5 Facts About Baby Formula

Everything you need to know about feeding your baby guilt-free

As every mom-to-be knows, breast milk is best for babies. But the truth is, once those kids arrive, most parents work some formula into the feeding schedule. Whether it's a nightly bottle with Daddy or the antidote to a stressful nursing experience, infant formula provides all the nutrition infants need to thrive. What matters most is making the choice that works best for you and your family—and this guide to formula facts will help you get there.

  1. Every baby formula must meet the same federal nutrient standards. For families trying to save on their grocery bills, this point usually triggers a big sigh of relief. That's because it means you can choose a more affordable store brand without worrying about compromising the quality of your child's nutrition.
  2. Many wallet-friendly brands also contain plenty of healthy extras. Look for infant formulas that are fortified with DHA and ARA. These special fats, which also occur naturally in breast milk, can support the development of your baby's eyes and brain. Many brands, including Store Brand Infant and Advantage®, also now contain prebiotics, which are special substances that stimulate the growth of immune-boosting bacteria in the intestines. Others contain probiotics, which are the healthy bugs themselves. Both can help keep your baby's tummy happy. And nearly all formulas contain additional iron, which is recommended for all babies who aren't exclusively nursed.
  3. Most infants do just fine on traditional cow's milk-based formulas. These formulas account for about 80 percent of sales, and they're often the ones doctors recommend trying first. While there are soy formulas available, pediatricians usually reserve them only for infants with certain rare disorders. If your baby seems to suffer regular tummy upset or if your family has a strong history of allergies, your doctor may suggest using a "hydrolyzed" or predigested formula. They contain smaller proteins that are easier to digest and less likely to trigger symptoms like eczema, runny nose, and belly pain. Keep in mind that predigested formulas are more costly (sometimes considerably), so check with your M.D. to make sure it's worth trying for your child.
  4. The form you choose—powder, liquid concentrate, or ready-to-feed—is up to you (and your budget). Nutritionally, they're identical. Where they differ: price and convenience. Powders are the least expensive, but they require mixing with carefully measured water and have a higher mess factor. Concentrate also requires mixing, but some parents find it neater and easier. Just like it's name implies, ready-to-feed requires no prep at all. And just like you'd expect, you'll pay the most for it, too.
  5. Preparing and storing infant formula is easy, but following a few safety guidelines is crucial. The most important factor is the water you use. If you have well water, boil the water you use for formula for one minute; allow it to cool before mixing. If you have a municipal supply, tap water is usually fine—though you can also boil it first if you're concerned. You may see bottled water marketed specifically for use with formula. However, unless it's clearly marked as "sterilized," it likely only meets the same standards set for tap water and should be used as such. Once you've got your batch mixed, store it in the fridge for up to 48 hours. If you've got any left after that, toss it.

This article was written by the publishers of Parents and American Baby magazines.

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