Baby Formula 101: Understanding the Different Types and Their Benefits

Breastfeeding is the best way to feed a newborn. According to WHO recommendations, a toddler should receive a mother’s milk until at least the age of two. However, it is not always possible for a woman to feed an infant naturally. If the child suffers from congenital galactosemia or the mother has a nutritional deficiency, artificial feeding with baby formula should be implemented. The product of animal origin has been developed so that its composition resembles human milk as much as possible.

Which infant formula to choose? Which product on the market deserves to be called the best baby formula? This article addresses these and many other vital issues related to feeding your baby with infant formula.

Why do babies need to consume baby formula and not regular milk?

Plain cow milk is unhealthy for a baby. Not only does it contain twice as much protein and some mineral elements as breast milk, but it also has an ingredient called beta-lactoglobulin, considered by doctors to be one of the main food allergens. This is why even a small portion of regular cow milk can cause vomiting, diarrhea, or stomach pains in a baby.

Baby formula is cow milk (sometimes, goat milk), subjected to a special process during which it is prepared so that the composition and proportions of nutrients resemble breast milk as much as possible.

During the modification process, the excess of some ingredients (e.g., protein, sodium, and potassium) is removed from the milk because, in the amount present in cow milk, they could overload the baby’s digestive system, liver, and kidneys. On the other hand, other ingredients are not present in sufficient amounts in cow milk, so they are added to the baby formula. These are iron, unsaturated fatty acids, microelements, and vitamin D3, among others.

What to consider when choosing baby formula

You should consider many factors when selecting a baby formula for your little one. We will cover the essential ones below. Still, it is always better to consult a pediatrician to make the right choice.

Your Baby’s Age

There are several stages of baby formulas intended for babies of different ages. Newborns up to the age of six months should be fed formula Stage 1 (so-called infant formula). HiPP organic formula or any other formula for babies from 6 to 12 months is marked with the number 2. Stages 3, 4, and 5 are used in children over one year and are called the Junior formula.

Nutritional needs

Some metabolic diseases and food allergies prevent the intake of certain nutrients. Fortunately, there are many kinds of baby formulas, including those meeting specific dietary needs. For example, baby formulas without cow’s protein are dedicated to infants allergic to cow’s milk protein, while lactose-free formulas are recommended when the infant has congenital lactose intolerance.

If a newborn or infant has gastric problems, special mixtures are used, tailored to the baby’s needs. Which product to choose depends on the doctor’s decision. Only a specialist can decide whether to change the formula, for example, to one for constipation or goat formula.

If your baby has digestive problems, you can purchase a formula that will remedy it:

  • AR — anti-reflux baby formula. It contains a substance (locust bean gum or potato starch) that thickens milk in the baby’s stomach.
  • R or GR — formula with adding rice or rice-buckwheat gruel, more filling than other mixtures. It is designed for babies with a big appetite or for feeding at night so that the baby wakes up less often.
  • Comfort, AntiColic — formula for colic and flatulence. These have a reduced content of lactose, hydrolyzed (i.e., fragmented) protein, and the addition of fiber that loosens stools.
  • PRE — formulas for premature babies. They can come in handy if, for example, your baby has to stay in the hospital for a long time or you can’t breastfeed. Such a mixture contains long-chain fatty acids that support the nervous system.

Some manufacturers also produce ready-to-feed baby formulas, which is very convenient when you cannot prepare the mixture and have to feed your little one on the go.

Additional ingredients

Before making the final choice, it is also worth checking the additional nutrients the baby formula contains. You will hardly find a baby formula containing only the basic ingredients specified by law. Even the cheapest mixture has some additional nutritional complex that makes it similar to breast milk. No mixture would completely imitate the mother’s milk, but the more valuable substances the baby formula contains, the better. Here are the ingredients to pay attention to:

  • Probiotics. They colonize the intestines and support their work, have a beneficial effect on the infant’s immunity, inhibit the growth of microorganisms, prevent constipation, and soothe the symptoms of lactose intolerance. They also take part in the absorption of calcium, phosphorus, iron, B vitamins, and vitamin K.
  • Oligosaccharides (prebiotics). These are complex sugars not broken down in the digestive tract but fermented only in the large intestine. They are a source of probiotics, facilitate calcium absorption, and make the baby’s stool softer, preventing constipation. The ones found naturally in breast milk are HMOs (Human Milk Oligosaccharides). They play a crucial role in building a baby’s immunity. In addition to oligosaccharides with a structure identical to those in human milk, galactooligosaccharides (GOS) and fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are also added to baby formulas, which, however, do not occur naturally in breast milk.
  • Nucleotides. These are especially essential during the period of intensive growth, as they participate in the processes of cell division. They also support the immune system and improve bowel function.
  • LCPUFA fatty acids, or long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, including DHA and ALA. Both belong to omega-3 acids and are needed for the development of the brain and nervous tissues. DHA acid is necessary for the proper development and work of the cells of the nervous system and the retina of the baby’s eye.

Hopefully, this article helped you to understand baby formulas better. To choose a suitable product for your infant, don’t hesitate to contact a healthcare specialist.