Choosing a Baby Formula

If you decide to use formula either to supplement or feed your baby exclusively you will find that there are three basic types- cow's milk, soy and specialized formulas. Many of these formulas come in several forms to choose from such as ready-to-feed liquid forms, concentrates and powders.

Cow's-milk-based formulas are the most commonly used formulas. About 80% of the formula sold comes from cow's milk. Although parents are warned not to feed their infants cow's milk before 1 year, cow's-milk-based formulas are dramatically different from regular cow's milk. Formula made with cow's milk must be heated and under go specific methods to make the protein in the milk more digestible for infants. Additional milk sugar, called lactose, is added to make the concentration the same as breastmilk. The fat from the milk is removed and replaced with vegetable oils and possibly other animal fats that infants can digest more easily. Most cow's milk formulas are fortified with iron. This is helpful for infants who have poor iron reserves.

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Soy formulas are made with soy instead of cow's milk. These types of formulas also use a different carbohydrate. Instead of lactose, soy formulas either use glucose polymers or sucrose. These types of formulas are often recommended for babies who are unable to digest lactose that is found in cow-based formulas. Many infants experience a period when they have difficulty digesting lactose. This often occurs after a baby has had several episodes of diarrhea, which can damage the digestive enzymes in the intestines. Babies that experience lactose intolerance due to diarrhea are often given soy-based formulas for a week to several months so that the enzymes in the intestines can return to normal.

Specialized formulas are often specifically made for premature infants or infants with special needs. Your pediatrician can recommend which specialized formula is best for your child. These types of formulas may have different feeding requirements compared to traditional cow-based or soy-based formulas.