Your Baby's First Foods
Breast milk or formula? Which solids and when? Whether you're pregnant or a new parent, this 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, choosing the right formula is more complex; there are different types, such as cow’s, soy and hypoallergenic, and different formulations: powdered, concentrated and ready-to-feed. When it comes to which type to use, iron-fortified cow’s milk is a common first choice (but check with your pediatrician before deciding on any formula). “Doctors choose it because it most closely resembles breast milk,” says Joanne Saab, a registered dietitian at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Some parents fear giving their babies milk-based formula because of the risk of an allergic reaction, but only 3 to 4 percent of infants have a true milk allergy, according to Saab. “Unless you have a 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, be sure to 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. Why? “Many babies who are allergic to milk are also intolerant of soy protein,” Saab says. 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 have been 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 cost-effective alternative to name brands, although some may not contain the newest beneficial ingredients. Once you find a brand you like, stick to it: Frequent switching can be tough on your baby’s system.
As for the formulation, powdered, concentrated and ready-to-feed formulas are nutritionally interchangeable. Parents of frequent and exclusive bottle-feeders can save money by mixing their own powdered formula. If your baby takes an occasional bottle, ready-to-feed formula, though more expensive, is not a bad deal: Unopened cans keep longer than open cans of powder. If you opt for concentrated formula, follow the directions exactly when preparing. Over-diluted, under-diluted or undiluted concentrate (or powder, for that matter) can lead to malnutrition or kidney damage and never should be fed to a baby unless recommended by the child’s doctor or dietitian.
Finally, remember that formula is only as safe as its handling. Pediatric gastroenterologist Bryan Vartabedian, M.D., suggests the following: