Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Health & Baby

Font Size

The Formula Conundrum

The Right Stuff

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.

When and Why to Try Soy

Suzette Bilotti, a first-time mother from Kenosha, Wis., switched her son, Nico, to a soy formula at 9 weeks to help quell problems with gas and spitting up (called gastroesophageal reflux). "A couple of my girlfriends who fed all their kids soy said it made a world of difference, and they told me that may be the reason he's so fussy," says Bilotti.

The truth is, there's little evidence to support that theory. "The data show that very few of these babies actually have true intolerance to proteins, though some do," says Cochran. In addition, only about 1-3% of all infant reflux problems are related to food allergies.

A better, nonmedical reason to use soy formula is because you want to raise your child vegetarian. For a full-term infant, soy protein-based formula, which contains no animal products, is a perfectly acceptable alternative. "Soy formula is nutritionally complete," says Cochran, "so I have no reservations about using it."

Since soy doesn't contain lactose -- the sugar found in milk -- it's also a good choice for infants with lactose intolerance, although this condition is rare among babies. The AAP also recommends soy protein-based formulas when a baby has:

  • Problems metabolizing galactose (one of two sugars that make up lactose)
  • A temporary deficiency of lactase, an intestinal enzyme that breaks down lactose, following an intestinal infection.

Baby's First Year Newsletter

Because every week matters, get expert advice and facts on what to expect in your baby's first year.

Today on WebMD

mother on phone holding baby
When you should call 911.
Mother with baby
Unexpected ways your life will change.
baby acne
What’s normal – and what’s not.
baby asleep on moms shoulder
Help your baby get the sleep he needs.

mother holding baby at night
mother with sick child
baby with pacifier
Track Your Babys Vaccines
Baby Napping 10 Dos And Donts
Woman holding feet up to camera
Father kissing newborn baby
baby gear slideshow