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Choosing Baby Formula

Which Is the Best Infant Formula?


Updated January 29, 2013

Decades ago, selecting an infant formula was not nearly as complex as it is today. While there were different brands of formula, most of them were fairly similar. Today, there are many types of formulas and different additives in each. Most family’s begin with the standard cow’s milk formula and adapt if an issue arises. If you have concerns about which formula to choose, ask the advice of a pediatrician and consider the points below.

1. All Formula in US FDA Approved

You can be encouraged that in the United States, all infant formula is manufactured according to Food and Drug Administration standards. These standards are guided by the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition. While some formulas may boast "something special" about their product, every formula sold in the US is made to nutritional standards.

2. Powdered, Concentrated, or Ready to Feed

When buying formula, you'll want to consider what form it comes in. Essentially, there are three types of formula: powdered, liquid concentrate, and ready-to-feed. Each type has pros and cons.

Pros of Formula

  • Powdered: most economical, most environmentally-friendly, doesn't take up much room when storing, great for breastfeeding moms who only supplement on occasion, shelf stable 1 month after opening.
  • Concentrate: Less expensive and less storage space than ready-to-use. Slightly easier to prepare than powdered.
  • Ready-to-use: Most convenient. Hygenic, especially if you have concerns about water safety.

Cons of Formula

  • Powdered: Most effort to prepare. Must follow mixing directions precisely. More difficult to use when out and about. Must be mindful of quality of drinking water used.
  • Concentrate: Also not as convenient when on-the-go. Must be mindful of quality of drinking water used.
  • Ready-to-use: Least economical and least environmentally-friendly. Shelf life of 48 hours after opening. Due to darker color than powdered and concentrate, can cause more stubborn stains.

3. Types of Formula

There are four main types of formulas: cow’s milk based, soy based, lactose-free formula, and elemental formula (hypoallergenic formula. Refer to link for explanation of each type.

4. Added Ingredients

Some formulas will add certain ingredients to their formulas. For example, there are "Acid Reflux" formulas, oftened denoted with "AR". These formulas add a rice thickening into the formulation. Don't start using AR formulas without first consulting your doctor.

Formulas may also have additives like DHA and ARA. However, be sure to understand what these additives and whether your doctor feels they are necessary. Read About.com's Dr. Vincent Iannelli's advice on DHA and Ara.

5. Name Brand vs. Generic Formulas

I can appreciate wanting to pinch as many pennies as you can. Rest assured, that though each manufacturer may have slight variations in their formula, there has been no study that shows that one brand is better than any other brand. Generic labels are similar to name brand formulas and cost much less.

6. Stick With a Formula, Unless...

Avoid switching formulas unless a health issue arises. Some signs that there may be a problem with the formula may include diarrhea, constipation, excessive spit up or vomiting, excessive fussiness, and/or rash.

7. Stay on Formula Until at Least Age 1

Solid research indicates that children should not switch to cow’s milk until over one year of age, perhaps longer if food allergy issues persist.

8. How Much Baby Formula?

Newborns generally only drink one to two ounces per feeding. From birth to six months, the rule of the thumb is that babies need two to two and a half ounces of formula per pound per day. So a ten pound baby would need roughly 20 – 25 ounces in a day. Most pediatricians suggest that babies not exceed 32 ounces in a day. Talk to your pediatrician if you have concerns about the amount of formula your baby needs.

9. Too Much Formula or Too Little?

Signs that baby is not getting enough formula may include diminished urine output, slow weight gain, continued crying, and/or skin appearing loose and wrinkly.

Signs that baby is getting too much formula may include excessive weight gain, intensive spitting up or vomiting, colicky abdominal pain, and/or pulling legs up to the chest.

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