Q: As a grandmother I'm curious why there are so many infant formulas nowadays. Why don't doctors recommend Carnation or Pet evaporated milk formula anymore? Back in the early sixties that's all mothers had. The babies did better with the evaporated formula than with the formulas of today, when newborns seem to change formulas a lot before finding one that agrees with them. And the old formulas were less expensive. Why the change?
The other day I was looking at the feeding instructions my mother was given when I was a newborn sixty-four years ago. She was advised to begin feeding me cereal at just three weeks of age. We know so much more about infant nutrition now, and we understand that an infant's gastrointestinal tract matures much slower than was once thought. My mother would not receive that same recommendation today, because we now understand that a baby's gastrointestinal tract is not mature enough to tolerate solids well until around six months.
The infant formulas of today really are much better than they were in the days when they were composed of evaporated milk and syrup. Today's formulas are nutritionally superior to the homemade ones you mentioned. They contain better amounts of added iron, vitamins, minerals, and essential fats. And since the passage of the Infant Formula Act in 1985, formula safety is tightly regulated by the FDA.
Your concern that parents of today change formulas a lot is a valid one. In my experience, often it's not the formula that causes baby to be upset, it's the method of feeding. Many parents give their babies too much formula in one feeding. For many babies, their intestinal enzymes are not mature enough to quickly digest a whole big bottle of formula. All that undigested formula can cause constipation, diarrhea, or abdominal pain. Before changing formulas, it's better to try decreasing the volume and increasing the frequency of the feedings. Here's Dr. Bill's rule of thumb for feeding babies with intestinal upsets: "Feed baby half as much, twice as often."
But the best advance in infant nutrition lately is that more and more mothers are breastfeeding. In the days of evaporated milk formula, only around twenty percent of mothers breastfed their infants. Nowadays, in some areas of the country (especially the East and West coasts), a large percent of mothers leave the hospital breastfeeding their babies. Even though today's infant formulas are nutritionally superior to those of many decades ago, mother's milk will always remain the nutritional gold standard for babies.
Choosing the Right Formula
If you still suspect your baby needs a change of formula, you want to make sure your choosing the right formula for your child. A good baby formula should be: