Medical experts say breast milk is still the best type of food for infants. However, some women choose not to breastfeed. Doctors may also recommend formula feeding for women with certain diseases (such as HIV or hepatitis B) , those taking certain medications or women undergoing active treatment for cancer.
Some women prefer bottle-feeding because a spouse or other caretaker can share the task of feeding. That also gives other family members some time to bond with the baby. Women who bottle-feed know exactly how much baby food the baby is getting. Feeding schedules may also be a little more flexible. While bottle-feeding can be done just about anywhere, some women are reluctant to breastfeed in certain places (such as public areas).
There are three main types of formulas. The most commonly used type is cow’s-milk-based formula (accounting for about 80 percent of all infant formulas sold in the U.S.). This formula is made from cow’s milk that has been altered for safer digestion. In addition, manufacturers add more milk sugar and replace some of the fat with vegetable oils and, sometimes, other animal fats. Soy formulas are made from a soy protein (rather than cow’s milk protein) and contain glucose polymers or sucrose. Soy formulas are usually recommended when infants are unable to digest or have an allergy to cow’s milk. Specialized formulas are made for infants with special nutritional needs. They are not meant for general use and should only be used under a physician’s recommendation.
Formulas are also available in different forms. They’re all nutritionally equal, so the choice is a matter of personal preference. Ready-to-use formulas can be poured from the can to the bottle. They are the most convenient form and also the most expensive. Formula concentrates are products that are designed to be diluted. Generally they are made by adding equal amounts of concentrate and sterilized water. Once prepared, formulas made from concentrates can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours. Powdered formulas are the least expensive, but take the most preparation time. Generally, one scoop of powder is used for every one or two ounces of water (Check the manufacturers intructions carefully). It must be mixed thoroughly to completely dissolve the powder. Many women find this form of formula to be very convenient. The powder can be premeasured in a bottle and mixed with water just before feeding. During travel times, the dry powder is lighter than prepared formula and will stay fresh in a bottle for several days.
Infant formulas are manufactured under strict FDA standards, so there should be no nutritional difference between one brand and the next. A year’s worth of a brand name formula can cost $1,200 or more. If cost is a consideration, look for store brands, which are nutritionally equivalent to national name-brands. No matter the brand, look for an iron-fortified formula, unless your doctor has advised against its use. When preparing the formula, use clean utensils and follow the manufacturer’s directions exactly. If you think your baby may be having problems with a formula (i.e., stomach upsets, diarrhea, or prolonged crying or fussiness), talk to your doctor before switching formulas.
For general information on infant nutrition: American Academy of Pediatrics, public website