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Health & Baby

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Fortified Formula Boosts Infant Development

Accelerated Vision, Brain Development Reported
WebMD Health News

April 25, 2005 -- Breast milk may be best,Breast milk may be best, but there is more evidence that women who can't breastfeed can give their babies a boost by feeding them formulas fortified with the omega-3 fatty acids.

The baby formulas, which contain the fatty acids DHA and ARA, have been available in the United States for a little more than a year.

In one new study, full-term infants (those born after 37 weeks of pregnancy) who were fed a fortified baby formula showed clear benefits in terms of visual development compared with infants fed nonfortified formula. In another, preterm infants gained weight faster and showed enhanced brain development when fed fortified formulas.

Neither study compared fortified baby formulas with breast milk, however, although one did use breastfed babies as a reference group. Both were paid for by Mead Johnson Nutritionals, the maker of a best-selling DHA/ARA fortified formula.

"These studies strongly suggest that babies who are entirely formula-fed do better when they are fed supplemented formulas," says Eileen E. Birch, PhD, who led one of the studies. "They developed more like breastfed kids."

The omega fatty acids -- DHA (for docosahexaenoic acid) and ARA (for arachidonic acid) -- are naturally present in breast milk and have been available in some infant formulas since 2002.

Earlier studies have shown that formula-fed babies fare better in terms of brain development during their first year of life when given fortified formula.

In the first of the newly reported studies, 103 term infants were fed either DHA/ARA-fortified baby formula or formula without the fatty acids during their first year of life. The findings are published in the April issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

According to the authors, visual acuity in the DHA/ARA-supplemented babies was "significantly better" during the first year than among the babies fed unsupplemented formula.

A previous study of visual development at 12 months found no such advantage for DHA/ARA supplementation. But Birch tells WebMD that babies in the previous study got lower levels of the two fatty acids.

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