There are a million reasons you might choose to formula-feed your baby, but choosing the best formula shouldn’t be a chore! The formula companies certainly don’t make it easy for you. Not only do you have to choose between brands, but each brand offers at least 5 different varieties of its own! Does brand name matter? Or Powder vs. Liquid ? What about Organic vs. Regular ? And how about those Specialty Varieties ? Read on to find out.
Which Brand is Best?
This is a tricky one. All makers of infant formula are required to adhere to the FDA’s nutritional guidelines when formulating their products. This means you can feel confident that any brand you choose will offer your baby all the vitamins, minerals, Calories and macronutrients he/she needs to grow properly. The FDA inspects the facilities of these companies regularly and if they find a problem with any of the products, they require the company to issue a recall. That being said, certain brands will offer specific varieties of formula you may find more suitable for your needs (see below). And you might want to opt for more established brands of formula like Similac or Enfamil over newly introduced smaller batch brands since these companies are backed by panels of scientists who have been researching and improving their formula for years.
Powder vs. Liquid
Infant formula is sold in three different forms (powder or 2 liquid versions). Which you choose really depends on your needs, but here are my thoughts.
Powder Powdered formula is the most economical option, and the most commonly used. However, it is not necessarily the safest since it cannot be sterilized. While it does have a slightly higher risk of contamination in processing, it is unlikely that you will purchase a “bad batch”. In addition to this minor risk, powdered formula is also the most laborious to prepare. It should be prepared with sterile water, meaning tap water must be boiled for at least a minute and then brought back to room temperature before mixing. You can avoid this time-consuming task by purchasing water that has already undergone this process (“distilled water”), but this will obviously offset a bit of the economical benefits. Powdered formula is also less reliable in its nutritional value than liquid formula since the task of measuring leaves room for human error and may end up in a more/less nutritiously concentrated bottle at each feeding.
Liquid/Ready to Feed Ready-to-feed formula is just as it sounds. It is liquid, sold in a bottle ready to feed to your baby immediately. Just open the bottle and pour the desired amount. That’s it. It will need to be refrigerated after opening, so if you have a picky eater on your hands, you may need to warm it a bit before the next feeding. (Note: Never warm a bottle in the microwave. It may heat unevenly and result in “hot spots” which can burn your baby. You can warm a bottle using a bottle warmer, or simply run warm water from the faucet over the outside of the bottle for about a minute.) Ready-to-feed also comes in single-serve bottles which are great for traveling, like these 2 Oz. Similacs. It is also sterilized during processing, so the chance of contamination during preparation is less than with powdered formula. While this form is a bit pricier than powder and concentrates, it is so easy and fast you may find it worth the cost.
Verdict? Liquid is the better, safer and most nutritiously reliable option if cost is not an issue. However, if you have a safe and clean water supply, feel confident preparing bottles according to package directions, and you don’t mind the task, powder is much more economical and (can be) just as safe.
Regular vs. Organic
This is a debate for pretty much every food on the shelf, and it starts in infancy. What does “organic” mean in reference to infant formula? How important is it for you to feed your baby organic formula? Is it worth the extra money?
Any food labeled “organic” (including infant formula) has been produced in such a way that it meets a set of guidelines devised by the USDA. First, this means that the food or food product has been produced without the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s). It must be noted that although there is currently no evidence proving GMO foods to be harmful, there is still much debate on the subject. Organic foods are also produced without the use of synthetic substances (except those that have been deemed safe by the USDA) and have been produced as naturally as possible. There is also currently no evidence that proves the use of synthetic pesticides to be harmful either, or we wouldn’t be allowing them in the food supply.
That being said, if the use of GMO’s or synthetic substances makes you uncomfortable, many “inorganic” infant formulas are now produced without these anyway. For example, Enfamil does not offer an organic variety, but they now offer a non-GMO option for all of their formulas. Mead Johnson (the parent company of Enfamil) also states that their formulas are “free of residues from pesticides or antibiotics, and milk protein sources do not use added bovine growth hormone”.
As I noted above, all infant formulas whether organic or not, are produced to meet the same set of safety and nutritional standards and will provide your little one with adequate nutrition.
Verdict? Either is a perfectly good option for your child that will provide them with quality nutrition and is held to very strict safety standards. Personally, I don’t see the value in spending the extra 7-9 cents per bottle on organic formula when “inorganic” formulas are available with the same benefits (quality nutrition, non-GMO, hormone/antiobiotic/pesticide-free). I suppose some people may feel more peace of mind choosing a formula that carries that certified organic seal, but it’s honestly not necessary.
Supplementation for Nursing Mothers If you take a closer look at the nutrition facts panel and ingredient lists on regular formula vs. formula meant for supplementation they are nearly identical. I looked at the Similac Advanced vs. Similac for Supplementation varieties for this entry, and there were 2 very slight differences I between the two. The first was that soy lecithin & ascorbic acid appear swapped in the ingredients list, meaning they are present in slightly different amounts. The second was a tenth of a gram more carbohydrate per serving in the supplementation variety (10.8g) over the regular formula (10.7g). Soy lecithin is a food additive used in a variety of processed foods, usually as an emulsifier or to enhance the texture of the food. Ascorbic acid is a fancy name for Vitamin C. There is no difference in the amount of vitamin C per serving according to the nutrition facts panel (9mg/serving in both), so I have to believe that extra tenth of a gram of carbohydrate is coming from the soy lecithin. In any case, that tenth of a gram isn’t affecting the calories per serving or any other nutritional offerings of the formula.
Verdict? The label “for supplementation” is a marketing tactic meant to appeal to nursing mothers. There is no significant difference in the formula’s nutritional content when compared to the regular variety. The only difference that is significant is the pricetag ($1 more!).
Soy-Based If there is a need for you to use soy rather than milk-based infant formula, your pediatrician will advise you. Soy-based formula is used if your infant has a milk-protein allergy/sensitivity or cannot handle the lactose (galactosemia). Those hoping to adhere to a vegan diet might also opt for soy formula. And while some may say it helps with colic, there is no evidence to support that claim.
Verdict? Unless medically necessary, milk-based formula is a better choice.
Sensitive Tummies Formulas labeled “sensitive tummies” or “for spit-up” or “for gas” actually do have a difference in ingredients, unlike the “for supplementation” varieties. The most apparent difference when looking at the nutrition panel is the inclusion of corn syrup as the primary ingredient (regular formula lists nonfat milk and lactose as the first two ingredients). Because lactose can cause discomfort for some babies with a sensitivity, the substitution of corn syrup makes sense. The body breaks down the sugars in corn syrup differently than lactose (the sugar in milk) so it may ease tummy troubles for some babies.
Verdict? Formula for sensitive tummies may actually relieve discomfort for some babies.
The choice of which formula to feed your baby is a very personal one, and you have to weigh the pros and cons according to your unique situation. Rest assured however, that no matter which one you choose, all infant formulas are very strictly regulated and would not be on the market if they were not considered safe for consumption.