Updated article on April 2022

When preparing for childbirth, every parent has questions about the arrival of their baby, including breastfeeding and formulas. Yes, I know that you are confused when it comes time to choose a formula for your child. Whether you have decided not to breastfeed your baby, or are in the process of weaning them, one question remains – which formula you should use? There are hundreds of products on the market for babies under one year.

In this article:

When you research formulas, parents are impressed with the number available on the market and wonder which one is better than another. Today, there are hundreds of infant formulas sold in pharmacies or grocery stores. They can be expensive: for an infant, plan on spending between $85-$120 per month for a basic formula. Expect to pay more for more specialised formulas. These include lactose-free, added omegas or probiotics, thickened, added GOS (galactooligosaccharides, which helps feed the good bacteria in the intestinal flora), hydrolyzed (predigested), higher calories…

Without going into all the details of the different components found in formulas, all formulas for babies up to one year sold in Canada must meet Canadian food and drug standards. Formulas are assured to contain enough proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, vitamins and minerals for a young baby’s needs, irrespective of the brand you choose. However, you should know that private commercial preparations (house brands of companies such as Kirkland, President’s Choice, Equate or any other grocery or pharmacy banners) are not held to the same standards and inspections by the Canadian government.

Generally, there are no brands better than others as long as the nutritional value is the same, and your baby can tolerate the formula. The Canadian Pediatric Society suggests formulas with iron supplements up to one year to prevent infant anemia. Iron is also essential for brain and immune system development. The formula’s iron value must be at least 1mg/100 calories to be labelled enriched or rich in iron.

Vitamin D is also essential for the growth of a baby’s bones and teeth. There are two types of vitamin D. D-3, which is synthesised by the skin when exposed to the sun, and D-2, which is added to foods such as orange juice, milk, etc. This vitamin is also added to formulas. But latest health recommendations state that it’s best to give your baby a vitamin D supplement, both when breastfed or bottle-fed with formula, for the first year. Why? Because we know that in Canada, vitamin D synthesis from the sun’s rays is almost nonexistent for babies. When young, they are hidden from the sun, and later due to the application of high SPF sunscreen. Also, even if the formula already includes vitamin D, the quantity that needs to be consumed to get the proper dose is very high and difficult for babies to reach. Thus the need for a D-2 supplement.

Some parents ask me questions about aluminum content in formula recipes. Yes, it can be found in infant formulas. But studies seem to show that most formulas contain a level lower than the daily dose set by the World Health Organisation, no more than 2mg/kg body weight per week. Be careful of soy-based formulas, as they contain more aluminum than cowmilk-based formulas.

Generally, there are no brands better than others as long as the nutritional value is the same, and your baby can tolerate the formula.

In the next part, I will describe the three main categories and some of their characteristics to help you understand their differences to make a better choice.

Please read The Three Main Categories of Formulas.

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