A comprehensive guide: What every new parent should know about infant formulas
So many formulas for my baby: Choosing the right one and 16 important hacks for preparing it correctly
Parenthood is filled with decisions, one of the first and most important being how to feed your baby. While breastfeeding is the best option, infant formula serves as a valuable alternative or supplement for many families. And new research suggests small amounts may help prevent cow's milk allergy.
But the world of infant formulas can seem complex with so many on available, their types, nutritional value, preparation, and other essential information that parents need to understand so they can make informed choices.
Types of infant formulas
Infant formulas are designed to provide essential nutrients for your baby's growth and development. There are various types available to suit different needs:
- Cow's milk-based formula: The formula made from cow's milk has been modified to be closer to human (breast) milk in terms of nutrients. It is the most common because it is suitable for most infants.
- Soy-based formula: Made from soybeans, this formula is a suitable option for most babies with cow's milk protein allergies or babies raised in vegan families. However, consult with a pediatrician before using soy-based formula, since it should not be used for premature infants or certain other situations,
- Hydrolyzed formula: These predigested formulas contain proteins that are partially or completely broken down, making them easier to digest. They are often recommended for babies with allergies or sensitivities.
- Specialized formulas: There are specialized formulas designed for specific medical conditions, such as premature birth, reflux, metabolic disorders or when babies aren't tolerating the other formula. These should only be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional, often a pediatric gastroenterologist.
- Powder, concentrate, ready-to-feed: These formulas all come as powders that you mix with water, as you'll read below. Some are also available as a concentrate that you would also mix with water or as a ready-to-feed liquid.
Nutritional contents of infant formulas
Infant formulas are formulated to provide essential nutrients that support your baby's growth and development:
- Protein: Formulas contain an appropriate amount of protein, or the amino acids that are protein-building blocks, to support muscle and tissue development. With the cows milk formulas, the goal is make the blend come close to human milk proteins.
- Fats: Healthy fats in formulas provide energy and support brain and eye development.
- Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates (carbs) supply energy and are the primary source of calories in infant formulas.
- Vitamins and minerals: Formulas are fortified with essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D and iron, to ensure your baby's nutritional needs are met.
- Prebiotics and probiotics: Some formulas include prebiotics and probiotics to promote a healthy digestive system.
Preparing infant formula safely
Proper preparation of infant formula is crucial for your baby's health and safety. Here's how to do it safely:
- Wash your hands: Always wash your hands with soap and water before handling formula.
- Use clean equipment: Ensure that bottles, nipples, and mixing utensils are thoroughly cleaned and sterilized.
- Follow instructions: Read and follow the instructions on the formula container carefully, including the correct ratio of water to formula. These instructions do vary for different formulas.
- Boil water: Use boiled, distilled, or purified water to prepare formula, especially for infants under six months. Allow the water to cool to the appropriate temperature before mixing it with formula.
- Measure accurately: Use the provided scoop or a dedicated measuring spoon to measure the correct amount of formula powder.
- Mix thoroughly: Shake or stir the formula thoroughly to ensure it is well-mixed. Check for the right temperature by placing a few drops on your wrist; it should feel lukewarm, not hot.
- Prepared formula: If you're using a liquid formula or you've made enough for several bottles, be mindful of how you store and warm the formula when you're ready to use it.
- Discard uneaten formula: Any formula left in the bottle after a feeding should be discarded within one hour.
Feeding your baby with formula
Feeding your baby with formula is a special bonding time. Here are some tips for successful formula feeding:
- Responsive feeding: Pay attention to your baby's cues, such as hunger and fullness signals. Don't force your baby to finish a bottle if they show signs of being full.
- Hold your baby: Hold your baby close while feeding to establish a strong emotional connection.
- Burping: Gently burp your baby during and after feedings to prevent discomfort from gas.
- Avoid propping: Never prop a bottle in your baby's mouth. Hold the bottle yourself to ensure safe and attentive feeding.
- Hold off on solids: Wait until 4-6 months of age before introducing solid foods to your baby, as recommended by healthcare professionals.
- Giving it enough time: It can take 3 days or longer to see the results of a baby adapting to a new formula. But don't wait that long if your baby is vomiting most of it, having more stools than the number of feedings, having blood in the stool or vomit, or seems to be losing weight—let your doctor or provider know immediately.
- Never-evers: There are somethings you shouldn't do.
Storing and traveling with formula
If you need to store or travel with formula, here are some guidelines:
- Storing: Prepared formula can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Always use a clean container with a tight-fitting lid.
- Traveling: When traveling, pack pre-measured formula powder in a clean, airtight container. Bring a thermos of hot water to mix with the powder when needed.
Every baby is unique, and some may have specific dietary needs or health conditions. If you have concerns about your baby's formula, feeding routine or how he or she is adapting to it, consult with your pediatrician or a lactation consultant for personalized guidance and support.
Infant formula is a valuable option for feeding babies when breastfeeding is not possible, to use as a supplement to breast milk, or to try to prevent cows milk allergy. Understanding the types of infant formulas available, their nutritional value, and how to safely prepare and feed your baby with formula is essential for every parent. With the right information and guidance from healthcare professionals, you can make informed choices to support your baby's growth and development, ensuring they receive the best possible start in life.
Sources and Resources
North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition
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