The cost of infant formula for the first year of your baby's life can wreak havoc on your wallet. As you toss a container into your grocery cart, you might notice that the competing brand is on sale this week -- and the store brand is even cheaper. You'd like to save money by switching formulas according to what's on sale, but you don't want to hurt your baby. Go ahead and save a few dollars; as long as you stick to the same type of formula, you can switch without harm.
Matching the Ingredients
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration tightly regulates the ingredients in infant formulas. Generally speaking, outside of a few minor adjustments, all standard formulas with iron -- the recommended formula for most babies -- contain the same nutrients in essentially the same proportions, according to a Human Nutrition Program study published in the January-February 2001 issue of "Pediatric Nursing." Most store brands are made by Wyeth Nutritionals, the article noted, and sell at a significant savings over name brands.
While you can switch between equivalent types of formula without a problem, don't switch to a soy-based or hypoallergenic formula without talking to your doctor first. In most cases, switching formulas won't reduce colic or fussiness, unless your baby has an allergy to the ingredients. Some babies who have an allergy to cow's milk also have a soy allergy, although not as many as once thought, according to registered dietitian and Prenatal/Pediatric Nutrition Specialist Dr. Cathy Breedon of Sanford Medical Center in North Dakota. Hypoallergenic formulas cost more, taste worse and contain large amounts of sodium; use them only if your doctor suggests them.
Making the Switch
Different brands of formula could taste slightly different; if you have a picky baby, he might turn up his nose at one brand over another. Your doctor might recommend mixing the two formulas together so that he doesn't detect the taste difference. But if your baby doesn't care, mixing formulas together to gradually switch from one to another isn't necessary, as long as you're using the same type of formula, Dr. James Sutphen of the University of Virginia reported in an abstract presented at the University of Virginia Children's Hospital 24th Annual Research Symposium.
Risks of Switching
If you've become familiar with the appearance of one brand, you might get confused and grab the wrong type of another brand of formula by mistake. Make sure the type you choose contains iron; iron helps prevent infant anemia. Some parents mistakenly believe that iron causes constipation in babies; this hasn't proven true, Dr. Breedon stresses in "Aunt Cathy's Guide to Choosing Appropriate Milks and Formulas." If you're thinking of switching brands to save money, switching to a cheaper brand is a far better solution than watering down formula to "stretch" it.