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Does Your Baby Need Probiotic Formula?

Katlyn Joy |14, September 2014


Once you've made the decision breast or bottle, there are more decisions to make if you chose bottle. Namely, which formula is the best for your child?

Of course the best is still breast milk, and the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians, recommend mothers nurse their babies exclusively for the first six months of life. However, if that's not your choice, you need to be aware of your options.

How Do I Know the Formula is Safe?

The Food and Drug Administration monitors all baby formulas for safe standards. The Consumer Union has brought up some concerns however that parents may want to be informed about. Nearly all formulas are now fortified with DHA or docosahexaenoic acid and ARA or arachidonic acid. These are synthetic versions of the fatty acids that are found in breast milk. The question is whether these are beneficial or not in formula. The studies have not been conclusive.

Furthermore, to make these synthetic oils, hexane is used. This is a petroleum byproduct and known to be a neurotoxin when inhaled. Manufacturers argue hexane evaporates in the process, and no residue is left in the formula and that hexane has been used in food processing safely for many years.

Types of Baby Formulas

The first category of choice is the form of formula. You can pick from powdered, ready-to-feed liquid and concentrated liquid. Powdered is the cheapest and the most work to use, while ready-to-feed is both the simplest and most expensive to use. Concentrated liquid still requires the addition of water prior to feeding, but will mix faster than the powdered variety.

Cow's Milk Formulas

Formulas based on cow's milk make up the overwhelming majority of formulas at over 80 percent. These have been formulated to be safe for babies, and are iron-fortified. Babies need iron, and these fortified formulas have greatly reduced cases of iron anemia in infants.

Hydrolyzed Formulas

These are also referred to as "pre-digested," because the proteins have been partially broken down for easier digestion in babies especially those who are at risk for allergies, due to family history or the appearance of eczema or dermatitis. Also known as hypo-allergenic formula, these are believed to decrease the risk of developing food allergies by 90 percent. However, the safest bet in such cases is breastfeeding.

Soy Formulas

These are not cow milk based, and were once some of the only alternatives for parents of colicky, gassy babies. Now there are lactose-free formulas which should solve most digestive issues in infants. Many infants sensitive to dairy are also sensitive to soy.

The AAP recommends cow's milk formulas except in rare instances, such as when a child has the condition, galactosemia. This condition is routinely tested for in most states, so you will likely know if your child falls into this category.

Special Formulas

There are a number of specialized formulas geared to specific medical conditions. While you may be tempted to self-diagnose and choose a special formula, don't. At least you should consult with your baby's pediatrician before switching.

Steve Abrams, M.D., a member of American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition, warns, "When babies have feeding problems, spitting up, gas, etc., you have to be careful about frequently changing formulas. You should discuss it with the pediatrician instead of picking a formula you think will solve the problem. We encourage people to talk to their doctor and not just go randomly changing the formula."


Probiotics means the formula contains live bacteria, meant to keep baby's tummy balanced with good and bad bacterias. Typically these contain Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus which are thought to decrease a child's risk of diarrhea, eczema, colic, urinary problems, and asthma and allergies. However, these claims have not yet been proven by research.

According to the AAP, it appears that probiotics only offer protection while the formula is being ingested. Once the formula is stopped, the benefits disappear and bacteria levels return to previous levels.

A 2011 exhaustive study on probiotics in formula by the AAP found that while these formulas are labeled as GRAS, or generally regarded as safe, that is not the same thing as endorsing them as effective in preventing or treating any conditions. The AAP recommends parents discuss the use of such formulas before using them with their babies.

Related Articles

How Much Formula Should Baby Be Getting?

Baby Formula: How to choose?

Does Your Baby Have an Allergy To Baby Formula?

Bottle Feeding - Formula, Bottles & Accessories


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