My disclaimer before I begin is that I first and foremost always recommend breastfeeding, and long term breastfeeding. I have 3 children and have never had to use formula. Even though I have always worked part-time, I have pumped breastmilk to feed my babies while I was working. It is very possible to avoid formula.
There is a recent study looking at the effects of soy protein on infants who are fed soy formulas. Soy contain phytoestrogens or plant estrogens that in the human body can mimic the hormone estrogen. While there may be some benefits to soy in the diet of an adult, there can also be negative effects from too much of these phytoestrogens. The amount of phytoestrogen an infant consumes in soy formula far exceeds the amount that if an adult consumed could cause sexual development and menstrual changes, autoimmune and thyroid dysfunction. Soy formula is no longer recommended for infants except in a few rare conditions.
Wow, I could not believe this. I also learned that soy allergies are just as common as milk allergies and that if you child is allergic to milk products chances are good that he or she is also allergic to soy. Of course the obvious alternative is breastfeeding, second to that would be partially hydrolyzed formulas such as Good Start and Gentlease. If your baby can't tolerate those then extremely hydrolyzed formulas would be the next choice, such as Nutramigen, Pregestamil, or Alimentum.
Here is the article:
AAP Updates Its Stance on Soy Formula
Many parents assume that formula plays a role in a baby's fussiness or colic — and that switching from cow's milk formula to soy-based formula (made from soybean proteins) will help. But that's not the case, says a new clinical report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that revises the organization's 10-year-old position on soy formula.
Although many parents think soy formula is the obvious alternative for formula-fed babies who are allergic to cow's milk, the fact is that 10% to 14% of infants with a cow's milk allergy also have a soy protein allergy so a hypoallergenic formula should be considered, says the AAP. Hypoallergenic formulas should also be given to infants who have had a severe gastrointestinal reaction (abdominal pain with bloody diarrhea) to cow's milk, since anywhere from 30% to 64% of babies will also have a similar reaction to soy.
Considering that most babies in North America are drinking some kind of infant formula by 2 months old, with soy formula making up almost a quarter of U.S. formula sales, the pediatricians' group wants to make it clear that there are actually very few reasons to give babies soy formula instead of cow's milk formula — even if both contain the nutrients babies need.
According to the AAP, the only formula-bed babies who should get soy formula are those with:
- parents who are strict vegans (vegetarians who don't eat red meat, poultry, fish, or any products that come from animals like eggs or dairy products)
- a true diagnosis of lactose intolerance, which is actually rare in babies but more common among older kids and adults. Not the same thing as an allergy to cow's milk, lactose intolerance is the inability to digest the sugar lactose, found in cow's milk and cow's milk infant formulas. So, babies can have soy formula because it's "lactose free."
- congenital galactosemia (in which babies lack the enzyme that converts galactose — one of two sugars found in lactose — into glucose, a sugar the body is able to use). If these children consume breast milk, cow's milk, or other dairy products, galactose can build up in the system and damage the body's cells and organs, leading to blindness, severe mental retardation, growth deficiency, and even death.)
The AAP report also addresses the concern about "phytoestrogens" found in soy formula, including a type of estrogen called "isoflavones" (found in legumes like peas and lentils, but occurring in the highest concentrations in soybeans). What they found: "there is no conclusive evidence from animal, adult human, or infant populations that dietary soy isoflavones may adversely affect human development, reproduction, or endocrine function."
But the AAP emphasizes that soy formula is not created or recommended for premature babies.
What This Means to You
All of the major health organizations agree that breast milk is the best form of nutrition for babies for at least the first 6 months. And, if both the mother and little one are willing, nursing should ideally continue — even after introducing solid foods — until the first birthday (and even beyond).
Although both cow's milk and soy-based formula do provide infants with the nutrients they need, breastfeeding is considered ideal because:
- breast milk is much easier for babies to digest and naturally contains all the vitamins and minerals a newborn requires
- studies show it can lower the occurrence or severity of diarrhea, and reduce the number of respiratory infections and ear infections
- it may provide babies with protection from diabetes, eczema, asthma, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- research indicates that it decreases nursing moms' risk of type 2 diabetes and ovarian and breast cancer
But for mothers who can't breastfeed, or decide not to, iron-fortified infant formula is a good alternative.
For babies who are allergic to the protein in cow's milk formula (although many children typically outgrow a milk allergy by 2 or 3 years old), symptoms of an allergic reaction may include:
- abdominal pain
- even some blood in the baby's stools
If a cow's milk allergy turns out to be the culprit behind your baby's discomfort, your doctor may recommend a hypoallergenic formula (an extensively hydrolyzed protein formula or an amino-acid-based formula that's easier to digest) not soy formula — since many babies can't tolerate the cow's milk or soy-based formulas.
However, some babies may not be allergic to cow's milk at all, but could instead have lactose intolerance, which tends to develop over time and may cause symptoms like:
- excessive gas
- abdominal swelling and pain
Babies also may become temporarily lactose intolerant after they get an intestinal infection. Though most infants do well when reintroduced to breast milk or cow's milk formula following a bout a diarrhea, in some instances the doctor may recommend using soy formula or lactose-free formula during recovery.
Before making the decision to switch formulas for any reason, be sure to talk to your doctor since these symptoms could indicate something else altogether. Plus, hypoallergenic formulas can cost up to three times more than standard cow's milk or soy formulas, another reason to make sure your baby has a true milk protein allergy before you make the switch.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: May 2008