The Canadian Paediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, and Health Canada recommend that babies not fed on breast milk be given iron-enriched commercial infant formula up to the age of 9 to 12 months.
When properly prepared, commercial infant formula is a safe alternative to breast milk. Unlike cow’s milk, goat’s milk and soya drinks, commercial infant formula is adapted to meet infants’ basic needs.
Pay attention to the expiration date: don’t buy formula if the date on the can has passed. Return any dented, bulging, or abnormally shaped container to the store.
Which formula to choose?
To date, there is no proof that one brand is better than another. Commercial infant formulas are comparable in quality.
To prevent anemia, it is recommended babies be fed iron-enriched formula right from birth.
Most parents wonder what brand of commercial infant formula is the best. Companies advertise their products extensively to parents, doctors, nurses, and nutritionists. Each sales representative will say that their product is better than the others or that it is closer to mother’s milk. Additives and claims listed on product labels are only there to boost sales. They are of no benefit to your baby and can even be misleading.
Most babies have no problem changing brands, but others can be bothered by it, especially during the first few days. If this is the case with your baby, avoid changing brands too often.
Ready-to-serve, liquid, or powdered
Commercial infant formula is sold in three forms:
- Concentrated liquid
The same brand of formula may look different in its ready‑to-serve form than it does when prepared from concentrated liquid or powder, but the composition and nutritional value remain the same.
You can use any of these forms or alternate depending on the situation, (e.g., at home, on an outing). However, ready-to-serve and concentrated liquid baby formulas are preferred for premature, immunocompromised, and low-birth-weight babies because they are sterile at the time of purchase.
Characteristics of the different forms of commercial infant formula
- Sterile at time of purchase.
- Easiest to use.
- Is used as is.
- Very expensive.
- Sterile at time of purchase.
- Easier to use and safer than powdered form.
- Must be diluted with water.
- Costs about the same as powder.
- Not sterile at time of purchase.
- Greater risk of contamination because it requires more handling.
- Requires greater care during the dilution step than concentrated liquid.
- Costs about the same as concentrated liquid.
Read the label carefully to make sure you buy the desired product. It is easy to confuse concentrated liquid formula with the ready-to-serve variety. If you do, you run the risk of giving your baby undiluted concentrate, thinking it is a ready-to-serve product.
“Transition” formula is not suitable for babies under 6 months because it contains too much calcium.
There is a range of commercial infant formulas on the market for babies 6 months and over. There are even products for babies age 12 to 36 months. These products are cheaper than commercial infant formula, but much more expensive than cow’s milk.
Compared to commercial infant formula, transition products can be a cheaper alternative for babies age 6 to 12 months, but they are not necessary. You can continue using your regular formula until you start feeding your baby cow’s milk around the age of 9 to 12 months. For babies over 9 months who eat a varied diet, transition formula is no better from a nutritional point of view than cow’s milk.
Soy-based infant formula
Commercial infant formula made from soy protein is suitable for babies whose families don’t consume dairy products or for babies with certain health problems.
However, using soy-based infant formula does not reduce excessive crying in infants.
Special infant formulas
In rare cases, babies fed with a commercial infant formula may have trouble tolerating formula. Talk to a doctor if this seems to be the case. The doctor can recommend a special formula for your baby.
Special formulas are intended for babies with specific problems, such as allergies or severe intolerances. Medical insurance plans reimburse the cost of certain products when purchased with a prescription.
If your baby has trouble tolerating commercial infant formula, you can also go back to breastfeeding (see Restarting milk production).
Anemia: Condition that can lead to severe fatigue, often caused by a lack of iron in the blood.
Sterile: Product that is free of microorganisms and germs.