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Baby Formula: How to choose?

Dianna Graveman | 5, December 2011


Baby Formula: How to choose?

The abundance of baby formula brands, forms, and types in the grocery aisle can seem overwhelming when it's time to make a choice for your little one. But rest assured that all baby formulas adhere to strict FDA (Food and Drug Administration) guidelines, so all approved formulas are nutritionally sound. For extra assurance, check the FDA website ( and compare the upper and lower limits for all vitamins and nutrients to the labels on formulas at the store. Even generic brands must meet the FDA guidelines, although specific ingredients can vary between brands. Always be careful to check expiration dates and avoid buying dented or damaged containers.

Also, it never hurts to consult with your pediatrician. He or she may have a favorite formula brand to recommend--one that he or she has found to be more easily digested by most patients. If your baby has an allergy to soy or milk, your doctor will be able to suggest alternatives.

Powdered, liquid concentrate, and ready-to-feed formulas

Some moms say that powdered formula is most convenient, because it is the most portable and doesn't have to be refrigerated. It takes up the least amount of space, at home and while in transit. It lasts for about a month after opening, and you can mix as little as you need at one time--helpful if you are mostly breastfeeding your baby and only provide an occasional bottle.

Others will suggest ready-to-feed is more convenient, because you don't need to do anything but pour it into the bottle. If you are traveling and are not sure you will have access to safe water, ready-to-feed is the only way to go. And although it takes up more room and is bulkier to transport, ready-to-feed might provide that extra little peace of mind, since it's sterile. However, once opened, it must be used within 48 hours and is considerably more expensive than powdered or concentrate.

Concentrate is probably the best balance between the two. Although you have to mix it with water, it's a little simpler to prepare than powdered formula and takes up less space and is less expensive than ready-to-feed.

Which of the three you choose--powdered, concentrate, or ready-to-feed depends mostly on your lifestyle and daily schedule; your baby will probably have no preference.

Milk-based, soy-based, and specialty formulas

Most formulas are milk-based and are generally recommended for full-term babies with no health or allergy issues. Although the main ingredient is cow's milk (with additional vitamins and minerals added), the protein has been modified so that most babies can easily digest it, even before they are old enough to digest regular pasteurized cow's milk.

Some babies, however, will still have trouble digesting milk-based formula, and soy-based formula may be recommended. Soy-based formulas are made with a plant protein that is also modified to make it easy to digest. Parents who are vegans (those who don't eat meat or meat by-products) often choose this type of formula for their infants. However, soy-based formulas are not recommended for low-birth-weight or preterm babies. If you have concerns, consult with your pediatrician.

Some other specialized types of formula that contain more calories and protein may be recommended in the case of low-birth-weight babies. If your baby has colic, your pediatrician may recommend a hydrolyzed formula, in which the protein is modified even further to make it extremely easy to digest. This type of formula is also recommended for some babies with allergies or other digestive issues. A human milk fortifier is sometimes suggested for babies who need enriched nutrition. Usually the human milk fortifier is combined with breast milk or can be alternated with breast milk. There are other very specialized formulas for babies who have a specific health concern, and your pediatrician will guide you in choosing one of these if your baby will benefit.

Never make or modify your baby's formula

Pediatricians do not recommend that you add anything to your baby's formula or modify it in any way, as it is developed to be nutritionally balanced when you purchase it. Also, it is important to never attempt manufacture your own baby formula. The wrong amount or balance of nutrients could seriously jeopardize your baby's health.

Dianna Graveman is a St. Louis writer, editor, educator, and mother of three. Her work has appeared in many print and online publications. Visit her website at or her blog at

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