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Can an Infant Be Given a Variety of Formulas?
Q: Can a healthy infant take a milk-based formula and soy-based formula? My infant currently takes any name brand of milk-based formula with no problems and we have received lactose-free and soy-based formulas in the mail. Can I give these formulas to her also?
A: There is no medical reason why a healthy infant cannot take a variety of infant formulas. While there are differences in the protein and carbohydrate component of those formulas, they all have the same number of calories per ounce, and have similar amounts and types of fat. However, they do vary in taste quite a bit. A newborn or very young infant generally has not developed much of a sense of taste, and so the younger a child is, the easier it will be to switch formulas. In older babies (over six months) a true taste preference may be present, which could cause some temporary refusal of the bottle when you switch formulas. There is no harm that is done to the baby, however, from switching among the various formula types.
If there is concern about lactose intolerance or milk allergy, then switching back and forth amongst the various formulas would not be a good idea. Almost all of the milk-based formulas contain lactose (there is one lactose-free milk formula), while the soy formulas don't. The carbohydrate in the soy formulas is sucrose and/or corn syrup. Infants who have lactose intolerance often move to a soy-based formula.
Infants who have milk protein allergy have to switch to either a soy formula or an elemental formula such as Nutramigen or Alimentum. The elemental formulas contain milk proteins that have already been broken down into smaller amino acids, which then do not stimulate an allergic response in the baby.
Most babies do not need elemental formulas though, which is good since they are much more expensive than the milk- or soy-based formulas. Some babies who are allergic to milk are also allergic to soy, which is why the move to an elemental formula may be necessary, but most babies who have milk protein allergy can take soy formulas without a problem.
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Shari Nethersole is a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Medical School, and did her internship and residency at Children's Hospital, Boston. As a pediatrician, she tries to work with parents to identify and address their concerns.