Breast milk or formula? Which solids and when? Our guide answers your questions about what to feed your baby from birth to age 1.
Benefits aside, some women simply cannot breastfeed. Others choose not to, or perhaps breastfeed for only a short time. For them, formula is the answer.
While choosing the right breast milk is as easy as lifting your shirt, picking the right formula is more complex, as there are different types, such as cow’s milk, soy and hypoallergenic, and different formulations: powdered, ready-to-feed and concentrated.
Cow’s milk, soy or hypoallergenic?
Iron-fortified cow’s milk formula is a common first choice for many parents. “Doctors choose it because it most closely resembles breast milk when compared with other types of infant formula,” says Joanne Saab, a registered dietitian and author of Better Baby Food (Robert Rose Inc.). Some parents fear giving their babies milk-based formula because of the risk of an allergic reaction, but only 3 percent to 4 percent of infants have a true milk allergy, according to Saab. “Unless you have a strong family history of milk allergy, cow’s-milk-based formula is a safe place to start,” she says. If you do have a family history, let your pediatrician know so she can recommend the best formula for your baby.
Surprisingly, soy formula may not be a good alternative for babies with milk allergy. “Some babies who are allergic to milk are also intolerant of soy protein,” Saab explains. However, soy-based formula is a fine choice for parents who object to using animal products or for the rare infant with galactosemia, an inability to digest the milk sugar galactose.
In hypoallergenic formulas, milk proteins are broken down to make them more digestible. If your baby shows signs of milk allergy (diarrhea with blood or mucus, irritability during bowel movements, vomiting, a rash, wheezing or congestion), ask your pediatrician about these specialty formulas.
Store-brand formulas are a less-expensive alternative to name brands, although some may not contain the newest beneficial ingredients such as RHA and DHA. Regardless of whether you opt for store or name brands, once you find one you like, stick with it: Frequent switching can be tough on your baby’s system.
Powdered, ready-to-feed or concentrated?
- Powdered, ready-to-feed and concentrated liquid formulas are nutritionally interchangeable.
- Parents of frequent and exclusive bottle-feeders can save money by mixing their own powdered formula.
- If your baby only takes an occasional bottle, ready-to-feed formula may suit your needs, although it’s more expensive than powdered formula. Also, once opened, it must be used within 48 hours.
- If you opt for concentrated formula, follow the directions exactly when preparing. Overdiluted or underdiluted liquid concentrate (or powder, for that matter) can lead to malnutrition or kidney damage and never should be fed to a baby unless specifically recommended by the child’s doctor or dietitian.