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The Formula Conundrum

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Soy's Good, Iron's Bad? continued...

In reality, says Cochran, studies indicate that the iron in formula typically is not associated with stomach problems. Moreover, he says, giving babies formula with low-iron concentrations (under 6.7 mg of iron per liter of formula) can increase their risk of iron-deficiency anemia.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends iron-fortified formula with 4-12 mg of iron per liter for all bottle-fed infants from birth to 1 year of age. That's because infants don't have enough natural reserves to meet their iron needs. Many baby foods, especially fortified cereals, provide additional iron.

The Case for Hypoallergenics

Hypoallergenic formula is easier for babies to digest because the cow's milk protein in it has been predigested, or broken into smaller pieces. One of the most compelling reasons to feed your baby hypoallergenic formula (other than to confirm a cow's milk allergy) is a strong family history of food or environmental allergies, including hay fever and eczema, says Heyman.

A child's risk of a food allergy in the first year increases to about 10% if one parent has allergies and about 20% if both parents do. Hypoallergenic formula is two to three times more costly than regular formula, however, so Cochran advises against it unless both parents have allergies. The "big three" hypoallergenic formulas are Nutramigen, Pregestimil, and Alimentum.

Unlike hypoallergenic brands, Carnation Good Start is only partially broken down (hydrolyzed). It isn't an option if a baby has a known allergy, according to Cochran, but partially hydrolyzed formulas may be worthwhile for babies at somewhat higher risk, such as those with one allergic parent.

"Studies show that in kids who are at risk, if you put them on Carnation Good Start, you can decrease the risk of their developing food allergies," Cochran says. If the infant has a confirmed food allergy, stick with a hypoallergenic brand.

The most common sign that your baby has an allergy to cow's milk protein is blood in the stool, which is caused by milk protein-induced colitis. Switching to a hypoallergenic formula should clear up most of the bleeding in five to seven days. Eczema and respiratory problems also may be signs of milk protein intolerance.

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