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What Is the Best Baby Formula?

Baby Formula 101: How to Know Which Formula Is Right For Your Family

If you've decided to formula feed your baby, either by preference or necessity, you know the decisions don't stop there. There are seemingly endless options when it comes to which formula you can pick for your child, and it can be overwhelming to narrow it down to one, especially when you know that formula is the only thing your little one will be consuming for those first few precious months of life.

Generic versus brand name, organic versus regular, cow's milk versus soy . . . here's a breakdown of all the factors you should consider when deciding which formula is right for your baby and your family — and an explanation of why you should choose one option over another. Keep reading for our baby formula breakdown, and always remember that your doctor is a great resource if you're still unsure about which formula to choose or if you're thinking about switching formulas, something you should only consider after using a single formula for a minimum of a couple of weeks.

1. Which form works for you?

Formula comes in three forms: a ready-to-use liquid, a liquid concentrate that mixes with water, and powdered formula also designed to mix with water. While ready-to-use liquids are the most convenient, they're also the most expensive, and many moms complain that their darker colors lead to clothing stains. Liquid-concentrate is slightly less expensive, but the most economical (and eco-friendly because of its smaller waste output and storage space requirements) is definitely powdered formula.

2. Which type of formula is right for your baby?

Most pediatricians will suggest you start with a cow's milk formula. However, if your baby doesn't seem to be responding to a standard cow's milk formula, soy-milk-based formula and hydrolyzed formulas (in which protein molecules are broken down into small parts that are easier for your baby to digest) might be a better choice. Most babies will thrive on cow's milk formula, but if the formula is causing a rash, extensive gassiness, or some other kind of allergic reaction, you'll want to talk to your doctor about which alternative is the best for your baby. Your doctor also might recommend a special formula if your baby is premature, low-birth weight, or has specific metabolic needs.

3. Does organic matter?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is no research that shows organic milk to be healthier for children than regular milk, and that also holds true for formula. However, if eating organic is important to your family, you might be able to justify the higher price tag of organic formula.

4. What ingredients are included?

There are five major nutritional components to formula: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Lactose is the main carbohydrate in both breast milk and formulas made from cow's milk. Lactose-free, soy, and special formulas will contain sucrose, corn maltodextrin, modified cornstarch, or corn syrup solids. In terms of protein, breast milk contains about 60 percent whey and 40 percent casein. While most formulas have similar protein content, others have 100 percent whey. Similarly, the fats in most formulas are created to mirror those found in breast milk. Vitamins and minerals make up most of the ingredients you'll read on the back of a jar of formula, and they can be hard to understand. However, be sure to check that your formula choice is iron fortified. Studies have shown that iron is important for brain development in your baby's first year of life.

5. How old is your child?

Most formulas are designed for babies 0-12 months old, but some will specify that they're designed just for newborns or for babies 6 months and older. Be sure to check the labels to make sure your baby is getting the right formula for their age and developmental stage.

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