Feeding your baby can be a special moment as you look into their eyes and they gaze back lovingly. But feeding time is less sweet when you’re worried about your child fussing or being in pain afterward. If your baby has bouts of gas, constipation or acid reflux after eating, it could be the formula.
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The good news: There are a variety of formulas available, some specifically made for gassy babies or those with sensitive digestive systems. Pediatric dietitian Andrea Adler, RD, CSP, CSPCC, LD, discusses your formula options and when to consider trying something new.
When is it time to consider switching formula?
A little spit-up or gas is perfectly normal and doesn’t mean you have to run out to the store for a different formula, reassures Adler. “All babies have some vomiting. Many are what I call ‘happy spitters.’ They have some formula or spit-up come out of their mouths, but it’s not shooting across the room,” she says. “If your child is gaining weight and growing well, the spit-up is no big deal. It might just mean a lot of laundry.”
However, consult with your pediatrician and discuss trying another formula if you see:
- Large quantities of spit-up after eating.
- Fussiness and crying following feedings.
- Projectile vomiting.
- Bloody poop.
- No weight gain.
What are some formula options?
The formula aisle can be overwhelming with so many products to choose from. Here’s a breakdown to help you sort through your choices:
Infant formula is a mix of proteins, carbohydrates (sugars) and fats designed to resemble the composition of breast milk. Standard infant formula is based on cow’s milk but it’s not the same as drinking a glass of it.
Formula contains additional lactose (sugar that occurs naturally in milk), and the butterfat has been replaced with vegetable oils. For most families who use formula, it’s a great choice.
Formula for babies with gas, constipation and reflux
Some babies can’t tolerate typical formula. For them, a specialized formula that contains different proteins or carbohydrates may work better. These products are often labeled “may help with gas, fussiness or colic,” says Adler. Additional specialty formulas include:
- Hypoallergenic formula: This product still contains proteins (casein or whey) found in milk. But they’ve been broken down into smaller, easier-to-digest proteins. It’s also known as predigested or elemental formula.
- Lactose-free formula: Although rare, some babies can’t digest lactose. This formula type replaces lactose with another naturally occurring sugar found in foods, such as glucose or sucrose.
- Baby formula for acid reflux: For babies that vomit after feeding, doctors may recommend an anti-reflux formula. It has a thicker consistency than regular formula, which helps babies keep the food down.
- Soy formula: Soy replaces cow’s milk as the primary source of protein in this formula. It is used by vegan families or as a personal preference.
Which type of formula should you try first?
If you’re considering changing formulas, speak with your pediatrician first. Your doctor can recommend which type of formula may work best for your baby’s symptoms.
For example, if your child has colic, your pediatrician may suggest a lactose-free formula first, says Adler. If your baby is arching their back after feeding, your doctor might choose an anti-reflux formula. Or you may even find out that your child’s symptoms are related to something other than the formula you’re using.
What brand of baby formula is best?
By law, all infant formulas, even generic or less expensive ones, must meet minimum nutritional requirements. But, recommends Adler, “I’d stick with the major formula companies rather than choosing generic. The well-known formula brands often contain other key nutrients that make it as similar to breast milk as possible, which may provide added benefits.”
If your doctor recommends switching formulas, don’t expect an overnight change in your baby, cautions Adler. It could take a few days to weeks to get the old formula out of your baby’s system.
“It’s not something that you want to try for just a couple of days and say, ‘This isn’t working. Let me try something else,’ unless the symptoms are getting worse with the new product. If that’s the case, then definitely stop feeding it to your baby,” she says. “But otherwise, remain patient. It may take a few weeks before you see an improvement.”
Once you’ve worked with your doctor to find a formula that’s right for your baby, the gas and discomfort should go away. And feeding time will once again be a time of happy, loving gazes.