Friday, December 4, 2009

Infant formula: the battle of the brands

As a new mom (and as I've mentioned before) I never went very far with breastfeeding.  I wanted to.  Really.  Because the second you realize you are becoming a parent, you want to do everything in your power to make sure you do the responsible thing; make responsible choices.  You quickly adopt the mentality that "nothing is too good for our baby". Breastfeeding, especially recently, has become increasingly popular due to many studies performed on the benefits of the tailor made nutrients the baby receives.  People are aghast if you even mention the idea of formula.

  And then...because of one circumstance or another, you realize you simply cannot breastfeed, or it isn't right for you.  For myself, it just didn't happen.  Maybe I should have given it another week. Or two weeks.  Regardless, I felt a lot of anxiety, stress and discomfort whenever I tried to nurse, which led me to switch to Plan 2: the dreaded formula. 

In that first week when my son was introduced to formula, not only was I was feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt because I wasn't giving him the best I could offer him, but the fact that the price of a 23.4 oz. can was priced at over $20!   We used as many of the samples as we could in the beginning, but those soon ran out and we were left with two options:lower priced generic or high priced name brand?

 Which one to choose?  And why are brands like Similac and Enfamil ridiculously expensive compared to generic brands from chains such as Wal-mart, Target, Hannaford or Price Chopper.  Was there really that much of a difference?   All of these questions spun around in my head as I tried to make the most educated choice.

I did my share of research, and let me tell you when I say research-there was no stone uncovered.  I have to say, I learned a lot.  And some of what I read was surprising. Let me share with you what I found:

One of the big issues is the baby industry.  Think about this:  The United States Census Bureau's estimation of population is at 308 million-that's 100 million more people since 1967.  By 2050, the Census predicts the U.S. will have a 44% increase and by then more than half of the population will be comprised of minorities-(which, in all seriousness, aren't minorities anymore, right?).  Basically, people are reproducing like jackrabbits, and there's a pretty good reason why the baby business is a multi billion dollar industry.  Parents and grandparents are sparing no expense when it comes to their little peanut. 

You remember all of those baby food/formula campaigns, or any baby campaign for that matter?  It's not by coincidence that they inject guilt into every single safety study and advertisement you see.  These people have it down.  Possibly one of the biggest guilt trips of all, though, is baby formula.

In the beginning, I admit I fell into that trap.  I bought the expensive stuff.  Why? To avoid looking and feeling bad, and honestly believing I was doing the best for my son.  But that came to an abrupt halt after about a month.

Yes, I have received the looks from others as if to say, "oh my goddd.  She's buying the cheap stuff?  That's so awful!  How could you do that?".  But you know what?  I let it roll off my back.  Because these same people who have that mentality are paying up to $26 for 1 large container, and I'm paying about $13.  The sad part is they believe they are doing their child a favor.  In reality, they are receiving the same exact product and spending more.  When it's all said and done, that's a lot of money they're throwing away.  That's money that could have gone toward  more baby stuff, or even something large like a kitchen remodeling.  Instead, they freely gave it to the big guys.  And you wonder why they have the flashiest labels? 

So back to the research.  This is the most important fact of all:

Every can of formula must meet FDA regulations.  Check it out-it's called the Infant Formula Act.  This came about when, in 1979, more than 100 infants became very ill due to a soy-based formula not containing enough chloride.  Because of this, the Infant Formula act "ensures that commercially produced and marketed infant formulas meet accepted nutritional standards and that consistent quality is maintained in their preparation.".  Basically this simply means that ALL formulas that are on the market are FDA approved.  Whether generic or brand, their contents comply with the FDA. It's important to make sure you choose a formula that contains iron, which most do.  Like I said before, the brand labels overcharge for the "peace" of mind for those that just don't know.  And to "just not know" can cost you... a lot.

What is the difference between them all?  Well, there truthfully isn't much.  Each one is slightly different in terms of taste and texture, but they are all very minor. Big well known brands such as Similac and Enfamil are different in that one is more moist than the other.  The reason for this is because one brand uses a different kind of oil, and other brands use different types of protiens: casein or whey.  Store brands are almost exactly the same, and they are almost all made by the same company, called Pfizer (was Wyeth, but Phizer bought them out).  PBM Products is another big one.  Both companies make a great high quality product.  

The other big issue is doctors pushing either Similac or Enfamil.  Why?  Because they get PAID to do this.  You wonder why it's so expensive for big brands?  It's because they are using your hard earned money to create all these samples you get from the hospital or in the mail.  They can afford it.  Because it's your money they're using!  When I had my son, I had Similac this, Enfamil that coming at all angles.  I was SO excited to see a few containers in the mail one day when I was pregnant.  And when I was in the hospital, we had tons of samples to bring home as well.  It's great-until it runs out.  

I understand each baby is different.  And the way each company makes thier formulas vary slightly.  Babies are very sensitive and maybe be able to internally detect even the slightest change.  I switched and tried lots of different brands very early on with my son.  We did Similac first, then Enfamil, then Parents Choice, Target...the list goes on.  He was totally fine with all of them, and had no preference or any sort of reaction.  But the reality is, is that some babies do.  Sometimes they will break out in a rash using one brand, or they may become constipated using another.  Test out some brands and see which one suits your baby.  Sometimes a mom might try all of the generics only to find her baby functions better on the more expensive label.  All I'm saying here is: test and try.  Some people are so afraid of generics they don't even give them a second glance.   As someone who's tried them all-let me tell you.  They are a lifesaver.  Or even better, a moneysaver.


  1. It is bad enough, that as a mom you feel bad when breast feeding fails, but once the BF coaches & nurses catch wind of it,you feel even worse about not succeeding. I felt very pushed.

    New moms are already on the verge of insanity, they don't need even more pressure.

    We manged to get some Brst milk in my daughter that 1st month. Half way through the 2nd month, I'd had enough of was freaking me out.

  2. Breastfeeding is not the end all to baby health (this from a mother who, over six kids, breastfed for 9 years ... don't ask!). More important is being comfortable with your child and if breastfeeding is not for you, then you are not comfortable when doing it. Give it up! Do not feel guilt in doing so as you are doing what is best for your child.

  3. I remember when I had my first son. The nurse that was taking care of us told me I was a "bad mom" and that I was "harming my baby" because I couldn't breastfeed. It wasn't a matter of not wanting to, I just couldn't. I never felt so bad in my life.

    I had the same struggle as you with the formula. I tried out a LOT of formulas (all three of my boys had acid reflux) but they were ok on the generics and if we have another baby, I'm sure they will be too.

    Great post Mama! I really enjoy reading your blog!

  4. Thanks for the informative information - I enjoyed reading it! I always enjoy this blog. :) Cheers,


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