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Health & Baby

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Choosing Baby Formula

Soy? Whole milk? Hypo-allergenic? Most large supermarkets contain a bewildering array of baby formula choices. Some infant formulas are iron fortified; others contain the fatty acids DHA and ARA. Some are based on soy or cow’s milk; others are made for babies with lactose intolerance. Some are even low in sodium.

How do you choose the right baby formula from this abundance? First, it helps to understand a few infant formula basics.

Baby Formula: 3 Forms to Choose From

Although breast milk offers newborns all the nutrition they need, not every mom can or chooses to breastfeed. And, moms who do breastfeed may find that supplementing with infant formula is a practical alternative if they go back to work or when someone else feeds the baby.

Commercially prepared baby formulas are FDA-regulated to provide babies all the nutrients they need. They come in three main forms:

  • Powders. The least expensive option, these are usually mixed with water - one scoop to two ounces of water.
  • Liquid concentrates. Pricier than powders, these are generally diluted with an equal part of water.
  • Ready-to-use baby formulas. Often the most expensive and convenient, ready-to-use formulas can be poured straight into baby’s bottle.

Formula Facts: What’s in It for Baby?

The three forms of formula -- powders, concentrates, and ready-to-use -- are based on different ingredients:

  • Milk-based baby formulas

Made with cow’s milk, vegetable oils (for fat calories), vitamins, and minerals -- and usually iron-fortified (as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics) -- milk-based formulas are appropriate for healthy, full-term babies.

  • Soy-based baby formulas

Made with soy protein, vegetable oils, corn syrup and/or sucrose (for carbohydrates), and sometimes iron, these formulas are good for babies with lactose intolerance who can’t take milk-based formulas, or those who have allergies to the whole protein in cow’s milk or are on a vegetarian-based diet. Soy infant formulas aren’t recommended for low-birth-weight or preterm babies. Keep in mind that there may be some cross reactivity between soy and milk formulas, especially if the baby is allergic to milk-based formulas.

Specialty baby formulas

This is a big category, comprising a range of products -- infant formulas for low-birth-weight babies, low-sodium formulas for babies who need a restricted salt intake, and "predigested" protein formulas for babies who can’t tolerate or have allergies to the whole proteins in cow’s milk and milk-based formulas.

Infant formulas enriched with DHA and ARA omega fatty acids from algae have also found their way into the jam-packed baby formula aisle. These fatty acids appear to help baby's brain and nerve development and improve vision.

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