Choosing the best baby food (2023)

A walk down the baby food aisle in the store is enough to turn any parent's head. Why are there so many different types? And you thought it would be difficult to choose your baby's name.

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Don't panic - choosing your baby's formula doesn't have to be a headache. pediatrician and internistMatthew Badgett, MD, explains the different types of formula and how to choose the right one for your baby.

How do I choose my baby's formula?

All U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved infant formulas contain the nutrients newborns and infants need to thrive. Protein, carbohydrates and fat are present in specific proportions very similar to human breast milk.

"All infant formula must meet requirements that ensure optimal nutrition for babies," says Dr. Badgett. "If your baby's formula is sold in the US, it will contain the nutrients your baby needs."

But what about all the extras listed on the package, like probiotics or brain health ingredients? "There is no data to show that these additional ingredients make your baby healthier," says Dr. Badgett. "Your baby can thrive on a basic formula without these extra demands."

types of formulas

Although all formulas have been tested for safety, your baby may need a specific type if they have allergies or other health conditions. There are many brands, but all formulas fit into one of these categories:

cow milk formula

One80% of the formulas on the marketare made from cow's milk and most babies do well with this type.

"Cow's milk baby formula is not the same as the milk you buy in the dairy department," explains Dr. Badgett. "Regular cow's milk is harder for babies to digest and doesn't have the exact nutrients they need. Cow's milk formula is specially processed to make it safe and wholesome for term newborns and infants.”

The first ingredient in cow's milk formula is usually listed as "fat-free milk." Other ingredients include:

  • carbohydratesMade from lactose, a natural sugar found in the milk of all mammals.
  • Fettfrom vegetable oils such as soy, palm or coconut oil.
  • proteinmade from whey and casein, often listed as "whey protein concentrate" or "casein protein isolate".

Many parents worry that the lactose in cow's milk formulas will cause tummy problems or bloating, but that's not usually the case. While many people havelactose intolerance, or problems digesting lactose, this condition is uncommon in newborns.

"People usually develop lactose intolerance after the age of three," notes Dr. Badgett. "Most babies digest cow's milk without any problems, even though it contains a lot of lactose. In fact, human breast milk usually contains more lactose than cow milk formula.”

Most healthy babies can safely start cow's milk formula unless advised against by your pediatrician. You may need to avoid cow's milk formula if your baby ispremature(born 37 weeks ago) or has:

  • Cow's milk allergy or a high risk of it due to a family history of certain allergies.
  • Galactosemia, a rare intolerance to galactose (a sugar in lactose).
  • Lactose intolerance, which is also rare in infants.

i am formula

Like cow's milk formula, soy formula contains optimal amounts of protein, fat and carbohydrates. Soy formula is naturally vegan and lactose free. It contains:

  • carbohydratesfrom sucrose or glucose.
  • Fettfrom vegetable oils.
  • proteinfrom soybeans, often listed as "soy protein isolate".

MilitaryNaturally contains phytoestrogens, plant compounds that look like the hormone estrogen. But that doesn't make soy unsafe or worse than cow's milk formula.

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"There is no evidence that soy phytoestrogens are unhealthy for babies," says Dr. Badgett. “In fact, phytoestrogens seem to reduce the risk of cancer in the long term. And you can't avoid estrogen either. Your baby also gets estrogen from cow's milk formula or human breast milk. And that's okay.”

Soy milk can also be a good option if your baby is allergic to cow's milk. Soy formula is dairy free and typically costs less than hypoallergenic formula.

"Many babies with cow's milk allergy can tolerate soy milk," says Dr. Badgett. "But if your baby is allergic to both cow's milk and soy, you need a hypoallergenic formula."

Partially hydrolyzed formula

If your baby is having tummy problems due to cow's milk formula, a partially hydrolyzed formula could be the solution. Often referred to as 'gentle', these cow's milk formulas are easier for babies to digest. This is because the partially hydrolyzed proteins in the formula are broken down into smaller pieces.

You can tell if a formula is partially hydrolyzed by looking at the label. The ingredients will be listed "partially hydrolyzed" before the protein name, which will be whey or casein. This type of formula is not safe for babies with a cow's milk allergy.

“Partially hydrolyzed formulas can be helpful if your baby is very picky,gassyorcolic" says Dr. Badgett. "Babies witheczemacan also benefit from this type. But before you switch to partially hydrolyzed formula, talk to your pediatrician. Your baby's restlessness or colic could be due to another factor that we need to address.”

Extensively hydrolyzed (hypoallergenic) formula

Extensively hydrolyzed or hypoallergenic formula is designed for babies with cow's milk and soy allergies. These formulas are made from cow's milk but are safe for babies who are allergic to cow's milk. How? The proteins are broken down so small that your body doesn't recognize them as cow's milk protein.

"Most babies don't need a highly hydrolyzed formula, so only use this type if your pediatrician recommends it," advises Dr. Badgett. "It's not healthier or better for babies without allergies, and it costs more."

Only your baby's doctor can diagnose a cow's milk allergy, but possible signs include:

  • Blood in the stool (poop).
  • Constipation or hard stools.
  • Not gaining enough weight or meetinggrowth curves.
  • To vomit.

Spitaffects many parents, but does not indicate an allergy,” says Dr. Badgett. "All babies spit up. If your baby is growing normally and their stools are soft, they probably aren't allergic to their formula."

Newborn formula for premature babies

If your baby was born prematurely, your pediatrician may recommend an infant formula. Infant formulas are designed to help premature babies grow and thrive. This species is usually given to babies in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs).

"Formulations for preterm infants contain certain nutrients more than standard baby food," explains Dr. Badgett. "They're also designed to work well with their immature stomachs and kidneys, which don't typically tolerate standard foods."

Talk to your pediatrician about infant formula and how long your baby will need it. When your baby is mature enough, you may be able to switch to a standard formula.

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Formula for toddlers

Infant formula is intended for babies from 12 months of age.

"You can use formula to supplement your baby's solid food after their first birthday," says Dr. Badgett. "But don't give infant formula to newborns or infants. It doesn't have the right balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates that your baby needs in the first year of life.”

Infant formula is not necessary for your older baby. Most babies can transition to whole milk or unsweetened soy milk by 12 months.

Formula forms: powder, concentrate and ready-to-feed

Once you have figured out what type of formula you need, you have one more decision to make. Powder, concentrate or ready-made food?

"Powder formulations tend to be cheaper and work well for most babies," explains Dr. Badgett. "If your baby is premature or has a compromised immune system, your pediatrician may recommend fluids. In rare cases, milk powder can contain germs that can make immune-compromised babies sick. But for all other babies, this is not a problem and powdered milk is a safe option.”

Can changing formula harm my baby?

Unless your baby has allergies or special health needs, it's okay to switch formula brands or types. If your baby seems to have colic or gas, talk to your pediatrician about itGasity formula options.

"Many parents think that a picky baby needs a different formula," notes Dr. Badgett. "But before you switch, talk to your provider about your baby's symptoms. Sometimes your baby needs a different formula, but sometimes it's just a developmental phase your baby is going through.”

Breastfeeding supplement formula

If you are breastfeeding and using supplements, the above advice applies to you too.

"You don't have to use a special supplement formula," says Dr. Badgett. "The same rules apply to babies who are exclusively formula-fed and babies who are given some human breast milk."

Formula feeding tips

Human breast milk or formula is the bulk of itFeeding your baby in the first year of life. After choosing the species, you need to know how to feed them to your little one. Also, make sure you knowhow to prepare and store your baby's formula.

When giving your baby a bottle:

  • Measure the powder formula carefully with the measuring scoop provided. If using a liquid concentrate, use the ounce markings on the baby bottle to measure.
  • Hold your baby in a semi-upright position.
  • Hold the bottle sideways so that the milk flows evenly but not too quickly.
  • Burp your baby after they get about 2 to 3 ounces of formula, then continue feeding.
  • If your baby turns away or stops drinking, pull the bottle away and burp again.
  • Throw away any unused formula in your baby's bottle. It is not safe to reuse later.

Fearless formula feeding

Yes, the sheer number of formulas can be overwhelming at first. But most babies do well on a simple cow's milk or soy formula. If your baby is showing signs of colic or an allergy, talk to your pediatrician. Together you can discuss switching to a partially or largely hydrolyzed option.

"You don't usually need the most expensive formula to have a healthy, happy baby," says Dr. Badgett. “Choose a formula that meets your baby's health needs. As your baby grows and thrives, you have made the right choice.”

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