Even though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding infants exclusively for the first six months, not every mother can — or wants to — nurse. The decision whether to breast or bottle feed is highly personal. If you choose to bottle feed, or to switch from the breast to the bottle at some point during the first year, picking the right infant formula that meets your baby's nutritional needs and doesn't irritate her delicate system is essential.
From the Cow
Roughly 80 percent of infant formulas available in the United States are based on cow milk, HealthyChildren.org notes. Just because these formulas are made from cow's milk doesn't mean that they're they same as what you drink from the gallon jug. Manufacturers treat the milk first, making the protein more digestible for infants. The formula also includes added milk sugar to make the lactose content on par with that of breast milk.
If your baby doesn't tolerate formulas based on cow's milk, your pediatrician may suggest switching him to a soy version. Soy formulas have a protein source that is made from soybean solids. A soy formula is a healthy alternative for babies who have a lactose intolerance, colic, allergies to cow's milk or another medical condition that prohibits them from drinking real milk. The AAP notes that up to half of all babies with dairy allergies also can't tolerate soy.
If your baby has a dairy allergy or intolerance, you have other options aside from soy. Milk that doesn't come from a human may cause a baby to develop antibodies and result in an allergic reaction, notes pediatrician Alan Greene on his website DrGreene.com. A hypoallergenic formula has an extensively hydrolyzed — or broken down — milk protein. You can expect to pay more for a hypoallergenic formula in comparison to a cow's milk-based or soy type. Lactose-free formulas can help infants who don’t tolerate dairy well.
Mix It Up
While choosing which type of formula your baby needs in terms of the ingredients is an important part of meeting her health and nutrition needs, you also need to decide what form you want to use. The three primary forms that infant formula comes in include powders that you mix with water, concentrates to dilute with water and ready-to-use liquids. Ready-to-use formulas are the easiest to prepare but the most expensive. Whether you select a cow's milk, soy or hypoallergenic formula, you can buy any type in a powder, concentrate or ready-to-use variety.