We consulted the pros to find out what's in the formula you're giving to your baby.

Baby bottles
Credit: Jeffrey Westbrook

Your baby happily chugs her bottle of formula when you give it to her -- but what exactly is in that whitish liquid? "It's a balance of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, as well as the micronutrients," says Aliza Solomon, D.O., a pediatric gastroenterologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. Most baby formulas have a cow's milk base, but soy-based formulas are available for babies who are allergic to milk or whose parents wish to give them a diet free of animal protein. For babies who are allergic to both milk- and soy-based formulas, there are hypoallergenic formulas with finely broken-down proteins.

Although it may be tempting to give your baby regular milk (it's handy!), it's important that you stick to formula for the first year because it's been specially treated to be more digestible for babies, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Extra lactose gives the formula a breast milk-like consistency, and the fat in cow's milk is replaced with more easily digestible vegetable oils. Formula is also fortified with iron and, in many cases, additives such as DHA/ARA to promote brain and eye development, prebiotics, and probiotics. "Formula makers are attempting to mimic breast milk as closely as possible," Dr. Solomon says. "Since these additives are found in breast milk, the idea was to make that micro-environment in the baby's gastrointestinal tract the same as they would have gotten through breast milk."

For parents struggling over which brand of formula to buy, the good news is that all formulas sold in the United States, regardless of the manufacturer, are nutritionally equivalent, says Frank R. Greer, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison. Strict guidelines set by the FDA and the U.S. Formula Act require that all formula meets at least a minimum or maximum of ingredients. So try not to worry, mamma -- there are lots of formulas out there to choose from, but whatever choice you and your pediatrician make, your baby will get the nutrition she needs to thrive!

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