Breast may be best but there are instances where bottle-feeding may be necessary. Here's what you need to know about infant milk formulas.

The medical community agrees that breastfeeding is best for your baby. However, infant milk formula also plays an important role — it can supplement breast milk when required, and provide a nutritious and readily available source of feed for your baby if you're unable to breastfeed. Rest assured that infant milk formulas in the market today are safe and nutritionally adequate for your growing baby.

If you decide to bottle-feed your baby, your doctor can help you choose the right formula. In the meantime, here's what you should know.

Infant milk formula vs cow's milk

You can't feed your baby regular cow's milk because young babies cannot digest it as easily as they can digest infant milk formula. Cow's milk contains a high concentration of protein and minerals that can stress a newborn's kidneys and lead to dehydration. It also lacks the proper nutrients that infants need. Do note that medical experts recommend that you do not feed babies cow's milk until they are at least a year old.

Choosing an infant formula

There are three types of infant milk formula. They are:

  1. Cow's milk-based formulas. These make up the bulk of the formulas sold today. The product has been treated to make the protein more digestible and less likely to cause allergies. More lactose has been added and the fat has been replaced with vegetable oil, again for easy digestion. The formula has also been fortified with iron.
  2. Soy formulas. These contain different kinds of proteins and carbohydrates from milk-based formulas. They are recommended as an alternative for babies who are unable to digest lactose, which is the main carbohydrate in cow's milk formula.
  3. Specialised formulas. These are manufactured for infants with particular conditions, such as low birth weight, problems with regurgitation and an inability to digest fat. Do discuss any issues with your paediatrician, who will advise you how to choose the right formula for your child.

Preparing infant formula

Infant formulas are available in ready-to-drink liquid forms or in a powder form. To prepare the feed from milk powder, follow the instructions on the packaging in terms of the ratio of powder to water. It's important to get the mixture right as this will ensure that your newborn gets the correct nutrients. If you're ever in doubt, speak to your paediatrician.

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By Associate Professor TAN Thiam Chye Head & Senior Consultant, Dr Michelle LIM Senior O&G Resident, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, KK Women's and Children's Hospital

The New Art and Science of Pregnancy and Childbirth 2008, World Scientific
Healthy Start for your Pregnancy 2012, Health Promotion Board Singapore

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