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Choosing the Right Formula

With more than 25 versions of formula on store shelves, it's hard to know which to choose. Parenting contributing editor Claire McCarthy, M.D., explains the varieties. (Talk to your doctor before making a switch from the standard cow's milk formula.)

Variety: Soy Made from soy protein instead of cow's milk-based protein

It's marketed to: Babies with cow's milk allergies or lactose intolerance, and kids raised strict vegetarian

It's actually good for: Very few babies. True lactose intolerance is almost nonexistent this early (so skip lactose-free formulas, too); plus, most kids with cow's milk allergies are allergic to soy as well. Many doctors now skip soy for hydrolysate (see below).

Variety: Hydrolysate Cow's milk proteins are broken down to make the formula easier to digest

It's marketed to: Babies with food allergies or lactose intolerance.

It's actually good for: The 2 percent of babies with milk allergies and those with digestive problems. Your doc should suggest a switch only if the problem is severe  -- hydrolysate costs almost twice as much as regular formula.

Variety: Organic Free of pesticides, growth hormones, and antibiotics

It's marketed to: Babies whose parents prefer organics

It's actually good for: Parents who don't mind spending more for peace of mind, though there's little proof that the trace amounts of pesticides, growth hormones, and antibiotics in regular formula are dangerous

Variety: Rice starch Rice starch is added to thicken the formula

It's marketed to: Babies with severe spitup who need help keeping formula down to get enough calories

It's actually good for: Very few babies. First talk to your doctor about using more formula to less water, or about antacids. If he still advises rice starch, it's cheaper to add rice cereal yourself. Note: Only babies old enough for solids should get rice cereal in formula.

Variety: Preterm Contains more of the nutrients preemies need

It's marketed to: Preemies, who need more calories and more easy-to-absorb fat

It's actually good for: Most preemies. Your doctor can help you decide if you should switch to regular formula at around 6 months if your baby is growing well; some kids can switch earlier (the sooner the better, since too much can make babies fat).

Variety: Toddler Has more calcium and other nutrients

It's marketed to: Picky eaters 9 to 24 months old who don't get enough nutrients from food

It's actually good for: Very few kids. Picky eaters may just get worse if they're not encouraged to keep trying solids. With a doctor's supervision, seriously underweight kids over 1 are better off with Pediasure, a meal substitute that offers more nutrients.

Variety: Probiotic Helpful bacteria are added to strengthen the gut and immune system

It's marketed to: Healthy babies

It's actually good for: Babies who are already suffering from diarrhea (talk to your doctor). Until there's proof that it strengthens the body long term, a permanent switch may not be worth the cost for healthy babies, says the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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