If you have landed on this article it probably means that you’re trying to decide between a standard or “gold” infant formula for your baby. Simply, you want to know which is best for your baby.
Breastfeeding is unequivocally the best way to feed infants, however, it may not always be possible. For those who are unable to breastfeed for any reason, infant formula is the only safe alternative and will support your baby’s normal growth and development in the first 12 months of life.
Human milk is perfectly suited to meet a baby’s nutritional needs, and its nutritional profile is used by manufacturers as a reference point for infant formula formulation. Although research into the development and formulation of infant formulas is ongoing, it is unlikely that manufactured products will ever provide the same range of naturally occurring nutrients in human breastmilk, or mirror the changing nature of breastmilk during the course of a feed.
All commercially available infant formulas sold in Australia are strictly regulated by the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (FSANZ) to ensure their composition provides adequate nutrients to support normal infant growth and development.
Most commercially available infant formulas are made from cows’ milk to suit infant requirements and can be used as an alternative to breast milk for the first 12 months of life. Special formulas may also be used under medical supervision for those infants who cannot consume cows’ milk-based products due to medical, cultural or religious reasons.
All infant formulas are fortified by adding key nutrients to the milk powder base, including minerals (iron, calcium, iodine and zinc) and vitamins (A, B group, D and K) which are essential for normal growth and development. Importantly, all infant formula brands contain these key nutrients in the specified amounts as mandated by the Australia and New Zealand Food Safety Authority (FSANZ).
You may have also noticed “Gold” infant formulas at the supermarket and wondered what these are. Just like standard infant formula brands, these products also contain all the key nutrients in the amounts specified by FSANZ. However, they also contain additional ingredients allowable under the Standard, such as prebiotics (which help with gut bacteria) and omega fats, reflecting the growing body of evidence that their inclusion may be beneficial for normal infant growth and development.
Clinical research, which has found there is a positive health effect between prebiotics and human gut health has led to the supplementation of some “gold” infant formulas.
A recent review on the role of prebiotics in the prevention of allergy concluded that, while there is some evidence to support the inclusion of a prebiotic supplement in infant formulas as a preventive measure for eczema, this does not extend to asthma or urticarial (hives).
It is, however, unclear whether a prebiotic is beneficial only for those infants who already belong to the high risk category for allergy. Further research is needed before routine use of prebiotics could also be recommended as a preventive measure for allergy.
While breastfeeding remains the best source of nutrition for infants, when breastfeeding is not possible, the evidence suggests that infant formula supplemented with prebiotics helps establish a gut bacteria profile similar to breast fed babies.
In practice, breastfeeding or use of a prebiotic supplemented formula will provide prebiotics in early infancy, and naturally occurring prebiotics will be able to be consumed from a wider range of foods once intake of solids commences.
Some authorities recommend that all infants benefit from inclusion of DHA and AA in their diet, particularly in the first 6 months of life and thus support the use of fortified DHA and AA infant formula for infants who are not breastfed.
Also, it’s worth remembering that the infant formula provided in hospital may not necessarily be the best one for your baby; hospitals rotate through a few different formula brands as they are unable to stock all different formula types. It’s worth speaking with your MCH Nurse or doctor if you suspect that the formula you are using doesn’t suit your baby.
Written by Accredited Practising Dietitan and Paediatric dietitian, Shae Rickards.