Does Your Baby Need Allergy-Friendly Hypoallergenic Formula?

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Allergies are on the rise. For parents of formula-fed babies with cow's milk allergies, it can be hard to know what hypoallergenic formula is best. Luckily, there are more options than ever before, so you should be able to find one that works for your family. 

What Is Hypoallergenic Formula?

Hypoallergenic formulas are recommended by pediatricians for babies who have a severe problem digesting cow's milk-based formula. Hypoallergenic formula, also known as elemental formula, has been pre-digested so that large milk proteins are broken into smaller proteins. This process makes the formula less likely to cause allergic reactions. Hypoallergenic formulas may be:

  • Partially hydrolyzed, in which the proteins are only partially broken down (these formulas are not truly hypoallergenic) 
  • Extensively hydrolyzed, which contain the smallest milk proteins
  • Free amino acid-based, in which the proteins are split into their building blocks, amino acids. If a baby can't tolerate even extensively hydrolyzed formula, amino acid-based is the next step (and is even more expensive than hydrolyzed formula).

What Babies Need Hypoallergenic Formula?

The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that hypoallergenic formulas only be used in infants with clear medical symptoms that would indicate the use of a special formula. Babies with sensitivities may not need a hypoallergenic formula unless they have a true allergy. The hydrolyzation process does change the nutritional value of the formula. And hypoallergenic formula is expensive, usually around three times the cost of regular formula. (Sometimes, insurance companies will cover some of the costs of this medically necessary formula.)

Soy-Based Formulas

Soy milk formula may seem like a good option for babies who are allergic to cow's milk, but it usually isn't. Often, these babies are also allergic to soy proteins.

How to Tell If Your Baby Needs Special Formula

Babies with severe allergic reactions to food or milk proteins will display some of the following symptoms. If your baby does, talk to your pediatrician about whether changing formula might help.

  • Extreme irritability or colic
  • Wheezing
  • Vomiting
  • Eczema
  • Diarrhea

In some cases, if you have an older child with severe food allergies or a severe family history of food allergies, your child's pediatrician may recommend starting your baby on a hypoallergenic formula from the beginning. In general, however, most pediatricians recommend that all infants, but especially those at risk of allergy, be exclusively breastfed and only supplemented with hypoallergenic formula as necessary.

Where You Can Find Hypoallergenic Formula

Most leading formula retailers (supermarkets, drugstores, big box stores) carry hypoallergenic baby formula options. If your baby's formula is covered by insurance, you may need to purchase it through a medical supply company.

Since there are several options, see if your doctor can give you samples of a few different hypoallergenic formulas. Once you know which one works best for your baby, you can buy in larger quantities.

What You Can Expect From Hypoallergenic Formula

Parents can expect a few changes in their babies once they start on hypoallergenic formula. Some of those changes might include:

  • Changes in stool. It's pretty common to see a change in the color, consistency, or frequency of a baby's poop when you change formulas. Especially if your child had a lot of loose stools before, the new formula might help the bowel movements be more solid and consistent. However, call your child's doctor right away if you see any white, watery, red, or black stools. 
  • A different smell. The processing that removes the proteins that can trigger allergic reactions also means the formula will smell and taste a little different. Most babies don't even notice the difference since their taste buds are still developing.
  • A more clear color. Without those heavy milk proteins, ​a hypoallergenic formula will also appear more clear in color than regular formula, but it still has the nutrition your baby needs.
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