Medical experts say that breastfeeding is the best option for mom and baby. But if breastfeeding isn't the right choice for you, there's no need to worry. Babies can grow up perfectly healthy and happy on infant formula. In fact, formulas today are much more sophisticated than they were when we were babies. Even some breastfeeding moms like to supplement breast milk with infant formula from time to time.
Infant formulas are available in three different forms (listed from most expensive to least expensive):
The ready-to-feed liquids are the easiest for parents to prepare, which is why they're the most expensive. The opposite is true of powdered formulas -- they require the most work, but are the best bargain.
In addition to coming in different forms, formula also comes in several different types of bases. These are:
Cow's-milk-based formulas account for about 80 percent of the formula sold in America today. You may wonder how babies can drink cow's-milk-based formula if babies under 12 months of age aren't supposed to drink cow's milk. Actually, these formulas use dramatically altered cow's milk that is perfectly safe for your baby -- the protein is made more digestible, butterfat is replaced by oils or animal fats that are easier on your baby's tummy, and lactose is added to make it more like breast milk.
Soy formulas -- which contain a different protein (soy) and different carbohydrate (glucose polymers or sucrose) from cow's milk formula -- are usually only given to babies who are unable to digest lactose. Often, babies who are diagnosed as lactose intolerant are placed on a soy formula for a short time (anywhere from a week to several months) so that their digestive enzymes can return to normal. Your pediatrician will tell you when it's safe to return to milk-based formula.
Occasionally, an infant is placed on soy formula because of a milk allergy. Symptoms of a milk allergy include colic, failure to grow, and blood in his feces. If you have a family history of milk allergies, your pediatrician may recommend getting your newborn on soy formula at birth. Unfortunately, as many as half the infants who have milk allergy are also sensitive to soy milk. Those babies may require a specialized formula.
Specialized formulas are only given to babies who medically require it. It is specifically manufactured for infants with particular disorders or diseases.
DHA and ARA are lipids that are transferred to a fetus through the placenta. But they also appear in a mother's breast milk, and studies show that breastfed babies have higher levels of DHA and ARA in their blood than formula-fed babies. Adding DHA and ARA to formula is an attempt to provide infants with a source of nutrition that was previously only available to breastfed babies.
Recent theories suggest that it may be these higher levels of DHA and ARA that lead to higher IQ scores in breastfed babies. But researchers haven't yet agreed on whether or not adding DHA and ARA will have any long-term effects on a child's development. Some studies have found that babies fed with DHA- and ARA-supplemented formulas have faster cognitive development and visual development than regular formula-fed babies, but other research has not seen this correlation.
More importantly, however, no negative affects of DHA and ARA have been found. But nothing comes without a cost. Formulas that are supplemented with DHA and ARA can be considerably more pricy than traditional formula. If new parents don't mind spending the extra money on DHA- and ARA-supplemented formulas, there's certainly no harm in them. But there's not enough evidence at this time to recommend these supplemented formulas either. It's up to each parent to decide what's right for her baby.
Formula preparation varies depending on what type of formula you buy. Regardless, it's very important that you follow the manufacturer's directions exactly. Give your baby too much water and she won't get the calories and nutrients she needs. Give her too little water and she may get too much formula and suffer from diarrhea, dehydration, or abnormal weight gain.
If you bought ready-to feed liquid, there's very little work involved. Just pour the liquid in a sterilized bottle and you're ready to go.
If you bought a concentrate, mix an equal amount of the concentrate and sterile water. If you open a can of concentrate but do not use it all in one feeding, cover the can and leave it in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours.
If you bought a powder, add one scoop of powder for every 2 ounces of water. Then stir the mixture thoroughly to make sure there are no clumps of powder in the bottle. Here's a tip: Use slightly warmed water and the powder will dissolve more easily. Powder is also easily transportable and will not spoil. You can even keep it in a bottle for several days before you add water.
If you have any questions about what kind of formula might be right for your baby or how it should be prepared, consult your child's pediatrician.
Sources: Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (Bantam); American Academy of Pediatrics; Medem.com
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.