What is baby formula made of?

Baby formula comes in all different types and forms, making it a difficult decision for mothers. What kinds are there? How do they need to be prepared? What exactly is in it?  

Baby formula is designed to emulate human breast milk —  unique to every mother, containing specific nutrients meant to help a child grow up with the best food. Usually, babies will require formula at least until their first birthday, depending on their doctor’s recommendation. But sometimes, baby formula is the more appropriate option. And just because it’s not “natural” doesn’t mean it’s worse: baby formula contains most of the nutrients found in human breast milk.

Two major types of infant formula are currently available. Cow milk protein-based formulas are made with cow milk, allowing for easier digestion as well as an appropriate balance of nutrients. But cow milk may not be the best option, so soy-based formulas exist for those who want to opt for a plant-based or lactose-free alternative. These infant formulas can come either as a powder that needs to be mixed with water, concentrated liquid formula, or ready-to-use formula. The first option is certainly the cheapest, but if you’re willing to pay more money, the ready-to-use formula will be most convenient. 

In terms of big picture, the three macronutrients (main components) of baby formula consist of carbohydrates, proteins and fat. Carbohydrates will be necessary as they are the main source of energy for their growing brains (and make up to almost half of the baby’s calorie intake). Fat accounts for essentially the other half of calories, but is much more concentrated than carbs, allowing the baby to fit all it needs to grow in their stomachs! Finally, the proteins provide the necessary amino acids that will contribute to growth and development. Whey is the common protein found in baby formula, since it’s more digestible. 

But onto the micronutrients: the heavily regulated vitamins that — even though come in small amounts — are extremely essential. Vitamin A accounts for vision, Vitamin B transforms food into energy, Vitamin C is a necessary antioxidant, and Vitamin D, E and K help with bones and blood flow. Likewise, minerals like calcium, iron and zinc will help for bone growth, and oxygen transportation in the blood. Some baby formulas will include additional nutrients (like omega-3 fatty  acids), but these ingredients are not required by the FDA. 

Baby formula is a safe and healthy alternative regulated by the FDA, but talking with your pediatrician about these elements of baby formula will help to ensure you choose the right kind for your baby. 

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