How to Choose the Best Formula for Your Baby

Although health experts recommend breast milk as the preferred method for feeding your baby, some mothers are unable to breastfeed or choose not to. It can be overwhelming when researching all of the different options for baby formula. Understanding the various types of formula available will help you choose which one to introduce to your baby.

Key takeaways:
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    It is recommended that babies be fed breast milk exclusively until 6 months of age, but the formula is a safe alternative to breast milk.
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    Formulas can be purchased as a powder, liquid concentrate, or ready-to-use. Formula options include cow’s milk-based, soy or goat’s milk-based, sensitive, and hypoallergenic.
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    Breast milk and formula can be mixed, but it must be done correctly. The formula should be prepared/mixed first, and then the breast milk can be added.
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    Mothers may breastfeed and then offer a bottle afterward if the baby is still hungry or is not gaining enough weight with exclusive breastfeeding.

Choosing the best formula

There are various brands of baby formula available, and each one contains different nutrients and ingredients. When searching for the right baby formula, you will likely find organic options, made from cow’s milk, goat’s milk, a plant-based formula like soymilk, and sensitive or hypoallergenic formulas. So, where should you begin?

Baby formulas should have a combination of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. When purchasing any formula, ensure that the product is not expired or expiring soon and that the tamper seal on the packing is intact. Attempting to make homemade formula is not recommended as the number of calories and nutrients could vary widely and affect the baby’s health and growth.

Most parents start with a standard cow’s milk-based formula unless their pediatrician specifically recommends otherwise. All FDA-approved formulas should have the appropriate amount of calories and nutrients to be safe for babies and promote healthy weight gain and development.

Different types of baby formula

Formulas can be purchased in the form of powders, concentrates, or ready-to-use.

Powder formulas are generally the most cost-effective and are mixed with water.

Liquid concentrates are also mixed with water for dilution.

Ready-to-use formulas are the most expensive but are convenient in that they do not need to be mixed.

Cow’s milk-based formula

Formula made from cow’s milk is the most common type of formula on the market. Infants under the age of one should not consume cow’s milk. However, cow’s milk-based formula goes through an extensive process to be considered safe for babies. The end product resembles breast milk more so than cow’s milk.

Goat’s milk-based formula

Studies have shown that goat’s milk-based formula is a safe alternative to cow’s milk formula. Some babies are not able to tolerate cow’s milk-based formula, so parents must seek out an alternate formula type. Goat’s milk baby formula is easy to digest and contains the required nutrients to sustain healthy growth and development.

Soy-based formula

Plant-based formula, like soy formula, is made using the proteins from soybeans and can be an alternative formula choice for babies with allergies to cow’s milk, congenital galactosemia, or babies with vegetarian or vegan parents.

Soy formulas typically contain isoflavones, compounds found in beans and legumes. Isoflavones mimic the actions of the hormone estrogen, and baby girls who were fed soy formula were found to have changes in the cells of the vagina and larger uteruses.

Sensitive formula

Sensitive formulas are made with lower levels of lactose and are used by babies who have sensitive tummies and difficulty digesting regular cow’s milk-based formula. A baby may require a sensitive formula if they experience diarrhea, vomiting, increased fussiness, or excessive gas following their feeding.

Hypoallergenic formula

Hypoallergenic formula is designed for babies who are allergic to cow’s milk-based formula. It is made with proteins that have been broken down into smaller, more easily digested pieces called amino acids. Breaking down the proteins is essentially “pre-digesting” the formula and lowers the risk of an allergic reaction.

Signs that a formula does not agree with your baby

So you have chosen a formula to introduce to your baby, but how will you know if the formula you bought will be the right type? Here are some of the common signs that your baby is not tolerating their formula:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Body rash
  • Weight Loss
  • Gassiness, bloating
  • Irritability, increased fussiness
  • Wheezing or coughing after feedings
  • Blood or excessive mucus in stools or emesis

Contact your pediatrician if your baby has signs and symptoms of formula intolerance or allergy.

Best ways to combine breast and bottle feedings

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding your baby exclusively for the first six months, but some mothers are not able to produce enough breast milk for their baby to grow properly. Supplementation with formula is required if a baby is not gaining weight when exclusively breastfeeding.

Some mothers will breastfeed their baby and then offer a bottle of formula afterward if the baby is still hungry. There is also the option of adding pumped breast milk to the formula. This can be done by first preparing the formula by adding the required amount of water and then adding the breast milk. A ready-to-use formula can have breast milk added immediately as it does not require any preparation.

There are many different brands and variations of baby formula. Most formulas are cow’s milk-based, but soy and goat’s milk are alternative options. Babies who have allergies, lactose intolerance, or difficulty digesting cow’s milk formula may need sensitive or hypoallergenic formula. Breastmilk and formula are safe to combine.