Alternatives to Breast Milk
Infant formula comes in three preparation methods: ready-to-feed, concentrate, and powder. Ready-to-feed is prepackaged in liquid form, is ready to use without adding water, and is the most expensive option. Concentrated formula comes in liquid form in a can, requires mixing with water, and is less expensive than ready-to-feed formula. The least expensive and most widely used formula is powdered, which is reconstituted by adding water. If you choose a concentrated or a powdered formula that requires additional water, the quality of the water you use affects the formula.
There are primarily three types of infant formula: cow’s milk, soy milk, and hydrolyzed milk. They vary in terms of the proteins and sugars contained in them. A fourth type, goat’s milk, is also discussed below.
Cow’s Milk Formula
Purified cow’s milk formula is the most popular type of formula, and it is prepared with supplemental fats, vitamins, and minerals. The proteins are processed to imitate human breast milk because regular cow’s milk is too difficult for a baby to digest until after about one year of age. The primary proteins in cow’s milk formula are casein, or curds, and whey, with casein being the principal compound. Cow’s milk contains approximately ten times more casein than human milk. There are two types of cow’s milk formula: first-stage formula that is designed to meet the nutritional and digestive needs for your baby’s first year; and second-stage formula for older babies, which contains less fat and calories.
Some cow’s milk formulas have added omega-3 and -6 fatty acid supplements of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ARA (arachidonic acid) that are present in breast milk and aid in the development of your baby’s nervous system, brain, and eyes. Lactose, which is present in breast milk and cow’s milk formula, provides energy, promotes calcium absorption in the stomach, and stimulates the growth of healthy bacteria in the intestines. Most babies tolerate lactose, but some may be allergic to it. If your baby is allergic, he may have symptoms of abdominal cramping, bloating, or gas about 30 minutes to two hours after eating dairy. In this case, you may consider switching to a different type of lactose-free formula.
Soy Milk Formula
Soy milk formula is an alternative to breast milk or cow’s milk formula, and may be an option if your baby is lactose intolerant. However, this option requires sensitive trial and error, because many infants who experience allergic reactions to cow’s milk formulas cannot accept most soy formulas either. According to East Asian medicine theory, soybeans can be chilling to the body and disruptive to the digestive system. For babies who cannot process soy milk formula, a third choice, hydrolyzed formula, may be the ideal solution.
Hydrolyzed formula contains cow’s milk proteins that have been reduced, or hydrolyzed, into their component parts: amino acids, for easier digestion. Words that describe hydrolyzed formulas are partially hydrolyzed, extensively hydrolyzed, predigested, partially broken down, or extensively broken down. This formula is more expensive than other alternatives because of the extra processing required. It is also not as sweet as the other options, so babies may not immediately accept it after having tried the other kinds.
Goat’s Milk Formula
The composition of goat’s milk compared to cow’s milk has more fat, less lactose, and protein with softer curds. Theoretically, these differences add up to a less allergenic and more digestible milk. Like cow’s milk formula, goat’s milk is not an adequate formula for babies under one year old, but it can be used occasionally instead of cow’s milk as a beverage for children over one year.