Many moms don’t think about infant formula at all when they’re pregnant, because they intend to breastfeed—as every pediatrician and parenting book on the planet will tell you, “breast is best.” But if for whatever reason, nursing doesn’t work out, it’s very difficult to logically decide between formula varieties when you’re a guilt-ridden, stressed out mess with a hungry baby crying on your lap. (Hmmm….does it sound like I might be speaking from personal experience?)
Not to worry. Here’s a practical guide to choosing an infant formula—whether the bun’s still in the oven, you’ve decided to wean or supplement…or if you are like I was when my first baby was born—the lactation consultant’s problem child.
1. First, don’t worry.
All iron-fortified infant formulas are acceptable forms of nutrition for your baby. Some formulas will brag that they are easier to digest; some say they are more like breastmilk than other brands; some are organic and contain non-GMO ingredients. But whether you go with these or the “house brand” they sell at your supermarket, you can rest assured that your baby will be getting pretty much the same number of calories, protein, fat and vitamins per 5 oz. serving—no matter what it costs.
2. Next, decide whether it matters to you if the formula is organic.
Infant formula that is organic is free of artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, harmful pesticides, chemical fertilizers and use of antibiotics. So it’s nice to have that peace of mind that the formula you’re feeding your baby doesn’t contain anything that could potentially be harmful. If the cost of organic formula is what’s keeping you from purchasing it, you can get Earth’s Best at more than 25% off at Vitacost.
3. Oh soy can you see…
Another important choice to make is whether you want to offer your baby a milk-based or soy formula. Often, this is a decision your baby will make for you if he has an intolerance to lactose and the pediatrician says soy is the way to go. Soy is also a great choice if your family is vegan. Just make sure you use an FDA-approved, iron-fortified soy formula and not simply “soy milk”—soy milk does not contain the nutrients infants need, and you could be putting your baby at risk for malnutrition if you feed something other than breastmilk for formula.
4. Newborn, infant or toddler?
Another thing to consider when you’re formula shopping is whether your baby is a newborn, a baby under the age of 1, or a toddler. There are specific formulas tailored for brand new babies, older infants and toddlers—and everything from the calorie count to the nutrients may vary.
5. Would you rather mix or pour?
Another important decision is whether to go for the more economical powdered formula or the somewhat more convenient liquid form. I personally love powder—measure out the water, shake and go! But the shaking involved in the preparation can create air bubbles, which aren’t so good for babies with sensitive tummies. Liquid might be a better choice for these little ones—though it tends to be pricier per ounce.
Whatever you choose, make sure you take the time to bond with your baby when you’re feeding her. Propping a bottle can be a safety hazard as it might lead to choking—but it also means less closeness between mommy and baby. That first year flies by way too fast (says the mom whose “baby” is now 2), so take the time to snuggle close when you’re feeding your sweetie pie and enjoy these precious moments while they last.
Jorie Mark is the Creative Director of Vitacost.com and mother to three children, ages 2 to 9.