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The Complete Guide to Feeding Baby Formula from a Registered Dietitian Mom

There are so many different types of baby formula out there—it can be hard to know which one is right for your baby! Whether you’re using formula as a supplement or alternative to breastfeeding, picking a formula can be challenging – especially with all the kinds to choose from. Here we break down the basics of common formula types and tell you all you need to know about feeding baby formula.

Standard Formula

Most brands have a standard formula that contains 19 calories per ounce and is fortified with vitamins and minerals. Depending on the brand, the formula may also add essential fatty acids or carbs that try their best to imitate those found in breastmilk.

Sensitive Formula

Formulas labelled “sensitive” usually contain more broken-down carbohydrates than standard formula. This can make the formula easier to digest. Sensitive formulas also may be low in lactose. These formulas are also helpful for premature babies once they reach a few months of age.

Partially Hydrolyzed Formula

These formulas contain broken-down carbs and proteins, making them even easier to digest. If your baby’s doctor thinks that he or she may have mild digestive issues, this formula can help ease digestive symptoms.

Extensively Hydrolyzed Formula

Extensively hydrolyzed formulas are the next step in breaking down the nutrients in the formula. The proteins in this formula are fully broken down, and the formulas also contain easy-to-digest carbs and fats. These formulas are best for babies with severe digestive issues if other formulas haven’t worked well.

Soy-Based Formula

If a baby is showing symptoms of a cow’s milk protein allergy, switching to a soy formula is sometimes recommended. The baby may later outgrow the allergy, but the soy formula is an alternative to the formulas above, which are all cow’s milk based.

Preemie Formula

Babies born prematurely have different needs than full term infants. Preemie formula usually contains more calories (about 22 calories per ounce) and extra vitamins and minerals, to make up for the nutrients that the baby would have gotten in utero. The increased calories help the baby grow, and once the baby is growing well, parents can switch to a standard-calorie formula.

Formula Feeding Tips

Always discuss changing your baby’s formula with a healthcare provider. It is also healthy for baby if you choose one brand and type of formula that your baby tolerates best and stick to it instead of switching around a lot. Also, be aware that infant formula companies do not  use the whole truth when advertising their products. It is best for you to do your due diligence and research on your own which type of infant formula may be best for you and your baby. Again, ask your baby’s doctor, or better yet, a pediatric registered dietitian for guidance on which infant formula to choose.

Formula is not considered a sterile product. Therefore, following the mixing instructions on the can is important to keep your baby safe. 

Always put the recommended amount of water in the bottle first and then add the formula to the water. Doing the mixing the other way around can decrease the total amount of water in the mixture and change the calories in the formula. Do not try to ‘stretch’ how long infant formula will last by adding more water than is recommended on the can. Watering down baby formula decreases the amount of nutrients and calories that your baby drinks at each feed and can cause low weight gain and poor brain growth.

Some internet sites tout that you can make your own baby formula. Making your own baby formula from store bought ingredients, such as powdered cow milk or raw milk and sugar, is not recommended and can put your baby and his or her digestive tract at risk

It is best to find formula that has been approved by the FDA. The FDA inspects baby formulas and the factories that manufacture them to make sure there is no contamination or spoilage. Also, the AAP recommends buying infant formulas that are made in the United States. This means that they are not imported from other countries.

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Emily Sylvester

Emily Sylvester is the Founder & CEO of Mother of Fact. As a Licensed Registered Dietitian, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, and Mom of 3, she's helped thousands of families in many low/middle income communities feel confident and supported in their feeding journey. Her mission is to eliminate the deficit of equitable breastfeeding & formula feeding help for all households & healthcare systems.
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