Monday, July 12, 2010

The Skinny On: Infant Formula

Ok so here is a quick primer on the three most popular brands out there and the seemingly endless types of formula they offer: Similac, Enfamil, & Gerber Good Start.  There are several store brands and there are even prescription formulas, however I am sticking to the three most popular for now.

Infant Formula: A Very Rough Primer

Regular Formula

Similac Advance
Enfamil Lipil
Good Start Protect Plus

All contain DHA & ARA. What are DHA & ARA?  DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ARA (arachidonic acid) are fatty acids, or lipids, found naturally in breastmilk.  They help develop healthy brain and eye tissues. During your third trimester, you pass DHA & ARA to your baby.  After baby is born, you can provide DHA & ARA to baby by breastfeeding or giving her formula with DHA & ARA.  Evidently Enfamil has a few more mg of DHA and ARA than Similac per serving.  However, Enfamil uses palm olein which is believed to decrease the amount of calcium the baby absorbs. 

Good Start is the only one that contains Bifidus BLGood Start claims that these cultures can help support Baby's healthy immune system by, “ increasing levels of key antibodies, and helping to support the natural protective barrier in the digestive tract—where 70% of the body's immune system is found.”  (Good Start website)
Most hospitals will give you a starter kit with regular formula.  In this area almost all the hospitals use Similac. 
Gentle Formula (for fussiness and gas)

Similac Sensitive
Enfamil Gentlease
Good Start Gentle Plus

This formula is for babies that have sensitive systems or are mildly lactose intolerant. How do you know if your baby has a sensitive system?  Oh, you will figure this one out pretty quickly.  If you baby is screaming like a banshee shortly after eating or spews most of the regular formula out within 30 min of each feeding—you probably need to use a more gentle formula.  The regular formula might be too heavy for your baby and cause gas and reflux (in other words: major tummy pain for your baby).  The gentle formulas have less lactose. 

Soy Formula

Similac Isomil Advance
Enfamil ProSobee
Good Start Soy Plus

Soy based formulas are milk/lactose free.  Some parents just prefer to feed their baby soy formula.  However, some babies might develop a milk allergy a few months after being on regular formula and will need to be switched to a Soy or lactose free formula.  Also if baby gets a virus and comes down with wicked diarrhea and diaper rash, your doctor may tell you to switch to soy formula until baby is better.  The milk-based formulas often make the diarrhea worse!  However, it definitely tastes different and baby may not be a fan!   (Sidebar: If you are nursing and supplementing with formula and your baby develops a milk allergy—guess what?  You have to cut milk based products out of your diet—yup, that means soy milk for you too and say goodbye to cheese and ice cream for a while!  My friend Gretchen had to do this.  While it stunk that she had to give up a bunch of food she loved—she did drop the baby weight really fast!)  There is another option to the Soy formula if your baby has a milk protein allergy…

Lactose Free Formulas 

Similac Lactose-Free Advance
Similac Expert Care Alimentum
Enfamil Nutramigen Lipil

The Similac is specially formulated for babies with lactose intolerance. The Similac Alimentum & Enfamil Nutramigen are hypoallergenic formulas designed for babies with cow's milk protein allergy symptoms such as colic, rash, and diarrhea.  If the gentle formulas don’t work and your baby remains in pain and colicky, your doctor might recommend trying one of these.

Acid Reflux

Enfamil A.R

If baby is spitting up all the time and it isn’t related to milk allergy, you might try this.

Premature Babies

Similac NeoSure Formula
Enfamil Premature LIPIL
Enfamil Enfacare

Specially formulated to help meet the nutritional needs of premature and low-birth weight babies.

Organic Formulas

Similac Organic

Certified USDA Organic and uses cow's milk produced without the use of growth hormones.

Night time Formula

Enfamil Restful

I believe this is pretty new.  I have only seen it once.  It’s basically a heavier formula help your baby sleep at (through) the night.

 Infant Formula FAQ

So which brand is best? 

Everyone has an opinion on this one.  It is really up to you—for the most part the formulas have very similar ingredients. 

What if my baby doesn’t like it?

You’ll have to figure out if it’s just the taste baby doesn’t like or if there is a deeper issue (gas, acid reflux, etc).  You might be lucky and baby takes to the first formula you try, or you may have to go through a couple of brands to get it right. 

Should I stock pile formula ahead of time?

Tough one.  I am a fan of stocking up on things in advance when I have coupons, but if baby doesn’t like the formula you choose or needs a different type – you might be stuck with formula.  I’d recommended buying a case (ready to feed) or a few big containers of powder, but also getting a few individual quart bottles (ready to feed) or smaller containers of powdered formula to test it out with baby before opening the expensive cases.  At least this way if baby doesn’t like the type you test out you can exchange the unopened case or containers for the type she likes/needs.

What is a year of formula going to cost us?

Formula feeding is not cheap.  It will run you between $1,500 and $2,500 to feed your baby formula for the first year if you formula feed exclusively.  Nursing is definitely more cost effective!

 Powder v Concentrated v Ready to Feed

What’s your budget? 

Ready to Feed formula is the easiest and most expensive.  It can cost nearly double what a powdered can that yields the same fl oz costs.  It’s pre-mixed and ready to go—you just need to put it into a bottle (or stick a nipple on it if it’s a small bottle).  Since it’s premixed it is also the smoothest.  However, you only have about 72 hours to use a bottle ready to feed once it’s opened.  If you don’t calculate correctly you could waste some. 

Concentrated formula is, well, concentrated.  You can’t feed it to your baby right out of the can, but it doesn’t take much work to prepare.  You mix it with water and shake before serving.  Because it is concentrated it’s smooth like the ready to feed.  It is less expensive than ready to feed and more expensive than the powder.  This is the middle of the road option—however not all brands carry concentrated formula.  Enfamil, I believe, offers the most options.

Powdered formula is the least expensive, but requires the most preparation.  When I say preparation, I mean you have to measure it out and mix it with water before serving. It’s definitely leaves room for error if you’re not paying attention.  Both Similac and Enfamil offer measured mixes now which is great if you are on the run or traveling.  Powdered formula is more chalky because it’s a mix, but most families use powdered formula because it is the most cost effective.

 Can I use the brands interchangeably?

For the sake of consistency, your doctor might recommend sticking to one brand if that brand works best.  If you little one has no major health issues and seems to take the other formulas without any problem, then go for it.  You’ll find that many moms use the formula they have coupons for.  When I supplemented, I stuck with Similac for most of Sophie’s first year, but when Good Start had a killer sale at Babies R Us  I stocked up on some of that.

Manufacturers Coupons?
You can sign up for Strong Moms on Similac's site and get mailings and coupons.  I did but I only recall receiving two coupons.  You can register for mailings on Enfamils site as well, but I am not sure of what they send.

Still not sure what type of formula to get for your baby?

Check out the Enfamil Formula Finder- it asks you a series of questions to help you figure out what formula is best for baby.

Is it better to purchase formula at the store or online?

Wholesale Clubs
Well if you have the time to do the shopping then buying in bulk from a wholesale club is very cost effective.  However, the wholesale clubs don’t carry many varieties. If you use the Regular, Sensitive or Soy Formulas -- you are in luck. But if you need a specialty formula, you will have to look elsewhere.  Costco carries the largest and best priced powdered formula.  They offer 41.8 oz cans of Similac Advance and Enfamil Premium Lipil for $31.  Sam’s Club and BJ’s carry the smaller 34 oz cans and they too are a good price.  BJ’s carries the best priced case of Similac Ready to Feed (8 -1 qt bottles for $40).  The wholesale clubs offer $4-$6 coupons on formula every few months (Similac mainly), which makes them an even better value.

You have to decide if it’s cost effective for you to join a wholesale club.  Annual fees range from $35-$50 so if you are just buying formula there – it might not be cost effective.  I get my diapers, wipes, formula, coffee, paper products, etc there so it works out for me.

Babies R Us & Buy Buy Baby
I really don’t like buying my formula here. They don’t have the best prices, but every few months they have coupons that make it worthwhile.  Occasionally, Babies R Us will have a great offer - especially on the Ready to Feeds. 

Target & Walmart
Target and Walmart have good prices, but you can’t buy in bulk and you are limited to the smaller size containers. Walmart prices are better overall.  Much better on Enfamil (several dollars) and a little better on Similac (less than a dollar difference). &
If you’re working and totally pinched for time, it might be easier for you to order online. and deliver to your door and you can set up an automatic delivery schedule.  Very convenient.  In addition, they both offer many varieties, and sizes, and you can buy in bulk.  When it comes to formula, has better prices and a more stable supply than  However, formula at both online stores is more expensive than it is at any of the other stores.  However, often has an offer going on and has free delivery on orders over $49 (so just order your wipes and diapers together).  I’ve found that the prices and selection on Amazon are not as stable as, however if you subscribe you save 15% on your orders and get free delivery.  But, I still wouldn’t recommend Amazon this time around.

Supermarkets/Convenience Stores
While both put formula on sale from time to time, the packages are very small and usually don’t compare to the savings you get at the discount and wholesale stores.  I mentioned this before, but I saw a woman buying a bunch of diapers and formula at the Teeter a few months ago and I desperately wanted to throw myself in front of her cart and tell her not to do it.  Only buy formula at the supermarket if you are in a pinch or if they go on great sale—otherwise you are wasting your money.  You’ll pay a lot more.  One 32 oz bottle of Ready to Feed Similac costs about $2.00 more than it does at Target, Walmart or Babies R Us.  

Spreadsheet with cost of formulas at aforementioned locations in DC area.  If you can't open this- subscribe by e-mail and I will send it to you via e-mail.

Questions, comments, info I missed? Please let me know!

Where to buy infant formula in the DC area:

BJ’s Locations
Alexandria, Fairfax, Woodbridge, Fredricksburg
Waldorf, Columbia, Bowie

Costco Locations
Arlington, Springfield, Fairfax, Potomac Mills, Chantilly, Manassas
Beltsville, Gaithersburg

Target Locations
Columbia Heights
Alexandria (2), Falls Church, Skyline, Springfield, Fairfax, Manassas, and a whole lotta other places
Rockville, Columbia, Gaithersburg, etc

Babies R Us
Alexandria, Falls Church, Woodbridge, Waldorf, Chantilly, Silver Spring, Sterling

Buy Buy Baby
Rockville, MD
Springfield, VA

Alexandria, Burke, Fairfax, Woodbridge, Manassas
Waldorf, Columbia, Germantown, Landover Hills, and more

Sam’s Club
Woodbridge, Sterling
Waldorf, Gaithersburg, Laurel, etc

No comments:

Post a Comment