Posted tagged ‘infant formula’

Homemade infant formula is not a good idea

September 15, 2014

The Pediatric Insider

© 2014 Roy Benaroch, MD

Miranda wrote in with a topic suggestion—she wanted to know about homemade infant formula. She had noticed a lot of people suggesting it. What’s the deal?

Speaking about nutrition and human babies, it makes sense to start with this: human breast milk, from mom, is the best food for babies. But even that is an over-simplification. It turns out that in the modern world, human breast milk is often deficient in vitamin D, and maybe iron, too. I know I’m going to get some heat over this, but it’s true: even human breast milk isn’t “perfect.” It’s close, but if we’re going to be honest, even straight-up mom’s milk isn’t “ideal” for babies.

So what’s the best alternative? The contestants: human breast milk, which we’ll just call “human milk.” Commercial infant formula, which we’ll call “science milk.” This is the stuff that’s been studied for years, and is lab-designed to give babies the exact nutrition they need to thrive. Then there’s home-mixed infant formula, which we’ll call “homemade milk”, usually prepared based on an internet recipe.  What kind of “grade” should we give our three competitors, based on an objective assessment of their composition?

The number one “ingredient”, so to speak, is water. Clean, pure, safe water. Human milk, fresh from the breast, is free of harmful contaminants and infectious germs. Science milk is made under sterile conditions, and the liquid versions are pasteurized—as long as they’re stored correctly, there’s essentially no risk of infections spreading. Homemade milk? Who knows. I doubt anyone at home is sterilizing all of their surfaces to the extent done in a commercial lab. And some of the homemade milk recipes call for unpasteurized, “raw” milk—which can be loaded with animal colon bacteria as has been linked to all sorts of colorful infections. Winners: human milk and science milk (tie); loser: homemade milk.

Then there’s protein. There’s too much protein of the wrong kind in most mammal milks (including cow and goat), so science milk relies on modified mammal milk or soy to get the right amounts of the right kind of proteins. The wrong proteins can cause intestinal and kidney damage. One homemade milk recipe I found used blenderized livers as a protein source, which is even more dangerous. Human milk, protein-wise, is perfect. Winner: human milk, with science milk a close second. Loser: homemade milk.

The carbohydrate in all mammal’s milks is mostly lactose. Goats, humans, cows—our milk is all lactose-based. Science formulas sometimes substitute other carbs, largely to take advantage of the fear of lactose intolerance (which doesn’t occur in human newborns.) There’s no known downside to this, though it’s kind of silly. Winner: tie! Lipids (fats) are pretty much the same across the board, or near-enough so.

Sodium: ordinary milk from other mammals (goats and cows and presumably kangaroos, though I honestly don’t know about them) has far, far too much sodium. To properly reduce this, homemade formulas have to dilute that out somehow. Winners: human and science formulas.

Other micronutrients: there are a lot of these, of course—iodine and vitamin C and vitamin D and iron. And these really are important. Iron deficiency in infancy can contribute to permanent cognitive problems. You really do want to make sure that Junior is getting all of these vitamins and minerals in the exact proportions needed. The micronutrient content of human milk has been extensively studied, and science formula does a great job in either copying that, or even improving on that (re: iron and vitamin D.) Winner, science formula, by a nose; human milk is a very close second. Homemade formula are based on dozens or maybe hundreds of recipes, and no one has systematically figured out which if any actually deliver the micronutrients that are needed.

 Here’s a funny, true story from my residency: an 8 month old baby was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit, near death. (Wait, it gets funnier.) He was very, very anemic—I remember noticing when drawing blood from his nearly lifeless body that the blood itself was kind of watery and runny. He also had neurologic problems and his vital organs had shut down. It turns out that his father was traveling hours a day, back and forth, to a farm to pick up fresh goat’s milk to feed him (because his parents had heard that goat’s milk was healthy!) Since goat’s milk is entirely deficient in one of the B vitamins (folate), the child’s blood marrow pretty much shut down. And there were a whole bunch of other health consequences related to other nutrient deficiencies and protein overload. After a few weeks in the ICU the baby survived. Isn’t that a funny story? No, of course it isn’t. It isn’t funny at all.

Ease of use and preparation: human milk wins, here, of course—though it has to be said, not always. Some women really do have a hard time nursing. It’s not always the easiest choice. Fortunately, we have another reasonably easy alternative: science milk. Mix the powder with water in the right proportion, and you’ve got pretty much exactly what your baby needs. The worst choice, here, would be homemade milk: it’s complicated and fiddly, has a lot of ingredients to get wrong, and it still may not even provide the nutrition your baby needs.

Homemade infant formula is a terrible idea. There is no way for parents to make something as pure and complete as either human milk or commercial infant formula (science milk.) There’s no evidence whatsoever that it even might be safer or better in any tangible way. This is one case where homemade is not the way to go. If you’re not breastfeeding, you should use commercial infant formula. Do not trust your baby’s health on your chemistry skills and recipes from the internet.

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The Guide to Infant Formulas: Part 5. The Final Recommendations

September 12, 2013

The Pediatric Insider

© 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

Part 1: What’s in formula?

Part 2: The Similac Products

Part 3: Enfamil and friends

Part 4: Gerber and the Generics

Part 5: The final recommendations

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

September 4, 2013

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!

The Guide to Infant Formulas: Part 2. The Similac choices

August 26, 2013

The Pediatric Insider

© 2013 Roy Benaroch, MD

Last time, in Part 1, we talked about the ingredients in infant formulas. Despite the advertising, they’re all much more similar to each other than you’d think. This time I’ll go through the products from the major companies. Infant formulas have complicated and overlapping names—what’s really the differences, and how should you choose?

First, Abbots’ Similac family of products. Get it, “Similac”? Lac, referring to milk; simil, like similar? I like the name! So what have they got in their stable?

Their flagship product for “routine feeding” is “Similac Advance,” a cow’s milk based product that has as much good stuff as any other formula. It’s got the DHA. It’s got the lutein. It’s got a nice baby-blue package. They also market for “routine feeding” Similac Advance Organic, in a green package (green = natural and organic!), which has the same stuff, though a “unique Lutein and DHA blend.” Does unique mean better? Who knows. What it does have as a carbohydrate source is organic cane sugar, which probably makes Similac Organic taste sweeter than human milk or other formulas. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, to get baby used to sweeter tastes, but it might not matter one way or the other. Still, if you’re choosing Similac Organic, you’re choosing the sweet stuff.

On a separate page, Abbott has a number of formulas “for sensitive tummies.” I guess Sim Advance is for those tougher babies! The “for sensitive tummies” choices include Similac Sensitive, which is essentially the same as Similac Advance, but without lactose. Now, lactose intolerance is just about unseen—ever—in human babies, so there is really isn’t any biologic basis for this product to be any better for any babies than Similac Advance. It does come in a soothing orange package. There’s also “Similac Total Comfort”, which has milk-based proteins that are broken down to some degree, “for easier digestion.” In a way, this is their version of Carnation’s “Good Start”—more about that later. There’s no good independent evidence that breaking down these proteins aids in digestion, and it certainly won’t help treat protein allergy. The package is a lightish purple, and reassuringly says it’s FOR DISCOMFORT, then in smaller type “due to persistent feeding issues.” If discomfort is from other things, I suppose the purple packaging won’t help much.

Similac has two more “sensitive tummy” formulas. One is “Similac Soy Isomil” (or what used to be just “Isomil”) which uses soy rather than milk protein. The AAP recommends soy formulas for very few babies—including those from families who wish to avoid cow products, and for the very rare babies with hereditary inabilities to digest certain sugars. For almost all babies, soy is not necessary, and it’s certainly not more digestible than cow’s milk base formulas. The last “sensitive tummy” formula is “Similac for Spit Up” which adds rice starch to thicken the formula, especially once it’s in the low-pH environment of the stomach. They claim it reduces “frequent spit up” by 54%, a nice science-sounding number, based on “data on file”. That means they did the study and haven’t published the result.

There’s also a “Similac for supplementation” formula, designed they say “for breastfeeding moms who choose to introduce formula.” My read of the ingredients shows it’s almost entirely identical to ordinary Similac. It comes in a green container, though a slightly different shade of green than Similac Organic. They claim that by tinkering with the prebiotics, this product may lead to softer stools, though there’s no clinical evidence to support that. I can’t imagine why there needs to be a different formula for supplementing breastfeeding than for routine feeding, but then again I’m not in marketing.

Similac also has an “expert care” area, including Alimentum (genuinely hydrolyzed proteins for the relatively rare babies with real protein allergies), Neosure (for preemies), and Similac Expert Care for diarrhea. I won’t spend much time on these, but they really are for use only when recommended by a physician for specific medical reasons.

Whew. A lot of formulas to choose from! So many colors!

Next: The Enfamil line. Can’t wait!

Similac for Supplementation: Who needs it?

July 29, 2013

The Pediatric Insider

© 2013 Roy Benaroch, MD

Market segmentation gone crazy! The newest member of the Similac line of infant formulas is “Similac For Supplementation”, packaged “for breastfeeding moms who choose to introduce formula.”

I can’t imagine what specific need there could be for a formula designed for supplementation, as opposed to one for routine feeding. All of these formulas are already supposed to be the best possible substitute for human milk. On their website, the makers claim that this has “more prebiotics” than other formulas—though it’s not clear why that would be good, or why their other formulas contain less. They also note that “studies have shown that prebiotics produce softer stools”, though a recent review showed that there was no change in stool consistency when babies were fed prebiotic-containing formula.

One might guess that there really isn’t any difference in these formulas at all. The manufacturers only wanted a product out there to attract the eyes of families considering supplementation. Hey, exhausted parents might think. This one is for us!

But that would mean that Similac for Supplementation is just marketing hype, of no real use to anyone.