapest option, but also the most labor intensive, since you will need to measure the powder and water (Read this to figure out which water to choose). It is not sterile, so may not be appropriate for very high risk babies (always talk to your doctor).

How to Actually Choose

Start with a standard formula. You can start with a name brand or a store brand, whichever is easiest for you to find. Let your baby try it for a while. It may take a little bit for their stomach to get used to a change, if they’re used to breast milk (if you notice serious side effects like blood in the stool, speak with your doctor immediately). If your baby is still having problems with the formula, you can try a new formula. Give your baby time to adjust to the new formula before switching. Many parents switch formulas repeatedly in a short amount of time, never giving their baby time to adjust. If standard formulas aren’t working, you can move to gentle, then sensitive. If your baby is still having tolerance problems on a sensitive formula, it may be worth mentioning to your pediatrician. You can check out this algorithm for choosing a formula if you’re a visual learner or this guide if your looking for more information on formula feeding. If you’re looking for more information on how to feed your infant, check out my courses!

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