The Guide to Infant Formulas: Part 4. Gerber and the Generics

The Pediatric Insider

© 2013 Roy Benaroch, MD

Abbot’s Similac and Mead Johnson’s Enfamil are the big players, but they’re not the only formula choices out there.

What used to be called “Nestle Good Start” is now part of the Gerber Good Start line of formulas, which are often priced just a little less than those of the two better-known formula companies.

Good Start, whether from Nestle or Gerber, has always had a slight difference from the flagship products from Similac and Enfamil: it uses partially broken down elements, which they market as “comfort proteins”. They say this is easier to digest. Their products are similar in that way and in that claim to the partially hydrolyzed Similac Total Comfort or Enfamil Gentlease—and similarly lack any good data supporting this “easy digesting” claim. Still, like all formulas, it’s nutritionally complete to the best of our knowledge.

Like the other companies, Gerber has lately jumped on the “market segmentation” bandwagon, coming out with multiple similar products to grab market share. But their products are even less dissimilar from each other. There’s Gerber Good Start Protect, which I think is their flagship. “Protect” here refers to their probiotic mix of bacteria, which per their literature “may support the protective barrier in the digestive tract.”

There’s also Good Start Soothe, which has reduced lactose—but isn’t lactose free. So it’s treating a condition that doesn’t exist (lactose intolerance in human babies) with a treatment that would be ineffective. It of course has those probiotics and things, too.

Then there’s Good Start Gentle which is based on only the whey portion of cow’s milk protein, partially hydrolyzed like other Good Start products. So you get to choose, with Good Start: Gentle, or Protect. Or Soothe. Can’t have them all!!

One more Good Start product, this one with an intuitive name: Soy. That’s right, a soy based product, with partially broken-down soy proteins that may or may not be better in some vague way. These Gerber products are all nutritionally equivalent.

The Gerber line is priced a tad lower than the Enfamil or Similac lines, but is still more expensive than generic baby formulas. Those generics, like all formulas, are tightly regulated by the FDA, and offer essentially identical nutrition.  There are generics marketed as “Premium” or “Advantage” that are similar to the flagships; there are generics often labeled as “gentle” which are similar to the partially hydrolyzed formulas Gentlease, Total Comfort, and the Gerber Line. There’s a generic lactose-free labeled “sensitive” and “tender” which seems similar to Gerber’s “gentle,” with 100% whey. Soy, organic, or even with added rice starch—the generic versions are out there, though sometimes they’re named differently. Between the generics and Gerber, that’s at least 10 more varieties of infant formula to choose from.

One formula you won’t find: “Low Iron.” There used to be Low-Iron formulas around, because iron was blamed for fussiness and constipation—despite there never having been any evidence that in the doses found in formulas, iron was causing these symptoms. What we did know what that low iron formulas were nutritionally inadequate. Iron is essential for normal brain development, and restricting iron from babies is not a good idea. The formula manufacturers quietly increased the iron in their low iron formulas several years ago, and a few years later phased them out entirely. Good.

We’ve covered a lot of formulas, and a lot of detail. So what’s the bottom line? What’s the best formula for you baby? See you next time!

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6 Comments on “The Guide to Infant Formulas: Part 4. Gerber and the Generics”

  1. Kerrin E. Says:

    I am really enjoying this series, as my first two babies wound up being formula fed for differing reasons. I just had my third and am having to supplement due to low supply. But my question is, what is your opinion on soy formula? My first two took soy formula due to fussiness etc. It made a world of difference. I hear many comments about soy formula containing loads of estrogen etc. I would love to hear your opinion.


  2. Dr. Roy Says:

    Kerrin, soy formulas provide the same nutrition as cow’s milk based formula. Since there is no cow’s milk protein, it would seem like a reasonable choice for babies who are cow’s-milk-protein allergic– but in practice, many of those babies have cross-allergy to soy, so it’s not typically used in cases of clinically worrisome allergies. It’s not unreasonable to try soy for non-severe potential allergic issues, like otherwise unexplained fussiness.

    The phytoestrogen content of soy does not seem to cause any demonstrable effect in humans: Other compounds in soy do interfere with calcium absorption, so additional calcium is added to commercial soy formula to ensure adequate delivery to babies.

    Bottom line: soy formulas are fine for those wish to try them, though in general they don’t offer any advantages.

    More: (AAP policy on soy formula, includes extensive refs.)


  3. Angela Says:

    I have a 2 month old with cows milk protein allergy and now what looks like a soy protein allergy. We’ve tried all the milk based formulas from the basic to the extensively broken down. All made her symptoms worse within a week. She has been on Similac Soy Isomil for over a month and is now developing a good case of baby eczema on her face. Which I contribute to a soy protein allergy since they sometimes go hand in hand with a cows milk protein allergy. My question is, would a partially hydrolized soy formula be a good alternative where its partially broken down and her allergy symptoms were already delayed with the regular soy formula.


  4. Dr. Roy Says:

    Angela, it depends on the severity of the reaction and the potential danger of re-exposure. If the reaction is severe (eg, FPIES), typically you’d not want to get near the offending protein, even hydrolyzed; if the reaction is non-severe and unlikely to become severe (eg, proctitis, with just a little blood in the stool), it would be reasonable to try a modified protein. Ask your child’s pediatrican what he or she thinks is best in your situation.


  5. Ella Says:

    If i have read this blog earlier, my baby wouldn’t suffer from misdiagnosis wc led to complications. After 12months, we found the right milk and (right pedia) for her (nan sensitive wc is suitable for 0 to 12months). Now our baby is 17months old now and were looking again for hydrolized wheat protein formula milk that suits her age. Hope you have recommendations


  6. Mya Says:

    What would be the equivalent to NAN sensitive by Gerber,Similac and/or Enfamil


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