While human milk is certainly best for human babies, there may be a medical reason for needing to feed your baby formula. Or perhaps your life-style required you to both breast- and bottle feed your baby, dubbed “combo feeding.” If you regard feeding as a time to interact with your baby, not just deliver food, and if you understand the subtle differences among formulas, together with your baby’s doctor you can, using the following information, make the right choice of the right formula and style of feeding for your baby.
The more you know about how infant formulas are made and marketed, the better equipped you will be to make an informed choice.
How formulas are made.
Using human milk as the nutritional gold standard, formula manufacturers follow a basic recipe that combines proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water in similar proportions to those found in human milk. The basic nutritional building blocks of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are taken from cow’s milk, soybeans, or other vegetable (corn syrup or sugar cane) sources. Commercially made vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients are then added to the milk-based or soy-based formula.
How formulas are marketed.
Once upon a time parents relied only on their baby’s doctor to choose the right formula. It was generally felt that advertising infant formulas directly to the consumer was unethical. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization have strongly discouraged marketing formulas directly to parents and bypassing the baby’s health care provider. Unfortunately, this nutritional code of ethics is not followed by all formula companies.
How formulas are regulated.
Don’t be confused by the parade of formula cans on the supermarket shelves. You’ll notice that the amounts of all the nutrients in each brand are about the same. That’s because by law they have to be. The Infant Formula Act mandates that the FDA tightly regulate infant formula manufacturers so that all formulas contain all the nutrients that babies need. In fact, the FDA so tightly regulates infant formulas that all formulas are nutritionally equivalent. A formula manufacturer cannot make any nutritional changes in their formula without FDA approval.
How formulas differ.
Although the nutritional content of infant formulas is tightly regulated, formulas differ in three ways: packaging, digestibility, and cost.
Packaging: Commercial formulas are packaged in three forms:
* powdered formula, with directions for how much water to add
* liquid concentrate, to be mixed half-and-half with water.
* ready-to-feed liquid, to be put directly into the bottle
Your choice of packaging is mainly a question of time and economics. Powdered formulas are the least expensive but the most time-consuming to prepare; ready-to-feed formulas are the most expensive but the easiest to use, especially while traveling or when you are too busy to prepare formula.
Digestibility: With different food sources and processing methods, formulas can be more or less allergenic and easier or harder to digest. While all formula makers claim superiority when it comes to intestinal tolerance, your baby’s individual digestive system will be the final judge.
Cost: Because the FDA so tightly regulates formula composition, parents don’t need to worry that a less expensive formula is nutritionally inferior to a pricier one. Formulas from the “big four” (Enfamil, Similac, Carnation, and store brands) are nutritionally equivalent, though they may differ in cost. If your baby needs a special hypoallergenic formula, expect to pay considerably more.
Types of Formula
Reading the labels on formula cans may leave you feeling like you need a Ph.D. in biochemistry to make an intelligent choice. There are three basic, categories of infant formulas: milk-based formulas (also known as standard infant formulas), soy-based formulas, and hypoallergenic formulas.