How to Buy Baby Formula

Published on 07/13/2022 · 7 min readIt can be hard to know which baby formula is right for your baby! Baby and Toddler Expert Kristina Spencer outlines the different kinds to help you sort through it all.
Kristina Spencer, Baby Expert
By Baby Expert Kristina Spencer

Photo by Rainier Ridao

There are many reasons to use infant formula to feed your baby, and deciding to use it entirely depends on your family situation. With so many formula options on the market, the type of formula you purchase for your child depends on their dietary needs. Infant tummies are learning to adjust to life and need a baby formula gentle enough to digest without causing problems. It’s an important subject to discuss with your pediatrician before use.

Remember, there is no one best baby formula. Each one has a lot of different aspects to consider which I will break down here.

Different Types

Baby formulas come in three different preparations: powdered, liquid concentrate, and ready-to-feed. Deciding which is best for you is a case of preference, cost, and availability.

Powdered

Photo by Ajay Suresh

Powdered formula is often the most common type that comes to mind when you think of baby formula. It comes in cans, is shelf-stable, and is economical to use. With powdered formula, you measure out and mix up a bottle as needed during the day, or you can make a larger amount at once to keep in the fridge. Once prepared, powdered formula stays fresh in the fridge for up to 24hrs.

Liquid Concentrate

Liquid concentrate formula comes in cans, like evaporated milk. Unopened, it’s shelf-stable, but it tends to not be as economical as powdered formula. To use this type of formula, you blend equal amounts of water with the formula. Most parents mix the entire can at once and store it in the fridge where it stays fresh for up to 48hrs.

Ready-to-Feed Formula

Ready-to-feed formula is exactly like it sounds. It can be put in a bottle and drunk immediately—no mixing is necessary. It’s usually sold in 2, 4, or 8oz containers. Measuring isn’t necessary because you feed your baby the amount in the package. It remains shelf-stable as long as it isn’t opened. Once opened, it lasts for up to 48hrs in the fridge.

Dairy or Plant-Based

Over the years, more and more people are reassessing their use of cow milk. If you browse the dairy aisle at the store, you find a large assortment of milk that doesn't come from cows at all! Next to standard cow's milk, you see goat, lactose-free, almond, soy, oat, and coconut milk (and more!). Infant formula is similarly available in an assortment of dairy or plant-based options.

It's a good idea to check with your pediatrician before deciding on a specific formula, especially one that is plant-based or designed for sensitive tummies.

Dairy

Pediatricians recommend waiting until a child is one-year-old to drink pure cow's milk. Dairy-based powdered formulas use dairy, through the use of whey protein, as the base for their powdered formulas. Going straight to cow's milk may be hard on an infant’s tummy, but baby formulas take that milk and turn it into something babies can drink.

Alternative Milk

Many sensitive formulas are milk-based and still contain lactose, yet are gentler on little tummies. However, some babies have a milk protein allergy and are sensitive to milk-based products, even if the product is a lactose-free formula.

For these children, switching to a plant-based formula may be the right choice for a happy baby with a happy tummy. Soy formulas are just as nutritious for babies as their cow's milk counterparts.

Ingredients

All baby formulas sold in the U.S. contain the recommended amount of FDA-required vitamins and minerals to meet your baby's nutritional needs, but some formulas include additional nutrients to help your child grow and learn.

Some added nutrients vary in the amount of research or supporting evidence regarding their benefits for brain development or health. Discuss these additives with your pediatrician for more information.

Added Nutrients

  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid): An omega-3 fatty acid found in breast milk that supports brain and eye development.
  • Lutein: Promotes eye health.
  • ARA (arachidonic acid): Another fatty acid found in breast milk that supports brain and eye development.
  • Probiotics: Certain strains of beneficial bacteria good for the digestive tract and thought to reduce gas.
  • Prebiotics: Non-digestible food ingredients that function as a food source for healthy gut microorganisms. They are thought to mimic the benefits of natural breast milk as much as possible.

Organic

Some families take great pains to buy organic food and products, and baby formula is no exception. Organic dairy formulas are made from milk from cows fed only organic hay and feed, meaning they are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.

Formula for Toddlers

Most parents think of baby formula as only necessary for infants with a transition to cow's milk at a year old. But some children might benefit from the use of a formula in their toddler years. Toddler-powdered formulas are manufactured for growing kids with their nutritional needs in mind. They give your child, aged one-three, a boost in life with added nutrition not found in regular milk.

Formula Shortage

You’ve done the research and talked with your pediatrician to decide the best formula for your baby. But what do you do when you can’t find the baby formula you’ve been using? Babies have sensitive stomachs, and not all of them tolerate a quick switch to another formula.

This isn't just related to the 2022 formula shortage but is something to consider in other circumstances as well. Maybe you're traveling and ran out of formula, or the place you’re visiting doesn't carry the same brand you use at home. Perhaps a snowstorm or other natural disaster has taken place and delivery trucks aren't able to restock the baby formula you use before you run out. Many normal and unpredictable life situations make it difficult to find certain products. So how do you keep your baby fed during those times?

Store (Generic) Brands

Look to store brands for a replacement formula. While they don't carry popular names such as Similac or Enfamil, generic brands aren't low-quality products. In fact, store brands are a desirable alternative to name brands for both cost savings and quality.

Many generic brands have a “compare to (name brand)” label on their packaging. This comparison shows the product is formulated similarly, if not identically, to the name brand and may work just as well. Read the ingredient labels carefully as occasionally generic brands have different ingredients that may not be what you are looking for.

Supplementation

Life interferes with the best of plans. Moms start out breastfeeding but discover their milk supply isn’t enough to support their growing infant. Other women have multiple children and have to add in, or switch entirely to, formula because their body can't support feeding more than one.

External circumstances cause problems too. Maybe you need to return to work, have an unexpected trip, or another life situation takes you away from your infant. In these cases, breast milk can’t be the sole supply of nutrition.

Certain medicines to treat illness and over-the-counter supplements get into breast milk as well. If you need antibiotics or take medicine (even natural medicines and supplements), check with your doctor before you continue to breastfeed; even if it is just for a day or two.

If you find your milk is just not available for your infant, then using a formula as a supplement, along with breastfeeding, is a great alternative.

The choice to use baby formula or to breastfeed is a decision that should be discussed with your pediatrician. They can answer questions about different baby formulas and help you decide on the best approach for your child.

This content is meant to be informative and add to your understanding of this subject, but it is not definitive nor a replacement for your own sensibility. Neither Curated nor any Curated Expert is responsible for any liability resulting from information or advice shared here. Please consult with a medical professional for any health concerns.

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