How to Choose the Best Baby Formula

Decades ago, selecting an infant formula was not highly complex. While there were different brands of formula, most were fairly similar. Today, baby formulas differ in types and forms of nutrients, milk base, and other nutritional elements.

Many families begin with a standard cow’s milk formula and change if an issue arises. If you aren't sure which formula to choose, use the information below as talking points when discussing the options with your family's pediatrician.

1

All Formula in US Is FDA Approved

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In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees laws and regulations related to food. These standards also apply to infant formula and are guided by the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition.

More specifically, the FDA requires that all infant formulas contain certain levels of nutrients.

2

Powdered, Concentrated, or Ready to Feed?

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When buying formula, you'll want to consider what form it comes in. Essentially, there are three types of formula: powdered, liquid concentrate, and ready-to-feed. Each type has pros and cons.

Pros of each type:

  • Powdered. This option is the most economical, most environmentally-friendly, and doesn't take up much room when storing. It's great for breastfeeding moms who only supplement on occasion and is shelf-stable for one month after opening.
  • Concentrate. This option is less expensive and requires less storage space than a ready-to-use formula. It's slightly easier to prepare than the powdered versions.
  • Ready-to-use. This option is the most convenient. Ready-to-use formula is hygienic, which is important if you have concerns about water safety.

Cons of each type:

  • Powdered. This option requires the most effort to prepare. You must follow the mixing directions precisely. It can be more difficult to use when out and about. You'll also need to be mindful of the quality of drinking water used to prepare it.
  • Concentrate. This option is not as convenient when you're on-the-go. As with powdered versions, you'll need to know the quality of drinking water used to mix it.
  • Ready-to-use. This option is the least economical. It's also not an environmentally-friendly option. Ready-to-use formula has a shelf life of 48 hours after opening. Its color is darker than powdered and concentrates formulas which means it can cause stubborn stains.
3

Types of Formula

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There are four main types of baby formulas: cow’s milk-based, soy-based, lactose-free formula, and elemental formulas (hypoallergenic formula).

As for name brand versus generic formula, compare the labels and talk to your pediatrician if you have questions about specific ingredients.

Generic labels are often similar to name brand formulas, cost much less, and must meet the same nutritional standards set by the FDA.

4

Added Ingredients

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Manufacturers sometimes add certain ingredients to their infant formulas that serve a specific purpose. For example, "Acid Reflux" formulas (often denoted with "AR") use rice thickening in the formulation to help with symptoms of the condition. Do not start using AR formulas without first consulting your doctor.

Formulas may also have additives like DHA and ARA. Before you start a formula with these additives, talk to your baby's doctor.

5

How Long to Use Formula

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Avoid switching formulas unless your baby's doctor recommends it to treat a health issue.

Signs that your baby might not be tolerating a specific formula include:

  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Excessive spitting up or vomiting
  • Excessive fussiness
  • Rashes

Once you find a formula that works, continue using it until your little one is at least one year old.

6

How Much Baby Formula?

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Newborns generally only drink one to two ounces per feeding. From birth to the age of 6 months, the rule of the thumb is that babies need two to two and a half ounces of formula per pound per day.

For example, a 10-pound baby would need roughly 20 to 25 ounces of formula in a day according to that rule. Most pediatricians recommend that babies do not exceed 32 ounces in a day.

However, it's important to take your baby's lead and listen to their cues as to when they are hungry and when they have had enough to eat. If someone other than you is giving your baby a bottle, they should also be aware of the cues the baby is satisfied.

Talk to your pediatrician if you have concerns about the amount of formula your baby needs.

Remember that babies go through periods of eating a little more or a little less; minor day-to-day variations are not necessarily a cause for concern.

However, there are some signs you can watch for that could indicate your baby is getting too much or not enough to eat.

Signs that your baby is not getting enough formula can include:

  • Continued crying
  • Diminished urine output
  • Skin that looks loose and wrinkly
  • Slow weight gain

Signs that your baby is getting too much formula can include:

  • Colicky abdominal pain
  • Excessive weight gain
  • Intensive spitting up or vomiting
  • Pulling their legs up to the chest
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  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Questions & Answers for Consumers Concerning Infant Formula. Updated March 2018.

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