18 Apr Informed is best. But what if …?
Breast milk will always be the first choice for infant nutrition due to the uncountable benefits on both mum’s and babies. According to the WHO (World Health Organization), as well as many other pediatrics and nutrition academies, exclusive breastfeeding is recommended until the baby is 6 months of age and should be continued with complementary foods until 12 months or even beyond.
However, in many cases, despite the mother’s desire to breastfeed her baby, things don’t go as planned and exclusively breastfeeding is no longer possible. So, what should a mother do in cases like this? Is it OK to give their baby an infant formula and which one should they pick?
There’s a wide range of different formula brands and types available on the market which can make things pretty confusing for parents and families, but I’m going to share some key points to help you make the right call when selecting the right milk formula for your baby.
When is it OK to use a baby formula?
As mentioned earlier, human milk is always the best choice to feed a baby, however, there are some cases where breastfeeding may not always be possible or suitable.
When a baby can’t be breastfed exclusively, an infant formula is the best and safest alternative. Infant formula is an industrially produced substitute which attempts to mimic the nutritional composition of breast milk as closely as possible and is based on cow’s or soy milk, in most cases.(R)
How to pick the right formula for your baby
The first thing you need to do is make sure you get the right formula for your baby’s age, as nutritional needs change as the baby grows, which means many nutritional formulas adjust their ingredients according to the specific needs of each stage. For example, you can find:
They were developed to meet the unique nutritional needs of preterm or low birth weight babies. These formulas have a higher caloric density and higher amounts of several minerals and vitamins than the standard ones; however, they are usually discontinued before hospital discharge as preterm infants need to be closely monitored, particularly due to their immature digestive system and kidneys.(R)
Most babies need a basic or standard formula for term infants. Their carbohydrate source is lactose, they contain cow’s milk protein, and the fats are from a blend of vegetable oils. This type has the ideal balance of all macronutrients in order to make them the most similar possible alternative to breast milk. This is why term formulas are perfect for most children and you’ll usually find formulas from 0 to 6 months like Nestle Nan Supreme Stage 1 and a follow-on, which is for babies from 6 month’s to 1 year, i.e Bellamy’s Organic Follow-on Formula Stage 2 (R)(R)
Growing-up milk or follow-on formula
They are milk-based drinks or plant protein-based formula which are intended to partially cover the nutritional requirements of children between 1-3 years of age. Although it is not recommended routinely, as eating a variety of healthy foods will more than cover the nutritional needs of a child, follow on formula can be used as an aid to increase the intake of iron, vitamin D and n-3 PUFA, when there may be concerns about nutrient deficiencies. (R)
i.e Karicare Plus+ Toddler Formula Stage 3 12 Months+
S26 Gold Alula Toddler 1 Year + 900g
What are the types of infant formula?
If you’re not sure what kind of formula is best for your baby, you’ll have to ask your pediatrician or paedicatric dietitian for advice beforehand. It is best to select the right formula right from the beginning and avoid changing the formula frequently.
Cow’s milk formula
Also known as “standard” formula’s, these products are the most commonly used substitutes for human milk. In this case, cow’s milk protein is altered to make them more suitable for your baby’s digestive tract. Note that this is not the same as the regular cow’s milk you drink, which according to the Australian Paediatric Society should not be given to children under the age of one, due to infant’s immature kidney’s being able to digest the cow’s milk protein adequately.
It’s important to mention now that bowel movements and stool patterns are different in babies who are formula fed. Usually, the stools of formula-fed infants tend to be thicker in consistency, darker in color, and less frequent than that of those fed with breast milk during the first few weeks after birth. (R)
Soy milk formula
Instead of cow’s milk, they contain vegetable-based protein, and are usually an effective option in cases of lactose intolerance and other medical complications such as galactosemia or congenital lactase deficiency.
Soy-based formula may be a good alternative in cases of allergy to cow’s milk protein. However, as many as half the infants who have cow’s milk allergy are also sensitive to soy protein, and thus they must be given a specialized formula, such as amino-based formula. (R)
ESPGHAN recommends that soy protein formulas should not be used for babies with cow’s milk protein allergy during the first 6 months of life because the reported rate of adverse reactions to soy protein was higher in infants under 6 months of age.
i.e Karicare+ Soy Milk Baby
They are meant for babies who don’t tolerate cow’s milk or soy-based formulas well. They contain protein that has been hydrolyzed—partially or extensively—into smaller sizes to make them easier to digest. These are recommended for babies with some kind of allergies, gastrointestinal issues or poor nutrient absorption.
i.e Aptamil Gold+ HA Baby Formula Stage 1 From Birth 0-12 Months
This formula is suitable for babies who don’t tolerate or can’t digest the lactose found in cow’s milk well. Lactose intolerant babies will show some symptoms like diarrhoea, abdominal pain, wind and bloating. If you suspect your baby may be lactose intolerant, it’s important to consult your doctor or paediatric dietitian first and avoid buying a lactose-free formula over the counter.
i.e Aptamil Gold+ De-lact Lactose Free Formula 0-12mnths
They should be used for babies with existing allergic symptoms, like milk protein allergy, which can present with any combination of cutaneous, respiratory, and gastrointestinal issues. Blood in the stool is a classic symptom.
Specialized formulas are manufactured for infants with specific disorders or diseases, such as gastroesophageal reflux. In this case, anti-reflux formulas have been shown to decrease daily episodes of regurgitation and vomiting. If your pediatrician recommends a specialized formula for your baby, follow their guidance about feeding requirements (amounts, scheduling, special preparations) carefully, since these may be quite different from regular formulas. (R)(R)
i.e S26 Gold Alula Anti Reflux 0-12months 900g
So, in summary, breastmilk will always be the best food and the first choice for feeding your baby, but when it’s not possible, for whatever reason, it’s up to you and your healthcare provider to choose the best milk replacement available for your baby. As you saw, there’s a wide variety of formula milk, and I in no way endorse any particular formula company or brand, nor am I financially supported to promote these companies. It is always advisable to seek professional advice from your doctor or make an appointment today with your paediatric dietitian, such as myself, to help take out the confusion of what to feed your baby when you are unable to breastfeed.