Teach Me

How to Make the Best Choices When Feeding Your Baby Formula

Infant formula can be expensive, and sometimes it’s hard to find the brand your baby prefers or that your pediatrician recommends. Although you might look for other ways to feed your baby, breast milk is the only alternative that gives your baby the right healthy mix of nutrients. So, when it comes to formula, what should you do?

We talked to Vinay Bandla, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist with Banner Children's, to learn more about feeding your baby formula and some important do’s and don’ts.

Why is formula an appropriate food for babies?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates infant formula to ensure formula manufacturers meet quality and nutritional standards. “Modern-day formulas are made to be as close to breast milk as possible,” Dr. Bandla said. And special formulas are designed to meet the nutritional needs of premature babies or babies who have food sensitivities or certain medical conditions.

How can you choose the best formula for your baby?

“Most babies will do well with regular milk-based formula,” Dr. Bandla said. However, here are a few other things to consider.

  • Premature infants need a formula designed to meet their unique nutritional requirements.
  • If your baby has reflux, constipation or colic—you can try formulas labeled for those conditions to see if they help your baby feel better.
  • is sensitive to cow’s milk—your pediatrician might suggest a hydrolyzed formula, which can be easier to digest.
  • has multiple food allergies—your pediatrician might recommend an elemental formula.

When you’re buying formula, these tips can help ensure it’s safe and appropriate for your baby. Make sure to check:

  • It is not expired.
  • The container is sealed and in good condition—if there are any leaks, puffy ends or rust spots, do not buy it or feed it to your baby.
  • It is not labeled for toddlers—formulas designed for toddlers don’t have the mix of nutrients that babies need.

Is it safe to make your own formula at home?

No. Using homemade infant formula can lead to serious health problems for your baby. “Your baby’s nutritional needs are very specific, especially in the first year,” Dr. Bandla said. Homemade infant formulas may contain too little or too much of certain components, such as vitamins and minerals like iron. There’s also an increased risk of contamination with homemade formula, so your baby could get sick or develop an infection.

Can you add more water to make your formula last longer?

No, you should mix the formula only as directed. “Adding too much water can lead to poor growth, seizures from low sodium levels in the blood, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea and a restless or fussy baby,” Dr. Bandla said.

Is it safe to buy formula from overseas?

The American Academy of Pediatrics warns against using illegally imported formulas, such as products ordered online from third-party distributors. That’s because:

  • The FDA may not have reviewed these products to make sure they meet nutritional and safety requirements.
  • Imported liquid formulas might be made from water that does not meet U.S. safety standards.
  • Illegally imported formulas may not have been shipped and stored properly.

Can I switch between formula brands?

Ideally, if you need to change your baby’s formula, you should gradually mix more of the new formula with the old to check for any intolerance or sensitivity to a new brand. “The taste may vary slightly, and your baby may balk when you switch, but you won’t harm them by changing brands,” Dr. Bandla said. It’s generally fine for most babies to switch between ready-to-feed, concentrated liquid or powdered formulas.

When can a baby have cow’s, goat’s or plant-based milk instead of formula?

Formulas based on goat’s milk are safe from birth to 12 months. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you should avoid any type of pure milk that’s not infant formula or breast milk for the first 12 months.

When can a baby start eating solid food instead of formula?

“You can start to introduce solids at 6 months,” Dr. Bandla said. Your child may be developmentally ready for solid food if they can:

  • Sit up alone or with support
  • Control their head and neck
  • Open their mouth when you offer food
  • Bring objects to their mouth
  • Try to grasp small objects, such as toys or food

The bottom line

Infant formula is designed to give your baby the proper nutrition for the first year of life and to meet the FDA’s standards. It can be tempting to look for alternatives to formula, but breast milk is the only appropriate substitute. To talk to a pediatrician about your baby’s nutritional needs, visit bannerhealth.com.

Other useful articles

Children's Health Parenting