“As a pediatrician, one of the most common questions I hear from parents is, ‘How do I choose the right formula for my baby?'” Dr. Jen Trachtenberg, board-certified pediatrician, and parenting expert tells SheKnows. Breast milk provides the optimum nutrition for your baby, but many women cannot or choose not to breastfeed. In that case, formula is a healthy substitute or supplement for babies who need more than mom can produce.
Choosing the right formula for your baby can be stressful – after all, no one brand of infant formula is best for all babies. And although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does require that all infant formulas sold in the United States meet the same minimum nutritional and safety requirements, there are certain things you’ll want to be aware of when selecting the right formula for your baby.
The FDA and the American Academy of Pediatrics warn against using recipes to make homemade infant formula as using homemade infant formula can lead to serious health problems for your baby. Because your baby’s nutritional needs are very specific in the first year of life, homemade infant formulas may contain too little or too much of certain components, such as vitamins and minerals (like iron). They may also have an increased risk of contamination, which could lead to your baby getting sick or developing an infection. Read below for other considerations parents and caregivers should take when choosing a formula for their baby.
Know Your Options
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are three main types of formulas: Cow milk protein-based formulas or routine formulas, specialty formulas like soy-based or organic formulas, and hypoallergenic formulas. In addition, there are also specialized formulas that are available for premature infants and babies who have specific medical conditions. “For parents who choose to formula feed, most pediatricians recommend starting with a routine cow’s milk-based formula with iron,” Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician in Overland Park, Kansas, tells SheKnows.
Infant formulas also come in three forms (powdered, concentrated liquid, and ready-to-use), with the best choice depending on your budget and convenience level.
Know What’s In It
Infant formula is inspired by breast milk. That’s why infant formulas are designed to mimic the nutritional characteristics of breast milk. The FDA requires that all formulas sold in the United States must contain the minimum recommended amount of nutrients that infants need. Nutrients are chemical compounds in food that are used by the body to function properly and maintain health. Proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals are all nutrients. Essential nutrients—proteins, vitamins, and minerals—must be obtained from the diet and are necessary for normal growth and development
Some infant formulas are also enhanced with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA). These are omega-3 fatty acids found in breast milk and certain foods, such as fish and eggs. In addition, many infant formulas include pre- and probiotics — substances that promote the presence of healthy bacteria in the intestines — to mimic the immune benefits of breast milk. If you’re unsure about enhanced infant formula, it’s best to consult your child’s pediatrician.
Consider the Cost
If you’re looking for a more affordable option, then it’s best to go with a powdered formula as they are the least expensive. Ready-to-use formula is the most convenient type of infant formula because it doesn’t need to be mixed with water. However, it is also the most expensive option.
For parents whose child suffers from colic cow’s milk allergy (CMA) or colic due to CMA, the price of hypoallergenic formula is often cited as a top complaint. The cost of name brands can exceed $200 a month, and hypoallergenic infant formula can cost as much as three times more than standard formulas.²
If you end up having to put your baby on a hypoallergenic formula, there’s good news. Perrigo Nutrition, maker of all Store Brand Infant Formulas, has introduced the first and only U.S. Store Brand (Generic) Hypoallergenic Infant Formula that compares to the nutrition of the leading name brands, Nutramigen® and Similac® Alimentum®, and meets the same AAP hypoallergenic standards.³
Now, parents can choose a store brand formula that is clinically tested to manage cow’s milk allergies (CMA) and helps babies avoid colic due to CMA.⁴ Store Brand Hypoallergenic Infant Formula provides families at least 22 percent in savings (up to $75 in savings per month) compared to leading name brands.⁵
“As a pediatrician, I have seen the emotional, physical, and financial tolls a child with CMA and colic-related symptoms can have on families struggling to provide relief for their baby,” said Trachtenberg. “A generic hypoallergenic infant formula is a huge win for parents since they now have an effective and affordable option that provides complete nutrition, just like the more expensive name brands.”
In addition to cost, a major factor in choosing a formula for your baby may be accessibility or convenience. Being able to hop in the store and buy formula at a moment’s notice is crucial, especially after seeing what happened during the height of the pandemic when there was a shortage of baby products, including formula. The good news is you can switch up formula forms if one is more convenient at the moment.
“As long as you stay with the same type of formula (cow’s milk formula or soy formula), you can feel comfortable switching formula brands without difficulty. In other words, you can go for the least expensive formula or the one on sale week to week, if it is the same type of formula your baby is already being fed. This also means switching from name brands to store brands is just fine since all U.S. formulas provide complete nutrition,” said Trachtenberg.
Switching from a name-brand formula to a store brand is safe and easy because it is clinically proven to be as well-tolerated as Similac® and Enfamil®. For a less expensive alternative, store brand infant formulas provide complete nutrition and meet the same FDA standards as the nationally advertised brands, but cost 50 percent less, which can add up to $900 a year in savings.⁶
And parents who are weaning their child off breastmilk can also switch to formula seamlessly says Dr. Burgert. “Babies can switch to formula from breastmilk quite easily,” she says. “Although some parents choose to make the transition over a few weeks, most babies can tolerate an immediate and complete switch from breastmilk to formula without trouble.”
Common Feeding Questions
How much formula should baby drink?
It’s important to note that every baby is different, and no two infants will have the exact same feeding schedule. But as a general rule, you can start by offering your baby one to two ounces of infant formula every two to three hours in the first days of life if your baby is only getting infant formula and no breast milk. Give them more if he or she is showing signs of hunger.
Should I wake baby to feed?
Most newborns lose weight in the first few days after birth, according to Mayo Clinic. Until your newborn regains this lost weight — usually within one to two weeks after birth — it’s important to feed him or her frequently, which might mean waking them up for a feeding, especially if he or she sleeps for a stretch of more than four hours. Most newborns need eight to 12 feedings a day — about one feeding every two to three hours. However, once your newborn establishes a pattern of weight gain and reaches the birth-weight milestone, it’s generally okay to wait for feedings until he or she wakes up.
Should I be concerned about my baby spitting up?
The short answer? No. Spit-up is common for babies under one and it usually happens before or after a burp. However, if your baby is vomiting (spit-up will easily flow, vomiting happens forcefully), it may be a sign you should switch formulas. “If your baby is refusing to feed, vomiting every feed, has painful or excessive gas, or bloody stools, talking to your pediatrician about a formula change may be helpful,” says Dr. Burgert. Your baby may also exhibit the same signs if he or she has an allergy, food intolerance, or sensitivity in addition to severe colic, abdominal discomfort, skin rashes such as hives, or difficulty breathing that lasts up to several hours after breastfeeding.
This article was created by SheKnows for Perrigo.
¹Perrigo Nutrition “The Cost of Colic” Survey, 2020
²Hypoallergenic Infant Formulas. Committee on Nutrition. Pediatrics Aug 2000, 106 (2) 346-349; DOI: 10.1542/peds.106.2.346
³Nutramigen® is a registered trademark of Mead Johnson & Co. Similac® and Alimentum® are registered trademarks of Abbott Laboratories. Store Brand Hypoallergenic Infant Formula is NOT made by or affiliated with Abbott Laboratories or Mead Johnson & Co.
⁴Barber, C, Prieto, P.A., Wallingford, J.C. (2018). A Double-Blind, Randomized, Crossover Allergy Study of an Extensively Hydrolyzed Casein Formula. Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences. This randomized, single administration DBOFC showed Store Brand Hypoallergenic Infant Formula is effective in managing cow’s milk allergy and satisfied established AAP criteria for hypoallergenic formulas.
⁵Calculations based cost per pound with average weekly usage of 1.5 pounds of powder the first year using Perrigo’s MSRP for a 12.6oz container of Store Brand Hypoallergenic Infant Formula compared to pricing for Nutramigen® 12.6oz container based on June 2021 IRi Market Advantage annual retail sales data of powder infant formula. MSRP is manufacturer-suggested pricing only, retailers alone set pricing, cost savings may vary.
⁶Calculations based on June 2021 IRi Market Advantage annual retail sales data of national brand infant formula powder compared to store brand infant formula powder cost per week based on an average weekly usage of 1.5 pounds of powder.