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Are All Baby Formulas Equivalent?

The short answer is yes. Formulas in general are all equivalent, and they are all U.S. FDA approved to nourish an infant. There are, however, many different brands of formula and each company has conducted research to make their product more comparable to human milk.

Some companies, for example, are now adding DHA and prebiotics. Products can also be cow’s milk or soy based and differ in the amount of carbohydrates, protein and fat they contain.

One of the most recent developments in the world of formula is products designed for baby’s different stages. These stages are divided between 0-3 months (newborn), 3-9 months (infant) and 9+ months (toddler) and were determined based on the way human milk changes as a baby ages.

In the beginning stages of lactation, human milk is predominately whey. Formula designed for newborns mimic this stage of lactation. After about 3 months of age, human milk changes to include less whey protein. According to the nutritional label, there is not much difference between the Enfamil™ products designed for babies aged 3 to 9 months or 9 months plus, but there can be a substantial difference in costs of these products.

While the different brands and stages of formula may vary slightly, it is most important to find a formula that makes your individual baby’s gastrointestinal system happy. There are many different options and with a pediatrician or dietitian’s guidance, you may have to use trial and error to find the best fit.

At one year of age the majority of babies can switch from formula to whole cow’s milk. Unless directed by a doctor, it is important to give babies whole milk because they need the extra calories and fat for brain growth and development.

Note: Even the formula companies state on their packaging that the best nourishment for baby is breast milk. No formula is a substitute for human milk, so if you are able, it is best for your baby to try to give them human milk either by breast feeding, pumping or supplementation.

Shelley B. Wilkins, MS, MPH, RD, CSP, LDN, is a pediatric dietitian with WakeMed Health & Hospitals.