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Finding the Right Baby Formula

Many a new mom stands in the formula aisle, takes one look, and instantly feels overwhelmed. Who wouldn't? Between the organics, the fortifieds, the generics, the premixes and powders, it's nearly impossible to know which one will be right for your baby (and you). Our guide will help take the guesswork out of your next shopping trip.

Q. I'm a savvy shopper and am curious about generic formulas. Do they contain the same key ingredients as brand-name formulas?

All formulas must meet the nutrient standards set by the Food and Drug Administration, and generic formulas are nutritionally sound, says William Klish, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX. However, they don't always have the added supplements that many brand names do.

Q. I find the labels confusing. Any tips on how to best interpret what's there?

There is a ton of information to decipher, says Ann Condon-Meyers, a clinical nutritionist at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. It's always good to ask your pediatrician what she recommends, since there are reasons to give certain babies a specific type. Assuming you can start with the basics, the first thing to look for is one that's iron-fortified. You'll also see brands that contain DHA and ARA, two fatty acids that are abundant in breast milk and can enhance development of the brain, eyes, and nervous system. The research on the benefits of these supplements is growing, and doctors are increasingly recommending them. These formulas may be a bit pricier, but they're very likely worth the splurge.

Q. What's the difference between premixed and dry formula? And if I use dry, does it matter what sort of water I mix it with?

The two types are equivalent -- the premixed formulas simply already have water added to them, Condon-Meyers says. "If you find yourself in a situation where you're unsure of the water supply, or if you're sending your baby to daycare and you want to make sure no mistakes are made in the mixing process, consider buying premixed formula," she adds. "If you use powdered, many doctors suggest sterilizing the water in the early months; after that, tap water is fine." Boil the water for a few minutes -- especially if you have well water -- and then let it cool to room temperature before mixing.

Q. Should I go organic? I've read that some contain more sugar than regular formula.

Nutritionally, the organic formulas are the same as any other, says Dr. Klish. And though some do contain sucrose, which may be a bit sweeter than other sugars, it's still on par with sugars in other formulas. The bottom line? "This is more of an emotional decision than a health one," says Dr. Klish. If living an organic lifestyle is important to your family, then by all means go for it -- just be prepared to spend extra.

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