Should You Switch Formulas? Things to Consider
There are hundreds of formulas a parent can choose from and each one promises to be the very best for babies. The problem? Each infant is unique! This is why so many varieties exist to treat different symptoms such as reflux, constipation, colic and more. With so many choices, it’s easy to wonder whether the formula you’re using is the right fit for your baby.
If you have concerns that there may be a better formula option out there, read on to review several considerations before making a switch. While it seems like a small change, the impact of switching can have a big impact on your baby’s new digestive system.
Before considering a formula switch, you should first identify the concerns that are prompting your desire to make a change. Most parents consider switching formulas based on one of two factors: their baby’s temperament or gastrointestinal symptoms their baby experiences. Let’s break down what to consider in these two areas:
Many parents consider switching formulas because their baby is fussy. It’s easy to assume that a baby’s demeanor is a result of their formula and that switching to a new formula will result in a happier baby. The problem? Babies fuss for a wide variety of reasons and it’s nearly impossible to determine the reason why. Some of the reasons why a baby might be unhappy include:
- Temperature sensitivity
- Wet or dirty diaper
Additionally, each baby has its own unique temperament. The ideal of a smiley, happy-go-lucky baby is just not the reality for some families. For whatever reason, some babies have a harder adjustment to life outside the womb than others, and these babies may take longer to hit their stride. A fussy baby, or even a baby with diagnosed colic, does not necessarily indicate that there’s a problem with their formula.
Many parents feel distressed if they think their baby is uncomfortable. Gas, infrequent bowel movements, straining, spit-up, hiccups… they can all cause concern. The challenge is understanding what’s normal when it comes to gastrointestinal symptoms in babies and what may indicate a problem.
It’s important to remember that infants have new and immature digestive systems. That soft, squishy belly has never before been asked to process food by mouth! Many infants struggle with digestion because of a perfect storm of factors that are not related to their food source at all. Infants may experience tummy issues because of any number of factors, including:
- A still-developing pancreas which produces low levels of digestive enzymes
- A still-developing esophageal valve which does not fully close to prevent reflux
- A still-developing mucosal barrier in the stomach and intestines to guard against microbes and bacteria
- A still-developing gut microbiome to support healthy digestion (which may be particularly underdeveloped in babies delivered by c-section)
Because of these factors, all babies experience gastrointestinal symptoms like gas and spit-up occasionally. Some may even experience occasional mucus in their stool. If your reasons for switching include digestive upset, be sure to talk with your pediatrician to assess whether your baby’s symptoms are simply a normal response to an immature and growing digestive system.
Why Switching Should Be The Last Choice
Remember how baby’s temperament can be a result of being overstimulated, overtired, or overfed? Babies are sensitive to change! They have been in a controlled environment for nearly 10 months and going from womb-to-world is a big adjustment in all areas.
It can take up to 14 days for a baby’s system to fully adjust to a new formula.
Switching formulas too soon (or too often!) can cause a sort of “feeding whiplash” that exacerbates both the temperament concerns and digestive issues that prompted the switch in the first place. The infographic below provides a great overview:
As such, we recommend trying less-disruptive strategies before making a formula switch. Some ideas include:
- Keeping baby upright for 30 minutes after feeding
- Adding a probiotic supplement
- Using gas drops or gripe water to settle the stomach
- Doing bicycle legs, tummy massage and other exercises to reduce gas
- Placing baby in a range of positions (tummy, back, and side-lying) which encourages movement in the bowels
- Try paced-feeding to ensure baby is not being overfed
While it may seem easier to just switch and to maintain the belief that a different formula could be a magic bullet…we often find that it makes symptoms worse. As such, switching formulas should be the last step after exploring other reasons for discomfort (as listed above), trying the aforementioned strategies, and consulting with your pediatrician.
Reasons to Switch
If you’ve seemingly tried everything and you’re still at a loss, your baby might have symptoms of a condition that necessitates a formula switch. Some of these include:
Galactosemia: This is a very rare inherited disorder that prevents the body from processing a sugar called galactose (which is present in formula and breastmilk)
Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy: CMPA is a condition that affects 2-3% of infants and that occurs when the immune system reacts to the proteins in cow’s milk formulas
Soy or corn intolerance: While milk protein is the most common allergy in infants, some may react to the use of soy protein or corn starch in formulas. In this case, we recommend HiPP HA PRE as it is entirely free of both allergens
Silent reflux or GERD: While reflux is normal (especially between 1-4 months of age), some infants have severe enough symptoms that they’re considered pathological (abnormal or atypical). These infants often benefit from the strategies mentioned above, and if indicated, a specialized formula that is thickened to help the liquid sit heavier in the stomach, such as HiPP AR Anti-Reflux
Additionally, some providers may recommend a formula switch if they feel the baby requires a partially- or extensively-hydrolyzed formula. These formulas, such as HiPP Comfort, have broken-down proteins for easier digestion.
If you’re concerned that your baby may have a condition that necessitates a specialty formula and you’d like to switch, consult with your pediatrician to have them assess whether the symptoms you’re seeing are abnormal.
How to Switch
If you’ve been given the go-ahead to make a change with your baby's formula, the key here is low-and-slow. You want to slowly introduce the new formula so that the transition itself does not cause an increase in symptoms. The infographic below presents a framework for introducing a new formula in a safe and controlled manner:
We know finding the right formula can be confusing! If the goal is to prevent switching, choosing the right formula from the start is an important task. Be sure to check out our post about Finding the Right Formula or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org for personalized help. Our Product Specialists are fellow moms and baby formula experts who love assisting new parents in finding the perfect fit for their families.