Is a pediatric gastroenterologist at the Children’s Center for Digestive Health Care / GI Care for Kids, whose books on nutrition for parents led him to start Nutrition4Kids with his co-founders.
Babies with allergies often need special formulas to help them safely digest the nutrients they need. With allergies, the proteins found in foods create the allergic reaction. For example, if a baby is allergic to milk or soy, those natural proteins do not get properly digested and can cause intestinal bleeding.
To reduce the risk of allergic reactions and intestinal damage, predigested formulas are recommended for babies with allergies. In a predigested formula, the natural proteins are broken down (or hydrolyzed) to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction. Predigested formulas are sold as either Partially Digested (Hydrolyzed) or Completely (Extensively) Digested. Both versions help improve the tolerance and safety of formula for babies at risk for allergic reactions.
Partially Digested Formulas
Currently, there are two partially digested formulas on the market: Gerber Good Start and Enfamil Gentlease. Gerber Good Start only contains whey (80% digested, 20% intact) digested by the trypsin pancreatic enzyme. On the other hand, Enfamil Gentlease contains both whey and casein protein that has been mostly digested by enzymes form a pig's pancreas. For both formulas, the fats, minerals, and vitamins in each are similar to the traditional formulas. They both use lactose as the carbohydrate (sugar) source; however, Enfamil Gentlease and Gerber Good Start Soother have reduced lactose for infants who may be colicky or sensitive to lactose.
Completely (or Extensively) Digested Formulas
Extensively hydrolyzed formulas are more complex (and more expensive) formulas that are even easier to absorb. This type of formula is unlikely to cause an allergic reaction and is close enough to be considered hypoallergenic. Completely digested formulas contain only casein digested by pig pancreatic enzymes. Additionally, this formula uses a con syrup derivative instead of lactose which improves digestion in especially sensitive infants. Furthermore, the vitamins and minerals are the same as traditional and partially digested formula with exception to higher amounts of calcium added due to the lack of lactose.
Enfamil Nutramigen is a popular extensively digested formula. It contains long-chain fats that most babies can easily digest and absorb and is a good choice for babies allergic to dairy and soy.However, babies with allergies and specific problems of poor digestion and malabsorption require Enfamil Pregestimil (55% easily absorbed medium-chain fats) or Similac Alimentum (33% medium-chain fats).
Bottom LinePartially digested formulas are excellent for babies who may be sensitive to dairy or soy. However, they should not be used if the infant has a milk protein allergy. If a baby is allergic to both milk and soy, then it is safer to use extensively digested formula. Extensively digested formula can be considered hypoallergenic and also helps with babies who may also have problems with absorption.
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