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Most infant formulas are made from modified cow's milk.  Vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients are added to make them as close to breast milk as possible, and to give babies the healthiest possible start in life.

But there are some babies who just can't tolerate some of the ingredients in cow's milk. Or, they may have a medical condition that requires different nutrition than a regular formula can offer.

If your baby can't eat regular formula, there are other options created for babies with special nutritional needs. Before you switch formulas, check with your pediatrician. The doctor can help you find the product that's best for your baby.

Soy Formula

Soy formulas contain soy protein along with:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Amino acids
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals

They're an option for babies who:

  • Are lactose-intolerant -- meaning their bodies can't break down a sugar called lactose in cow's milk
  • Have galactosemia -- a disorder that keeps them from breaking down a sugar called galactose in milk
  • Are allergic to cow's milk (however, about half of babies who are allergic to cow’s milk are also allergic to soy)

Although some parents try soy formula to ease their baby's tummy problems, there is no evidence it can help with issues like colic or a stomach bug.

Hydrolyzed Formula

A small number of babies are allergic to cow's milk or soy protein. If they drink cow's milk, they will have symptoms such as:

  • Blood in the stool
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritability
  • Skin rash
  • Vomiting
  • Wheezing

These babies need special predigested formulas -- also called hydrolyzed or hypoallergenic formulas. The milk proteins in these formulas have already been broken down so baby doesn't have an allergic reaction to them.

Partially Hydrolyzed Formula

Partially hydrolyzed formulas contain proteins that have been partly broken down to make them easier for babies to digest. They are sometimes recommended to prevent allergies in babies who are at high risk because they have a lot of family members with allergies.

There's no evidence that partially hydrolyzed formula can prevent babies from getting allergies. But these formulas might offer some protection against the skin disease eczema.

Lactose-Free Formula

Lactose-free formula is an option for babies who can't eat cow's-milk formula because they're lactose-intolerant. This is, however, pretty rare. Although this formula is made from cow's milk, the lactose has been removed.

Babies who have been sick with diarrhea may also find lactose-free formula easier to digest. You can try this formula while your baby is getting over a stomach bug, and then switch back to regular formula once he feels better.

Preterm Formula

Babies who were born too early (before 37 weeks) need more nutrition to help them catch up on growth. Special preterm formulas have the extra protein, calories, calcium, and other nutrients these babies need.