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Organic vs. Regular Formula

Jul11

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Advice Smackdown ArchivesHi Amy,

The things I ponder late at night while my 8-week-old daughter is sleeping (and I should be sleeping, too!)…  Anyway, I have this burning question about infant formula, because as a first-time mom who had hoped to breastfeed for the first year, I am completely clueless about this sort of stuff! Since you tend to lean more towards the organic/healthy living side of things, I thought you might be the perfect person to ask!

I have been exclusively breastfeeding my daughter since she’s been born, but I have a medical condition (rheumatoid arthritis) that may soon require me to start taking medication that is not safe for breastfeeding. So, I’ll have to introduce formula at some point. I thought I had done all my research, and was all set to start her on a store-brand organic formula when the time came for me to start my meds. I was ecstatic that if I had to give her formula at all, then at least it would be made from cow’s milk that wasn’t exposed to pesticides, growth hormones, or antibiotics. Plus, the price was right…I thought it was an easy decision. As I did a little more looking into formula-related things the last few days, I discovered that most specialty formulas (soy, organic, etc.) use corn syrup as a sweetener. “Normal” formulas do not. So now I’m torn–which is the lesser evil? Corn syrup or cow’s milk and other ingredients that have been exposed to the hazards I listed above? Does it matter? I harbor no illusions that I’ll be able to shield her forever from corn syrup, regular, run-of-the-mill cow’s milk, or processed junk foods…but I want to give her the best nutritional start I can.

Thanks!
Confused in North Dakota

(To anyone stumbling upon the Advice Smackdown for the first time, please note that I am a HUGE fan and proponent of breastfeeding, and of breastfeeding exclusively. I am thrilled to be currently and successfully nursing my third baby. But I also know from prior experience that it doesn’t always work out that way, and am personally way grateful that so many different formula options exist for mothers like me and the OP here.)

(TL;DR version: Shut it, trolls.)

So here’s my personal formula track record: Noah received formula supplementation until about five-and-a-half months, and then was 100% on formula until the switch to cow’s milk. I was not…ahem…as well informed as I am now, in regards to organic foods and pesticides and GMOs and all that. So he drank regular old non-organic non-special Similac. It’s what we were given at the hospital and he liked it and our nearby (hideously stocked and tiny) city grocery store always had it on the shelves, so there. Done.

By the time I was pregnant with Ezra, I was significantly more educated (or perhaps simply OPINIONATED), and assumed we would keep organic formula on hand, in case breastfeeding didn’t go well again. But then I read a NYT article about organic vs. non-organic formulas. The “shocking” consensus was that the organic versions were significantly sweeter, since (at the time, anyway) most of the big brands were using cane sugar. Cue the fears of sweet teeth, obesity, diabetes, oh my!

So I was torn. Which was worse? In the end, Ezra needed very little formula at first, and then only occasionally later on, once my pumping efforts stopped producing enough extra for storage. So I never really made a decision. I would pick up “regular” formula one time, and then once we went through that, I’d opt for the organic. Similac, Earth’s Best, Target brand…I don’t think we ever developed a shred of brand loyalty that second time around.

Now, once again, everything is different and reformulated and there’s a whole new list of priorities to hash out. On the one hand, my two older boys have virtually identical craving levels for sweets, and neither is anything even CLOSE to overweight. Noah, the non-organic formula junkie who ate Gerber from the jar and teething biscuits from the box, is a healthy 50th percentile for weight. Ezra, the breastfed baby who got only homemade organic everything, is barely in the 10th. But Noah was 10 pounds at birth vs. Ezra’s seven, so…I think the size difference was pretty much preordained.

On the other hand, Noah has a very real and serious sensitivity to many ingredients found in highly processed foods. (Artificial food colorings/flavors/preservatives.) But there’s no reason to believe that our FORMULA choice had anything to do with that — it’s just made me want to ban that garbage from our lives completely and live as organically and chemical-free as possible. It’s made me change my mind about a lot of things.

So in the end, did it matter what formula the boys drank? Eh, not so much, probably.

But what would I do now, if Ike needed formula?

Well, at the hospital, Ike drank a few ounces of regular old hospital-supplied Similac. And at home, before I got to pumping, he had a few more while Mama got the hell out of the house for a few hours. But if I were to purchase a can of formula for him…yeah, I’d go with organic. Hands down.

Now, I completely understand that organic junk is still junk. Sugar is sugar is sugar, in the end, if you use any of them in excess instead of moderation. But. Corn syrup, for the record, is not the same as the much reviled-and feared high-fructose corn syrup. HFCS is much, much SWEETER (from the high fructose levels) and more highly processed than regular old corn syrup. Corn syrup is glucose sugar, which is slightly less sweet than sucrose (cane or beet) sugar, and much less sweet than fructose (which is found naturally in fruit, agave nectar, honey). So technically, an organic formula sweetened with corn syrup solids (or glucose syrups solids, as it’s called on some brands’ ingredient lists) would be your best bet for a less-sweet formula. (I’m not a scientist, however, I’m just going with what I’ve learned via dumbed-down blog posts about sugar options.)

The long and baffling ingredient lists on formula cans can certainly make your head spin, but you know? You have to feed your baby.  And in your case, take care of yourself.  So I think you can go with an organic formula and feel pretty good about it. No pesticides, growth hormones, genetically modified ingredients — pretty good trade off for a little corn syrup, in my opinion. We know what sugar does, we don’t yet fully know what effect all those other things might have on a tiny developing body.  But really, we’re all just trying to make the best decisions we can with the best information we have at the time. Whatever decision you make will be loving and made with the best of intentions, and that in and of itself matters a lot.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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16 Responses to “Organic vs. Regular Formula”

  1. Janine Jul 11 at 3:24 pm Reply Reply

    May I make an organic formula suggestion? We LOVED this brand: http://www.naturesone.com/. It’s sweetened with brown rice syrup and doesn’t have DHA (this was a concern of mine because of the way they produce DHA — this is the only company I’ve found that offers it as a separate purchase if you don’t want it pre-mixed into the formula). It’s marketed as toddler formula because they recommend breastfeeding through the first year, but it’s totally fine for babies — mine started on it at 3 months old. Good luck!!! :-)

    • Meghan Jan 31 at 7:59 am Reply Reply

      Thank you for this. I have a 9 week old who is exclusively BF, but at his 2 month check up he is still not gaining weight. He is not even on the growth chart in any category. Unless we find something wrong in the test results, it appears that my milk just isn’t cutting the mustard. I am truly grateful that formula is available for my little guy, even though I know it is full of junk I wouldn’t choose to feed him given a choice. I am also not in favor of starving my son while I sit on my high horse. There is food in my cupboard, my son is hungry, I am going to feed my son, It is that simple.

  2. Sarah Jul 11 at 3:43 pm Reply Reply

    I was totally thrilled when I saw that walmart had a store-brand organic, but my son would not drink it. Well, he drank it, but its the only formula he ever had problems with. So there goes that. I did hear that the organic doesn’t have DHA supplements in it (I never checked it out) so that is something to keep in mind when debating types.

    In the end, my son got 5 months of pumped breastmilk (ow) and then just standard formula.

    When it comes to differences between name-brand and store-brand for formula, there aren’t tons… just figure out what works for you. Any formula that is on the shelves now is 100+ times better than what our parents used and what their parents used, due to good ol’ fashioned science.

  3. Trish Jul 11 at 6:57 pm Reply Reply

    Please note, not all organic formulas are created equal. The one formula that I found that also helped with GERD was an organic formula that also had the lowest amount of sugar. Hmm. Maybe there is a correlation? Anywho, if you have a Kroger near you, their generic organic was the least amount of sugar (corn or other kind) that I could locate in the local market (read: easy to purchase at 2 am). The fact that it was organic was just a bonus to me.

  4. JCF Jul 11 at 11:35 pm Reply Reply

    I’ve had a few friends make their own formula from organic ingredients (and with no corn syrup) with great success. No judgement or preachiness here, but I just thought I’d throw that out there as another option in case you’re interested.

    http://www.raw-milk-facts.com/babyformula_T3.html

  5. Shannon Jul 12 at 10:51 am Reply Reply

    Thank you so much for this! In two weeks, I will have to start my then-3 week old on formula for a month as I undergo cancer treatments and am having massive mama guilt over this (but better to have formula and have a mama than breastfed without one later on!). Thank you also for reminding people that not everyone has the choice to breastfeed, even if that would have been their preference!

    • Isabel Kallman
      Isabel Jul 12 at 11:16 am Reply Reply

      Shannon,

      Thank you for sharing and will be thinking of you and sending healing thoughts.

      Isabel

  6. Amy J Jul 12 at 2:22 pm Reply Reply

    And for another point of reference, my baby REFUSED to eat the Earth’s Best Organic. She violently spit up anything with the word Similac on the container and Enfamil was plain old spit up. So even if you do choose organic be prepared for your baby to choose something else :) (She took Gerber GoodStart, but only the pre-made, none of that powder, thank you, luckily we just use it to supplement on occasion)

  7. Kim Jul 13 at 12:46 pm Reply Reply

    Going to give a shoutout to milk sharing, too. I think it gets a bad rap from the mainstream. I have both shared my milk and given my baby shared milk, and my feeling is that if a friend is willing to give me the milk she’s giving her baby, chjances are pretty damn good it’s safe.. Obviously, it’s not a whole solution, but it may ease the transition or the (totally unnecessary) mama guilt. My hat is off to those mamas with serious medical conditions. Babies are hard enough without factoring in that, too.

  8. JB Jul 13 at 2:42 pm Reply Reply

    So this will not be as helpful BUT, just for a giggle (no serious point to be made here), SNL did a bit on high-fructose corn syrup: http://www.hulu.com/watch/223360/saturday-night-live-corn-syrup-commercial . (Again, it may or may not give you a chuckle, and I don’t have any actual advice as I’m just a dedicated lurker :-) ). Good luck, OP!

  9. Snowth Jul 14 at 12:18 pm Reply Reply

    sorry for the preachiness here, but i have to comment on a previous link. never ever feed a baby raw cow’s milk.

    • Comunsenti2 Nov 20 at 11:03 pm Reply Reply

      The link on feeding raw milk to a baby is crazy – you could infect your child with Brucellosis and potentially kill your child! I find it irresponsible that this “website” claims that you should not feed your child fluoridated water because its supposedly risky (on what scientific basis do they conclude this?), but advocates to make your own DIY formula with unpasteurised milk which is PROVEN to be risky!!!

      I do sympathise, though, with trying to find a healthy alternative. I am sick of feeding my baby the absolute crap in formula, and its all the same. In the US we have the added problem of GMO in almost all formula, in addition to the hexane used in the production process for DHAs. The spurious health claims by manufacturers are eye-watering, but they get away with it thanks to slack regulation.

      • Isabel Kallman
        Isabel Kallman Nov 21 at 1:27 am Reply Reply

        “this website” is NOT promoting feeding raw milk to a baby. If you read even lazily, you will see that the link was left by a commenter (someone like yourself), not “this website.”

  10. Amy Jul 16 at 8:05 am Reply Reply

    Thank you for this. I have breastfed my daughter for 10.5 months, and my supply just dropped significantly. I’ve had to start supplementing, and couldn’t find great information like this anywhere. I feel much more confident now :)

  11. Kate Jul 22 at 7:55 pm Reply Reply

    After spending a lot of time researching this we wound up using the Natures One brand as well after my son weaned himself at 10 months (and no it wasn’t a nursing strike, those don’t last 4 weeks). I fully intend to breastfeed the one I’m baking right now but I would buy it again in a heartbeat.

  12. Lori Jul 22 at 6:10 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you!! My almost 10 month old has been on the breast this whole time, but my supply has dropped and I’m pulling from my meager freezer supply to supplement what I send to daycare and it’s almost time to start supplementing, so I was happy to stumble upon this discussion! I was going to try Earth’s Best Organic but will also look up the Nature’s One brand.

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