How to Switch Baby Formula Brands

During the current shortage, many parents are struggling to find their baby's go-to formula. Follow these expert-approved tips for switching formula brands safely and effectively.

baby drinking bottle

If you're struggling to find baby formula on the store shelves recently, you're not alone. Supply chain issues have led to unprecedented shortages across the country, and it's been vastly compounded by the closure of Abbott Nutrition's Sturgis, Michigan, facility following a massive recall of its powdered formula (it was linked to four infant illnesses and two deaths from bacterial contamination).

The formula shortage has become so dire that federal officials have announced plans to alleviate it. For example, President Joe Biden initiated the Defense Production Act to expedite the manufacture of formula. The administration has also eased foreign import regulations, cracked down on price gauging, changed regulatory barriers for WIC participants, and more.

As parents wait to see the effects of these measures, they're still desperate for formula—and many need to switch to a brand that's actually in stock. We spoke with pediatricians about the best practices for changing formula brands, along with possible side effects and other considerations.

Which Type of Formula Should I Choose?

"My advice to parents struggling to find the formula their baby was previously on is to first consider switching to generic/store brand formula that is equivalent to what their baby was on before," says Erika Cantu, M.D., a pediatrician practicing in Houston, Texas, with over five years of experience working in outpatient pediatrics. "This is really safe to do and is essentially the same formula."

Don't worry if you can't find the generic or store brand version though. All formulas sold in the United States are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and they contain the proper mix of nutrients for babies, says Bridget Young, Ph.D., a certified lactation counselor and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester. If you're unsure which formula to choose, talk to your pediatrician; they might have recommendations or samples to try.

That said, babies with food allergies or digestive issues have additional needs, and they might need to stay on certain speciality formulas. "Parents of infants on very specialized formulas like those amino-based or extensively hydrolyzed formulas should reach out to their physician before making the change," says Dr. Cantu.

How Do You Switch Baby Formulas?

Ideally, if you're changing your baby's formula, you should do it gradually to check for any intolerance or sensitivity to a new brand. But the most important thing is making sure your baby is fed.

Wendy Sue Swanson, M.D., MBE, FAAP, pediatrician and chief medical officer of SpoonfulONE, offers words of comfort for any anxious parents. "Given the current infant formula shortage, some families may have to make the switch to a new formula cold turkey. And that's OK and typically well-tolerated in babies. Don't let switching from one formula to another add to the stress you already feel. Your baby will do well."

If you still have some of your baby's preferred formula on hand, Dr. Swanson advises the following: "You can gradually make the switch by mixing three parts old formula and one part new formula. If the baby drinks it, move to half-and-half and then 1/4 old and 3/4 new. Following that would be a full bottle of the new brand. If possible, try to make this transition over the course of one or two weeks," she says. Use the scoop provided with the formula because scoop sizes may vary between brands.

Is Switching Formula Brands Safe?

Switching to a different formula brand is perfectly fine. "There is no danger in providing your baby with differing formulas from one day to the next, especially if they have the same base," says Dr. Swanson. She makes the comparison that breastfed babies also have differing milk each day due to changes in the parent's diet, creating a "slightly different recipe at every feed."

Indeed, the nutritional composition of different infant formulas is extremely similar. "While the source of components may vary, the proportions and amounts of nutrients that your baby gets are the same among different brands," says Rashmi Jain, M.D., a concierge pediatrician in Irvine, California and founder of BabiesMD.

It's also generally fine for most babies to switch between ready-to-feed, concentrated liquid, or powdered formula. "The exception might be preemies or immunocompromised babies under 3 months of age who may not be able to take powdered formula yet," says Dr. Jain.

Dr. Jain stresses that you can't transition a baby who's on speciality or hypoallergenic formula (like Similac Alimentum or Enfamil Nutramigen) to sensitive or standard formula without a pediatrician's approval. You can technically give hypoallergenic formula to an infant who's been using the standard cow's milk-based formula, but this isn't recommended during the shortage; parents should save speciality formulas for those who need them.

Side Effects of Switching Formula Brands

Although it's safe to change your baby's formula brand for a variety of reasons, including the current formula shortage, you may notice some changes in your infant. "Babies might get constipated, poop more frequently, have their poop's consistency change, or be gassy. It can take a week or so for a baby to adjust to the change," says Dr. Swanson.

According to Dr. Young, parents can wait 10 days before deciding whether a new formula is not working. Stop using a formula immediately if you notice any red flags, such as trouble breathing or bloody stool.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to switching formula, the advice is clear: If your regular baby formula isn't available, it's safe to swap to another brand. Try to buy a generic store brand that's similar to your current formula and watch your baby for any side effects. Also, don't make baby homemade formula, dilute formula, or give your baby cow's milk before age 1 (though the American Academy of Pediatrics says it may be fine for babies older than 6 months in a pinch).

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