Expert Q&A

Infant formula: Are nutritional additives necessary?

I cannot breastfeed. Is there anything I should be adding to my baby’s formula to ensure she’s getting the right nutrition?

-Rachel from California

Breast milk provides babies with the best nutrition. A mother’s breast milk actually changes during a feeding and as the baby grows to give it nutrients at each stage of development. Breast milk contains ‘good’ bacteria and antibodies from the mother that help the baby’s developing immune system.

If you cannot breastfeed, a commercially prepared formula is the next best thing. Formulas on the market today are relatively good at meeting the essential nutritional needs of an infant. However, there are a couple of ingredients worth adding to formula, some of which are starting to catch on with formula manufacturers.

Extra-long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) can make infant formula more like mother’s milk. The 2 types of LC-PUFAs found in breast milk are docosahexonoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA or AA). DHA and ARA are the major fatty acids in neural tissue and are part of the retina in the eye. Until recently, these fatty acids were not in any infant formulas. DHA and ARA should be added together in infant formulas to have the best effect on the developing brain.

Good bacteria from the mother’s breast are also missing from the formula-fed infant’s diet. Adding bifidobacterium infantis to formula can help the infant’s intestinal tract and immune system stay healthy and decrease the chance of allergies later in life. A probiotic specifically made for infants should be used as their intestinal tract flora is different from that of adults.

Wendy Hodsdon, ND
Contributing Expert

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