The breast is best mantra is widespread by now, and for good reason: there is no better milk for a baby than their mother’s. But that doesn’t mean breast milk is the only good choice for little ones. Baby formula can offer an excellent next-best option with plenty of nutrients to help babies thrive. However, not all formulas are made equal. There are a few key considerations to make when choosing which formula to feed your little one. Read on to learn what to look for as you parse through healthy baby formula options and decide which one to feed your child.
Match Your Child’s Age
Baby formulas are categorized by specific age ranges. It’s important to follow these guidelines to give your baby the best nutrition for their specific stage of growth. The needs of a 3-month old don’t match the needs of a 20-month old, and the formulas made for each age reflect what’s best at that time — so be sure to match your little one with the corresponding stage of formula.
An organic label means that the product’s ingredients are sourced from farms that grow and process them to a high standard, producing superior-quality foods that are better for our health. This also applies to baby formula. However, it’s important to look beyond the organic label. Many formulas may “include organic ingredients” — but it’s unclear just how much of what it contains is organic. Look for formulas that contain at least 95% organic ingredients to ensure your baby is getting the best quality nutrients.
Go for the Iron
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends selecting a formula that is fortified with iron. Iron supports the immune system and also helps prevent anemia by facilitating blood circulation throughout the body. Babies are actually born with about 6 months’ worth of iron stored up, so it’s especially important that they get additional iron after the 6-month mark. But not too much, as excess iron can lead to constipation. The sweet spot is somewhere between 4 and 7 milligrams per liter of formula.
Look for Lactose
Lactose is found in breast milk and is what gives it a sweet taste. Yet, many baby formula companies add less expensive sugars like corn syrup, glucose, and fructose to sweeten their formulas. Healthy adults try to avoid these ingredients in their diets — so why would we give them to our babies? Check labels for formulas that use lactose instead of added sweeteners.
An added bonus: lactose is a good source of carbohydrates, which make up almost half of baby’s energy and contribute to brain development. Ideally, organic lactose should be the only sweetener in baby formula. If lactose isn’t the only sweetener listed, check the label that it’s at least the first one.
Skip the Artificial Stuff
Avoiding artificial, synthetic, and genetically modified (GMO) ingredients is easier said than done. And baby formula is no exception. Look for an organic label, which means the product is essentially free of GMO, artificial, and most synthetic ingredients. Organic ingredients must also be grown without the use of pesticides and the animals are fed with food free of antibiotics and hormones.
Consider Prebiotics & Probiotics
Probiotics are the good bacteria that live in the gut and prebiotics are carbohydrates that help the probiotics to thrive. Probiotics have been found to help babies fight off respiratory illnesses and gastrointestinal infections. They also help maintain good overall health. Because probiotics and prebiotics are found in breast milk, including them in baby formula brings the formula one step closer to breast milk (although, at least in the case of prebiotics, evidence of significant benefits is limited, so this isn’t a make or break criteria).
Avoid Soy-Based Formulas
Formula made from cow’s milk doesn’t always agree with babies’ stomachs. When this happens, it may seem like soy-based formula is your only option. But studies like this one show serious concern with feeding soy formulas to little ones. There is evidence that soy-based formulas change the body’s hormone balance, especially in girls. They also contain a protein called Trypsin Inhibitors which reduces our ability to absorb nutrients. And lastly, Phytic Acid is an organic acid found in soy formulas that can lead to irritable digestion. For these reasons, soy-based formulas should be a last resort for babies who show signs of an allergy to cow’s milk formulas.
Better alternatives are formulas made from goat’s milk or hypoallergenic formulas made from hydrolyzed dairy. Hydrolyzed dairy means the dairy proteins are broken down into small pieces, allowing them to go undetected by the immune system so that they don’t cause an allergic reaction.
If you’re wondering how to pick a baby formula, be sure to consult with your pediatrician, as they know your baby and any specific considerations that should be taken into account. Feel free to share your experience researching or choosing a formula in the comments below.
Katie Dodd Syk is SEO Manager at the Organic Baby Food Shop and mama to two small boys. She is constantly looking for parenting short-cuts and fun ways to live a healthy lifestyle.
She loves traveling, reading, writing, yoga, and playing with her kids at their local splash pad here in Austin, Texas.