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Formula Firsts

Q. My baby is a healthy 3-month-old who is formula fed because I had several breastfeeding problems. Are the new formulas with DHA and ARA more like breast milk?

A. First, I want to congratulate you for giving breastfeeding a try, and I'm happy to hear that your baby is thriving. While breast milk is preferred infant nutrition, formula manufacturers make every attempt to match the composition of their products as closely as possible to human milk. Over the past few years, attention has been focused on two key ingredients found in human milk  -- the fatty acids DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ARA (arachidonic acid), which are essential building blocks of brain and eye tissue.

Babies get these fatty acids in the womb, from breast milk, and later, from solid foods. They are also made in the body from nutrients found in breast milk and formula, though recent studies have shown that breastfed infants have higher blood concentrations of DHA and ARA than formula-fed infants. Last year U.S. manufacturers began marketing infant formulas that contain DHA and ARA; similar products have been used safely for years in other countries. However, while studies have shown that premature babies benefit from formula supplemented with DHA and ARA, it's not yet clear if full-term infants do.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that there is not enough evidence thus far to issue a recommendation on the topic. Since the jury is still out about the benefits of these formulas for full-term babies, right now, it's a personal choice. So talk to your pediatrician to decide what's right for you and your baby.

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