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Formulas, thank goodness, are largely up to the challenge of providing babies with the nutrition they need. They've been engineered to the point that they're now much more like breast milk itself, offering a similar combination of fatty acids, lactose, water, and amino acids for digestion, brain development, and growth.

But formulas are still not perfect copies of breast milk. They lack living cells, hormones, active enzymes, immunoglobulins, and dozens of other compounds present in mother's milk that cannot be artificially reproduced. Many of these missing elements have disease fighting powers, and babies on breast milk are less likely than their bottle-fed cohorts to suffer from ear infections, flu, diarrhea, rashes, allergies, or other more serious medical problems. Breastfeeding is also credited with improving mothers' health: it helps new moms take off those postpartum pounds, and it reduces their risk for breast cancer. Also reduced is the amount of mixing, measuring, and money needed to spend on formula. If or when you decide that you need a formula, you need to look into choosing the right formula for your baby.

There are two basic types of formula: cow's milk-based formula and soy formula. You should start with the former, and switch only if your baby has an adverse reaction to the protein in cow's milk, like vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, or rash, or symptoms of lactose intolerance, including excessive gas, abdominal distension and pain, or diarrhea. If your baby suffers from any of these symptoms, your doctor will be able to do a stool test that will confirm which or what your baby suffers from. This test is necessary because some babies who are allergic to the protein in cow's milk can still eat a cow's milk-based formula called hydrolyzed protein formula, which replaces the troublesome proteins with predigested, or broken down, versions.

Lactose-intolerant babies, though, have no choice but the soy-based formulas. There are two disadvantages to soy-based formulas. First of all, they don't provide your baby with as much protein as cow's milk can. Secondly, babies cannot absorb some minerals, including calcium, as easily and efficiently from soy as they do from cow's milk. There are, however, fortified soy formulas on the market that can provide some of these missing nutrients.

Both cow-based and soy formulas also come in both low iron and iron-fortified forms. Iron helps your baby maintain the proper blood cell count, which allows their organs to get all the oxygen they need. It was once eroneously thought that iron was the culprit for abdominal discomfort, constipation, diarrhea, colic, and irritability suffered by some babies. The low iron formulas are not recommended unless your physician advises otherwise.

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