Baby formula is a substance that contains all of the essential vitamins and nutrients that an infant needs for growth and development, even in the absence of other foods. They are designed to provide optimal nutrition and as such, contain lots of ingredients that sound like labels on bottles in a crazy scientist’s lab. To replicate breast milk as closely as possible, manufacturers add animal and plant bi-products to ensure adequate consumption of fats, carbohydrates, sugars and proteins.
Take a look at the following list of nutrients that, since 1985, have been required by the FDA to be added to infant formula: protein, linoleic acid, fat, choline, carbohydrate, inositol, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, manganese, copper, iodine, sodium, potassium, chloride, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, niacin, pyridoxine, cobalamin, folic acid, biotin, panthothenic acid, ascorbic acid.
You could be forgiven for thinking that you need a science degree to nourish your child! Fortunately, all of that is taken care of for you, and if you choose not to or are unable to breastfeed, rest assured that science continues to come up with the best possible alternatives.
The basis of infant formulas is most commonly either cow’s milk or soy ‘milk’. Both are processed in such a way as to make them easily digestible by immature digestive systems such as those in babies. You can also buy goat’s milk formula.
Different recipes are created for different needs. For instance, thickeners are added to some formulas for antiregurgitation. In babies who spit up at nearly all feeds, this kind of formula helps to prevent that and therefore retain the nutrients ingested. There are also non-lactose preparations of cow’s milk formula, in which the lactose (sugar found naturally in milk) has been substituted with another naturally found sugar.
Other additives are put into formulas so that they remain stable during shelf life. Commonly found in ready-to-feed and concentrated liquid formulas are lecithin, carrageenan and mono- and diglycerides for just that purpose.
When next you prepare a bottle of formula for your baby, instead of cringing at the sheer number of foreign-sounding ingredients in it, marvel at the way science is working to ensure that your baby and millions of others are being fed on nutritionally-optimized products that keep them healthy and taste good too!