How to Change Baby's Formula

By Zora Hughes
Close-up of baby drinking formula from bottle

Your baby's excessive spitting up, gas and inconsolable cries after eating are heartbreaking, but his formula could be the culprit. A switch might make all the difference. For formula-fed infants, finding the right type of formula takes a mix of pediatric advice, trial and error and patience. Consulting with your pediatrician and understanding the various types of formula available are essential to finding the best option for your little one.

Formula Types

While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly recommends breast milk for the first six months to at least a year, it recognizes that breastfeeding is not possible for every family. When you choose to use formula, the AAP recommends iron-fortified cow's milk formula, which makes up 80 percent of all formula sold. Another type is hydrolyzed, or predigested formula, in which the milk proteins are partially or completely broken down for easier digestion. This type helps infants with signs of lactose sensitivity. Soy formula, made from soy protein, contains no lactose. Pediatricians may recommend soy formula for infants with a milk protein allergy, but it's not always the best option. Up to half of infants with a milk allergy also have a soy allergy, according to the AAP. Other specialized formulas include those made for acid reflux and formulas for premature babies.

Why Switch?

Most formula-fed infants will start with a cow's milk formula. The main reason to switch to a different formula would be if your baby is showing signs of a milk allergy. According to the AAP, symptoms of a milk allergy include vomiting shortly after eating, excessive gas, skin rashes and sometimes colic. An immediate sign of a severe milk allergy is if the baby has difficulty breathing or breaks out in hives right after drinking milk. Consult with your pediatrician as soon as possible if you see any subtle signs of a milk allergy. If your baby has difficulty breathing or has severe vomiting after drinking formula, take him to the emergency room immediately. Another reason to switch is if you have been using a newborn-specific formula for birth to 3 months or a preemie formula and need to switch to a regular formula now that your baby is getting older.

Switching with Ease

When there is a serious allergy issue, your pediatrician may recommend an immediate switch, with no transition period. However, if your baby has a milder issue, the pediatrician might suggest a gradual process, introducing the new formula little by little. For example, you could add mix 1/4 of the new formula with 3/4 of the old formula on the first day, then increasing the new formula and decreasing the old over the course of a few days. Transitioning in this manner may help ease taste differences and allows you to monitor any positive or negative effects on your baby. Try out the new formula for at least three to four days before determining its effectiveness, recommends Dr. Scott W. Cohen in his book, "Eat, Sleep, Poop." Your pediatrician should be your main guide, however, when deciding on transition methods for your baby.

Other Considerations

A milk protein allergy and lactose intolerance are not the same. Lactose-sensitive infants can consume fully hydrolyzed cow's milk formulas, which has the lactose completely removed. Infants with a confirmed milk protein allergy often have more severe symptoms and should not consume cow's milk at all. Also, don't be fooled by the labels on brand name formulas, which are not superior to generic versions. All generic and brand name formulas, no matter the type, must meet the same specific nutrition standards set by the Food and Drug Administration, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you decide to switch to a different brand of the same type of formula, such as one meant to combat excessive crying, transition over several days as the formulations and tastes are slightly different. Organic formulas also are available, although there is some debate as to its ingredient safety. Ask your pediatrician about organic formulas before purchasing.

About the Author

Based in Los Angeles, Zora Hughes has been writing travel, parenting, cooking and relationship articles since 2010. Her work includes writing city profiles for Groupon. She also writes screenplays and won the S. Randolph Playwriting Award in 2004. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in television writing/producing and a Master of Arts Management in entertainment media management, both from Columbia College.