© 2013 Roy Benaroch, MD
Choices for bottle feeding are truly overwhelming. There are at least 20 different formulas out there—and I’m not even counting the special medical formulas for specific medical indications. Which one is the best for your baby?
The best “formula”, of course, is human milk. It’s cheap, it’s nutritionally super-good, and for many women it’s very convenient and easy. But it’s not for everyone. Some families like to supplement, or some families choose to bottle feed; some moms try their best but for whatever reason exclusive breastfeeding doesn’t work out. That is not a disaster, not by any means. We’ve got very good and nutritious formulas to use. Being a mom is tough enough—we don’t need to give anyone a hard time about not nursing.
So, when choosing a formula, what’s the best one to choose? Drum roll, please….
#1 for almost all bottle-fed babies
I’m giving the nod to one of any of the generic, store-brand, cow’s milk based products. They’re all fine. Save a few bucks for the college fund, or (even better) hire a babysitter with the extra $$ you would have spent on name-brand formula and go out to dinner without your baby. You deserve it.
Runner up: It’s a tie! All other ordinary cow’s milk formulas go here! Yay!
#1 if you’re avoiding cow’s milk for personal reasons
Any generic soy-based product, yay! The runner-up is any of the other soy products. You probably saw that coming.
#1 for fussy babies
It’s probably not the formula, you know. And it’s probably not a medical problem at all. Some babies are just kind of anxious or fussy, and need more holding and soothing. I like this guy’s approach. But if you’d like to try a formula change, feel free to try either a soy formula (which has different proteins) or one of the partially hydrolyzed products like Enfamil Gentlease, Similac Total Comfort, or any Gerber Good Start product. Don’t bother with any formula for lactose intolerance—I promise, that is not the problem.
#1 for babies with real protein allergy
These are babies with bloody stools or persistent vomiting or other health problems, and they ought to be monitored by a physician. Appropriate formulas for these babies are Similac Alimentum or Enfamil Nutramigen. Those formulas have very little role for any other babies, but are essential for babies with true allergy.
#1 for babies who spit up
If you really need to treat spit up (and usually you don’t), ask your pediatrician or family doc about adding rice cereal to the bottles—it’s cheap and easy and can reduce spitting. Or, you could try one of the “spit up” formulas (generic, or EnfamilAR or Similac Spit Up.) But I rarely recommend them.
Now I’ll take a few questions from the audience:
Do we really have to stick with one formula? What if I have coupons?
Most babies don’t care if you switch around. Save money, use samples and coupons. The taste might be a little different, but it’s not such a bad thing for babies to have to get used to different meals not tasting exactly alike.
Can I mix formula on my own, from scratch?
In the old days, before the wide availability of commercial formulas, people used to mix up baby formula with evaporated milk, added vitamins, and added carbohydrates or fats. Don’t mess around with any of that now—formulas are complex emulsions of many ingredients, and your baby will do much better on commercial varieties. Do not try this at home.
What about those follow-up formulas for babies after age one?
Traditionally, babies move to milk as a beverage at around age one, and stop drinking formulas. Often that’s a good age for nursing babies to wean. Really, there’s seldom any need for any specific “formula” other than a varied diet. Toddler formula is an unnecessary expense.
Are you expecting a Pulitzer for this series on infant formulas?
Not expecting, no. But it would look nice here next to my computer. Thanks for contacting the Pulitzer committee to suggest it!
The Guide to Infant Formulas