A Guide To Formulas
Breast milk is the ideal nourishment for a baby because it contains all the nutrients they need in the right amounts to ensure they grow healthy and strong. But, for some women, this isn’t an option or formula needs to be introduced for one reason or another. Breastfeeding is often hard for most women in the beginning, but it does get easier. If you are having trouble nursing, make sure you check in with a lactation consultant or La Leche League before you give up completely on breastfeeding. And if breastfeeding simply isn’t an option for you, then learning the best way to use/make formula is your best option.
If you can’t provide breastmilk for baby, the next best thing is milk from another mom. One of the biggest benefits to breastmilk is that it is a living food. Breastmilk contains many beneficial living bacteria, antibodies, and enzymes. You can get donor milk from a few organizations, such as Eats on Feets, Human Milk 4 Babies, Only The Breast.
This guide will break down everything you want to think about when purchasing formula and the pros and cons of the different types out there, allowing you to make an informed decision about what is best for you and your family.
There are many benefits to choosing an organic formula whenever possible. They are free from GMOs and oils processed with toxic solvents. Unlike conventional formula, the DHA & ARA in an organic formula is extracted with water rather than chemically-extracted with hexane. The milk used in organic formula is from cows that have not been treated with growth hormones or antibiotics. Buying organic also ensures that ingredients in the formula have not been derived from crops sprayed with herbicides or pesticides. It’s best to research companies with integrity and those that have great, long-standing reviews.
Look for Lactose
All formula contains added sugars to mimic breast milk, which is naturally sweet and high in lactose. The sweetener that most closely resembles the lactose in breast milk is lactose from cow’s milk. However, many manufacturers use plant-based sweeteners, like corn syrup - which should be avoided at all costs. When looking for a lactose formula, compare ingredients and prices against several brands to make the right decision for your baby and family.
Some babies can show allergic reactions to the dairy in formulas by showing any of the following symptoms
Blood in the stool
Vomiting or hives
This often resolves itself but, for some, these symptoms indicate a genetic intolerance & dairy should be avoided for good.
Goat’s Milk Formula
This is a helpful alternative to a cow’s milk formula. Goat’s milk is less reactive, however, some babies can still show a reaction to the product. It offers superior absorbability and ease of digestion, and it can clear up reactions such as eczema, spitting up, behavior issues, and colic.
It offers a protein source that is easier to digest (smaller curds), supports digestive health by reducing “leaky gut,” contains absorbable fatty acids, and has essential nutrients for growth.
Lactose-free formulas replace the lactose with corn syrup, sucrose, or brown rice syrup. Look for a formula that contains brown rice syrup, as it enters the bloodstream slowly and is easily digestible, whereas corn syrup is often genetically modified, and sucrose is very sweet which could lead to problems later in life.
Baby’s body is meant to take in milk (breast milk) for at least the first 2 years of life, so baby will have high levels of lactase enzyme production for that time period. Lactase enzyme production will slow down once baby transitions off milk and is no longer consuming lactose. After that, you may begin to see symptoms of poor lactose digestion such as gas, bloating, loose stools, abdominal cramps, and nausea if the consumption of milk continues.
This type of formula pre-digests or breaks down the proteins to make them more digestible for baby. This is often helpful for babies who show symptoms of a milk allergy. The process to make the formula more digestible creates a bitter taste, so companies will add other ingredients to improve the taste. Lactose is usually taken out too, and replaced with another source of carbohydrates and sweetener, such as corn syrup or sucrose.
Hydrolyzed formula is often a good choice when the baby is experiencing reactions to a lactose formula, usually due to an event such as being born via c-section, mom taking antibiotics during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, baby taking antibiotics, baby having never been breastfed, or if the baby has a sibling with an anaphylactic allergy. Use this formula and support baby with probiotics for at least 1 month, and then try switching back to a lactose formula. Note that there have been no long term studies conducted to see the outcome of babies who are fed hydrolyzed formula, therefore, it’s best to only use it when necessary (especially for its price!), and work towards getting baby back on a different kind of formula.
Ingredients to Avoid
Soy is often offered as an alternative to milk formulas due to an allergy of cow’s milk (a.k.a. galactosemia). However, babies who are allergic to dairy are also often allergic to soy too. Most soy is GMO and should not be the first choice for your baby. Soy-based formulas also contain high levels of phytoestrogens (plant-derived estrogens) that have the potential to disrupt the baby’s hormonal system. Soy also contains a component called phytate which blocks mineral absorption (specifically iron, zinc, and calcium). It is also not recommended for premature babies due to the risk of osteopenia. Hypoallergenic formulas are often better choices for sensitive babies.
Carrageenan can lead to significant intestinal inflammation, causing long-term digestive issues.
Palm oil is often added to formulas to mimic the fatty acids found in breast milk even though this processed oil can be difficult for babies to digest and can cause intestinal inflammation.
Synthetic Ingredients & Preservatives Synthetic nutrients & preservatives are commonly added to formulas and the only way to completely avoid them is by making your own infant formula, sourcing donor milk, or importing a high-quality formula from Europe where the regulations on ingredients and additives are more stringent.
Supplementation for formula-fed babies
Depending on what your formula contains, you may want to consider additional supplementation for your baby. The Following can be helpful - but it’s always best to speak with a holistic practitioner, your midwife or doctor prior to supplementing.
Infant Probiotic: To promote healthy digestion, strengthen immunity, and help prevent eczema and allergies.
DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid): A polyunsaturated, omega-3 fatty acid essential for the development of baby’s brain.
Vitamin D3: Important for the development of bones and teeth, immune function, and to help protects against respiratory infections.
Read up on different kinds of formulas and compare ingredients against prices to find some that work best for your baby and family. Everyone will choose differently, and that’s okay!
Here are some steps you can take when doing research to help you make your decision:
Check the US Food and Drug Administration for recalls
Check the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website for the latest on BPA lining in formula cans
Decide whether you want to try an organic formula. There are some out there but they are typically hard to find, and usually formulated for children 1 year+ (although some products can be suitable for infants)
If baby spits up, has diarrhea or constipation, eczema, rashes, doesn’t sleep or seems restless, or is failing to develop or gain weight, compare formulas. Take a look at the ingredient list for the formula baby is having and note down the carbohydrate source, protein source, and if the fat source contains palm oil. Try other formulas that contain different sources of carbohydrates or protein, and ones that do not include palm oil, and then monitor baby for any signs or changes. Also note if the formula has extra iron added, or DHA and arachidonic acid added, and look for formulas without those present to see if those eliminations help to ease symptoms.
Try baby probiotics - they help the baby absorb iron, reduce the risk of allergies and support the baby’s developing digestive and immune systems. *This is especially important if your baby was delivered by c-section.
If the baby was born healthy and full term, a standard formula (organic is recommended but not always the right choice for families) should be fine.