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Choosing the right baby formula is one of the most contentious and uncertain aspects of child-rearing. Many people believe that big brands and generic store brands of formula are identical. An equal number of people think that you are doing a disservice to your child if you don’t purchase the long-standing brand names that dominate that market. As with most things in life, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
As is the case with brand-name baby formula, the cheaper store-brand formula options in the USA meet the same stringent nutrition specifications provided by the FDA. While there are sometimes minute ingredient differences between the two, it is generally not worth paying a premium unless advised to do so by your pediatrician.
However, it’s important to take a closer look at these differences as they can make a significant impact on the health of some children more than others.
As mentioned above, every single formula brand sold in the United States must adhere to the minimum requirements laid down by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act regarding nutrition. Despite this standard existing, not every single baby formula brand is the exact same, though any of the major brands will meet your baby’s basic nutritional needs.
One consideration that is essential to keep in mind is that you should never make your own homemade baby formula. Despite the wealth of DIY suggestions available online, homemade baby formula can be hazardous to your baby’s health due to a lack of complete nutrition and the risk of introducing harmful bacteria. You should only give breast milk or infant formula sold in stores to your baby.
A wide variety of differences can exist between various brands of formula due to small nutritional details. One separation is that formulas can be either milk-based, soy-based, lactose-free, hydrolyzed, or hypo-allergenic. These differences don’t always make a huge difference, but if your baby has special dietary needs, this may be an ingredient difference you need to consider.
Similarly, to adults, babies require fat, protein, and carbohydrates in their diet. However, each infant formula will consist of slightly different proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. As an example, breast milk contains two sources of protein, which are whey and casein, and while some baby formulas include both of these proteins, some may only have whey. This difference is indeed a small one, as only having a single protein source is enough to meet the FDA’s requirements, but it is essential to note in case your baby has specific dietary needs.
Similar to the protein differences mentioned above, discrepancies in the kinds of fat blend used can make an enormous difference in your baby’s health. In the USA, a generic store brand called Comforts For Baby is a generic store version of the Similac Advance brand. While the ingredient list is almost exactly the same between the two, there is a minute difference in the fat blend. The generic store version contains palm oil, which is not in the Similac formula and can be a concern if your baby was born prematurely or has a constipation issue.
While there are other additional differences between these two brands that affect things like texture and micronutrients that have no impact on your baby’s health, the fact that there are tiny aspects shows that not every brand is created equal. It is important to note that the example above highlights when a generic brand lacks a major brand’s attention to detail, but sometimes these ingredient differences end up being in favor of the store brand instead. It pays to do your research.
All of the above comparisons are based on the guidelines imposed by the FDA, a USA-based organization. While infant formula in the United States is very highly regulated, European brands do not always adhere to these rigorous standards in terms of labeling or nutritional content. A study conducted in 2019 by the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition determined that non-FDA-registered imported European baby formulas do not meet all FDA labeling requirements.
While all but one of the European formulas evaluated in this study met the FDA nutritional requirements except for their linoleic acid content, their inaccurate labeling means that there is significantly less safety in these imported formulas. Many Americans import these formulas under the belief that European formulas are more organic or contain fewer pesticides. Still, the inability to verify the ingredients contained in them invalidates any potential benefit from purchasing them.
Generally speaking, it is best to adhere to your own country’s guidelines regarding baby formula. Despite the research conducted by the JPGN, European formulas are undoubtedly perfectly suitable for the diets and requirements of their respective countries. Your child’s pediatrician will not be able to offer advice if they cannot confirm the details of their diet. It is when these carefully balanced foods are imported outside of their jurisdictions that difficulties arise.
With all of this information present, you may be feeling alarmed at all the factors that go into your baby’s health. Remember that you are in control of the vetting process, and working alongside your pediatrician, you can find and verify the best options for your child. Some general tips when searching for the right baby formula include the following.
- When comparing brands, remember that the ingredients are the most crucial part. Most major formula brands will have their ingredients listed on their websites, but generic store brands often have a limited web presence. You can overcome this by going to the store and taking photos of the ingredient list of all the generic brands available. Compare your pictures to the major brands’ ingredient lists, see the differences, and then research those ingredients to find out if they are relevant to you.
- Don’t forget that generic brands can differ significantly from region to region and state to state. If the store brands in your area do not provide the options you require for your baby’s health and the major brands are also letting you down or are out of your price range, look further out. While importing baby formula from overseas is a poor decision due to the FDA regulatory differences, ordering formula from another region of the United States will be safe as it is still required to adhere to the FDA guidelines.
- Keep in mind that your formula may require additional supplements depending on your child’s needs. Some formulas do not offer enough iron content on their own, and pediatricians sometimes recommend other supplements to make up for this deficiency. Consult your pediatrician to determine whether this is a consideration for your baby and what steps they recommend to combat it.
Baby formula is an item that you will only need for a year or so, but it is such a crucial part of your child’s development that it is worth taking the time to research diligently. One essential thing to keep in your mind at all times is the needs of your child specifically.
While blogs and information online will frequently offer conflicting advice, you and your pediatrician are the ones who will be working with your baby. Therefore you should conduct as much research into the available food options as possible and consult with your pediatrician to confirm your research results and determine the best course of action. It may only be a year, but it will set up your child for a happy and healthy life.