Infant Formulas - Topic Overview
What are infant formulas, and what's in them?
Infant formula is a nutritional product that is made from processed cow's
milk or soybean products. Special processing makes cow's-milk formula more
digestible and less likely to cause an
allergic reaction than regular cow's milk.
minerals are added to infant formula. Formula can be
used to provide all of a baby's nutritional needs before the age of 4 to 6
Commercial formulas are
made to be as similar to breast milk
as possible. The safety and nutrient content of infant
formula is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
About half the calories
in formula come from vegetable oils or a mixture of vegetable and
animal fats. A baby's body requires fat for the production and
growth of new cells and for high energy needs.
Milk sugar (lactose) is the main source of
carbohydrate in most cow's-milk
formula, just as in breast milk.
What types of formulas are there?
Several types of infant formulas are
available. Usually cow's-milk formulas are tried first. Babies absorb minerals
and nutrients better from cow's-milk formulas than other types of
Babies need iron in addition to other vitamins and minerals. The iron in
human milk is much more easily absorbed by infants than the iron in cow's milk.
(But even breast-fed babies need iron added to their diet.) Formula-fed babies can become iron-deficient if iron-fortified formulas
are not used.
Iron deficiency may cause severe complications in
babies, such as weakness, abnormal digestion, and permanently reduced learning
abilities. In the United States, a formula with an iron concentration of 6.7
mg/L or higher is considered iron-fortified. And the
label must say that.1 The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends testing for anemia in babies at 12 months of age.
Some caregivers may be hesitant to feed an infant iron-fortified formula
because of concern about side effects, such as gas or constipation. But these
concerns have not been proved by research, and low-iron formulas are not
recommended as a remedy for such symptoms. Although low-iron formulas are
available, they should only be used in extremely rare situations on the advice
of your doctor.