Don’t waste your money on follow-up formulas and their ilk

The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

Leave it to marketers to find as many ways as possible for parents to waste their money.

A growing market is developing for what’s variously called “follow up formulas,” “toddler drink”, or “toddler milk.” Short version for those of you in a hurry: don’t bother buying these. You do not need to waste your money. Details below, after a (very) brief lesson on how to feed a baby.

 

How to feed a baby in the developed world, 21st century edition

Like all mammals, our newborns depend on liquid nutrition (AKA “milk.”) Mother’s milk works great for most families; commercial infant formula is a great choice, too. Between 4-6 months, start introducing complementary foods, using whatever the family is eating, kind of mushed up into a puree. You can use commercial baby foods, too, or commercial baby cereals and things – they’re not necessary, but they’re handy and easy. As babies grow from 6 to 9 to 12 months, they should take more and more of their food from first a spoon, and then by feeding it to themselves when their motor skills are up to the task. Be prepared for mess. At 12 months, if you’re bottle feeding, switch from commercial formula to whole or 2% or skim milk; if you’re nursing, feel free to continue. Have family meals for the next 18 years or so, and later on make your kids take you out to dinner on their dime. Ha!

 

Notice: nowhere in there is any mention of “toddler milk” or “followup formula” – those products are not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics or the American Academy of Family Physicians. Honestly, they have no use at all for routine use in children. So what are they, where did they come from, and why are the formula companies selling them? It’s time for the details!

Traditional commercial baby formula is an option to replace breast feeding for the first 12 months of life. Babies younger than that shouldn’t be fed straight up cow’s milk (unless, of course, we’re talking about a baby cow.) Baby humans need a different blend and amount of (especially) protein, and have different nutritional needs that are best met by human milk or a commercial copy of human milk, AKA “baby formula.”

But: and here’s the key thing: by 12 months of life, baby humans can do fine with cow’s milk as part of their diet. Remember, by now they should also be eating a good variety of other foods, so they’re not depending on milk, alone, for their nutrition.

A gallon of milk costs about $3.00, less if you catch a sale at Kroger. A gallon of infant formula costs about $21.00 (that’s reconstituted from powder, using the prices I found at Walmart today.) Are you starting to figure out where the idea of “follow up formula” came from?

It’s ingenious – these products are packaged to look like baby formula. And they have clever names that imply parents should be moving to them from baby formula, using words like “transitions” or “next step.” Some are named in a way that implies they’re a special kind of milk – “toddler milk” – that’s somehow superior to ordinary milk. Hats off to the marketers – they’ve come up with a product that’s much more expensive than the alternative (milk), and that’s completely unnecessary. But it’s selling, so I guess they win.

Look, I’m glad the good people at Mead-Johnson, Ross, Gerber, and even those faceless generic companies are producing good quality baby formulas. But I’m not so glad they’re trying to extend their markets by creating the illusion that infants past 12 months need their products. Spend your money on what your children really need – a variety of foods, or books, or a slide for the backyard. Save for college, or a family vacation. But you really don’t need to keep spending money on special milk or formula past your baby’s first birthday. The formula companies already got plenty of your moolah – don’t feel bad about keeping a little more for yourself.

 

Just for fun: below is a comparison of macronutrient compositions of cow’s milk versus infant formula versus 2 kinds of followup formulas (Enfagrow, marketed for 9-18 months, and Similac Go & Grow, marketed for 12-24 months.) Compared to milk, the big nutritional difference with these followup formula is more calories, and especially more calories from carbohydrates. That is not what American children need.

 

Kcal/8 oz Fat, g Protein, g Carbs, g cost, gallon
Whole milk 136 7 7 10 $3.00
2% milk 122 5 8 11 $3.00
skim milk 86 0 8 12 $3.00
Enfamil 168 9 3 18 $21.76
Enfagrow 160 8 4 17 $17.92
Similac 160 9 3 17 $21.40
Sim go & grow 150 8 4 16 $13.95

 

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7 Comments on “Don’t waste your money on follow-up formulas and their ilk”

  1. Wzrd1 Says:

    Why, this is positively un-American!
    Where would our children be without tons of additional fats and sugars in their diet?! We can’t have you doctors preventing them from wearing Goodyear on their sides and needing insulin injections by the age of 30!

    OK, on a far less sarcastic note, thanks for the excellent information! Somehow, I and my wife have missed these “innovative products”, which seem to essentially be rebranded, modestly reformulated infant formula.
    Alas, it’s just another example of overnutrition in our populace, where fats and sugars are necessary, but supplied in excess

    I think we need to readdress nutrition, but infant/child and adult in our schools, as we’re failing miserably at it currently, education wise.

    Like

  2. Demodocus Says:

    I wonder how much the breast-is-best-bf-your toddlers culture is affecting sales of toddler formula to the formula feeders. Breastmilk is so glorified in some places that I could see formula feeders worrying about the nutritional value of cow’s milk.

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  3. AJC Says:

    I live in the UK I use toddler milk because it comes in juice box cartons with a straw and getting milk here in resturants is very hit or miss. Sometimes my child wants more than water, but often the places here only have “juice drink”. I’d rather she get the toddler milk, which at least has added vitamins and minerals than fake juice. Also, the UK doesn’t fortify milk with Vit D. I figure a box milk now and then isn’t a big deal. Ironically, it is easier to get fresh milk at McDonalds here than at a lot of nicer places.

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  4. AJC Says:

    Also, toddler milk started in the EU. Because they follow the WHO code, there are no adverts for formula for under 6 months. So it was a way for formula companies to advertise without breaking the code. You can’t get any coupons or loyality points for formula and it can never go on sale. There aren’t store brands, but it is somewhat cheaper than in the US in general. You can get loyality points for alcohol though, which means you can drink yourself to death just fine, as long as you aren’t drinking something scientifically designed to be nutritionally complete for infants.

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  5. Dr. Roy Says:

    Thanks AJC, I appreciate the international perspective!

    Definitely agree “toddler milk” makes more sense than “juice drink” for a child. I’m not entirely sure what “juice drink” even is, but it sounds dodgy to me.

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  6. AJC Says:

    Robinson’s Fruit Shoots mainly, which contain artifical sweeteners. I have no issue with artifical sweetners from a woo-ey sense. I don’t think they cause cancer or anything, but they are really sweet and I think they just taste gross. And my kid doesn’t like them either. Also, they really like blackcurrant flavour here which has a vomity smell to me. It does not enhance my dining experience. The boxes are useful to have in the car in case of traffic jams/weather issues as they are shelf stable, but when we went back to the US last time I noticed they didn’t sell them in the juice box format.

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  7. wzrd1 Says:

    Well, the EU has one thing that is less than common (actually, uncommon in the US).
    Shelf stable milk, such as Parmalat brand ultrapasteurized milk. We miss that, just from a convenience perspective (who wants to go out in ice, snow or high summer heat to get a gallon of milk?).

    Like


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