What's The Best Formula To Supplement With Breastfeeding? Let's Ask The Experts

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Not all breastfeeding moms are able to breastfeed exclusively. Whether it’s because of the lack of time, energy, or just because they choose not to, some moms find it easier to supplement breastfeeding with formula when they need to. However, with the numerous variety and types of formula available, what’s the best formula to supplement breastfeeding? It can be hard, and overwhelming, to choose the one your baby needs.

When you are picking a formula to feed your baby, you will have to take your baby’s nutritional needs, allergies, and your convenience into consideration. In an interview with Romper, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) Leigh Anne O'Connor says she usually recommends supplementing with donor breast milk because it has the variety of taste that naturally occurs in human milk. If you are sticking to formula, O’Connor suggests getting a ready-to-use one as opposed to a powdered or concentrated formula, especially if your baby is under the age of 6 months. “This is because formula is not sterile,” says O’Connor, “and people may not be preparing it appropriately.”

IBCLC and founder of Oasis Lactation Service, Danielle Downs Spradlin, tells Romper that the best type of formula is one that is well tolerated by your baby, easy to prepare, and is readily available when you need more. She says that babies generally do best when their formula is kept consistent, but if you order a formula from far away or buy it from a store you can’t access easily, you may end up having to switch around formulas. Consistency is key, so pick something you can have on hand whenever you need it.

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Spradlin says that most pediatricians recommend starting with a Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved formula that is cow milk based. Luckily, due to the current market, demands are trending towards healthier ingredients and many of these formulas are now available in non-GMO or organic varieties. She explains that compared to others, these formulas have different sourcing of ingredients, coming from organic and/or non-GMO sources.

All FDA-approved formulas have the same macro-nutrient profiles, and their fat, carbohydrate, and protein content is virtually identical across all brands. “One brand may use rice and corn for carbohydrate while another may use primarily lactose,” explains Spradlin, “but all FDA-approved formulas have appropriate concentrations of key nutrients your baby needs.” She says you should steer clear from homemade recipes you might find on the internet, because often they are too rich in fat soluble vitamins, minerals, or proteins that make it hard for the baby to digest. She says for babies, anything, even water, can be toxic in the wrong concentration.

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If you are looking to find a formula that is similar to breast milk, you’re out of luck. No formulas taste or smell like breast milk, and even though some formulas may claim to have human milk components, Spradlin says there is no “just like breast milk” formula out there. She notes that most of the information on the front of the formula container is marketing, and the language they use isn’t regulated in the U.S. Stick to reading the ingredient list, suggests Spradlin, because it is well regulated and the best source of information about the formula.

“There is not one formula that is best for every baby,” notes Spradlin, “and there are a wide variety of formulas out there, because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.” She suggests that babies who are combo feeding deserve the same unique, individualized care plan that an exclusively breastfeeding baby would get. So, while it may seem overwhelming, with a little time and maybe a bit of trial and error, you’ll find the perfect formula for your breastfed baby.

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.