Even though we’re all aware that “breast is best”, in reality 70% of babies in the U.S. receive some formula by the time they are 3 months old. Whether this is because mom was unable to breastfeed, needed to return to work, or simply wanted to add a supplement, the bottom-line line is the same – the majority of moms are looking for a healthy alternative to breast milk.
Choosing a baby formula is not always an easy process. Do you go with an established brand name, or is the generic version fine? Should you be looking for the “extras” in terms of nutritional value? Is liquid better than powder? Is organic baby formula really worth the extra money? These are very good questions to be asking and we’ll help you make the right choice by sorting through the confusion in the market.
Brand Name versus Store Brand
Many parents automatically assume that brand names provide better quality. This is not always the case. Although most likely there are differences in the recipes and ingredients used between brands, all infant formulas sold in the United States must meet the nutrient standards set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Therefore all formulas being sold are equal in terms of basic nutrient density. Differences begin to emerge when the quality of ingredients is examined or formulas are enhanced with additional nutrients (read more below).
It is important to beware of specific ingredients sometimes found in certain infant formulas, particularly hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup. Avoid these ingredients by reading labels carefully.
Conventional versus Organic Baby Formula
For many health conscious parents, the idea of using an organic baby formula is appealing. As with food, a certified organic formula means that all the ingredients are certified organic. This is especially important, when it comes to milk products, that the cows have not been given feed that is pesticide-sprayed or antibiotic-filled, nor have they been injected with growth hormones to increase their milk production. By choosing organic baby formulas, parents are better able to restrict some potentially harmful material from entering their baby’s body. With organic foods it is not just about what you are getting in the food, sometimes it’s also about you are not getting.
The issue of whether to choose organic or not is just as important if you are considering using a soy formula. Since most of the soy crops today are genetically modified, there is a high likelihood that conventional soy formulas contain genetically modified soy ingredients. Natural health advocates believe these foods are unnatural and problematic for the body, and they advise against their consumption.
Even though baby formulas still don’t completely equal breast milk, in terms of nutritional value, they have come a long way since their early days and allow parents more peace of mind. If organic is outside of your budget, the enhanced blends with added DHA and ARA can provide at least some important nutrients that help support your growing baby’s brain and vision. Remember to avoid liquid products to minimize your baby’s exposure to BPA from the packaging.
Powdered versus Liquid
New research has determined that many baby formula containers include bisphenol-A (BPA). BPA is a chemical commonly found in polycarbonate plastic products, including plastic baby bottles and metal can coatings. It acts like the hormone estrogen in the body and can affect a developing brain and reproductive system. Powdered formula contains 10 to 20 times less BPA than the concentrated liquid formulas. This is good news for budget conscious parents since powdered formulas tend to be less expensive. Avoid ready-to-eat formula in metal cans, which have the highest BPA leaching potential.
Enhanced Nutrition Formulas versus Traditional Formulas
Since 2002 some infant formula products have begun adding DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ARA (arachidonic acid). These are the most prevalent long chain fatty acids found in human breast milk. Interestingly, these are also the two most common fats found in the brain, which is comprised of about 60% fat. Research funded by the National Institutes of Child Health and Development (NICHD) found that infants fed formula with DHA and ARA, at the levels recommended by the World Health Organization, scored approximately 7% higher on a test of mental development at 18-months compared to infants fed a control formula that did not contain DHA and ARA. Another study in 2002 also showed babies who had a formula enhanced with DHA and ARA had better vision than those given a traditional formula.
Note: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends iron-fortified formula for all formula-fed infants.