Parenting

Organic Baby Formula vs. Regular: What’s the Difference?

dad feeding baby bottleiStock.com/Halfpoint

Organic foods are everywhere nowadays, and that includes infant formula. As a parent, your number one priority is protecting and ensuring the health of your baby, and one of the biggest choices you make is what you'll feed them. So does organic live up to the hype? To help you make the choice between organic and non-organic infant formula, check out these points.

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What makes it organic?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees the marketing of organic food. For infant formula to be labelled organic, 95% of its ingredients must come from farms that use sustainable agriculture practices. That means they don't use conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. Also, any animals used to produce organic foods must not have been given antibiotics or growth hormones.

What does that mean for baby?

Pestcides, bioengineering, radiation. That all sounds pretty scary, but does it really have an impact on infant health? The simplest answer is, we don’t know.

According to Jillian Trabulsi, Assistant Professor of Nutrition and Director of the Graduate Program in Human Nutrition at the University of Delaware, “There’s no scientific evidence-based research to recommend organic over nonorganic infant formulas. We need to see the data and then come to scientific conclusions. And at this time we just don’t have that evidence base.”

Trabulsi is also the co-author of The Handbook of Dietary and Nutritional Aspects of Bottlefeeding and in year 4 of a 5-year study on the topic. She says that many hypothesize that it's healthier to eat organic foods, but there’s just not enough evidence to make that assertion yet.

Which offers better nutrition?

Organic foods have a reputation of having additional health benefits but nutritionally, organic and nonorganic infant formulas are both suitable food sources for infants.

“In terms of nutritional differences, there’s just not a lot of big differences,” says Trabulsi. "The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) oversees both manufacture and content of infant formula to make sure that they’re safe and that they support healthy growth in infants that consume them. So formula in the U.S. must meet federal nutrient requirements. Whether its organic or not organic, it has to meet those guidelines.”

But still, check the label. Some organic formulas contain lower levels of fatty acids, like DHA, that are important for visual development, and also may contain lower levels of iron, another important nutrient for growing babies.

Am I always going to pay more for organic formula?

Organic foods are notoriously more expensive than their non-organic counterparts. And if you're choosing between a regular formula and an organic formula of the same brand, you'll almost always pay a little extra for organic.

But if you do some comparison shopping, you'll find that many organic formulas only differ in price by a few cents per ounce. So it's possible to go with an organic option without breaking the bank. Just check with your pediatrician to be sure they recommend the one you choose for your baby.

What else is going to help me decide?

Choosing between organic and non-organic formula really boils down to doing your research and going with what works for your baby and family. For example, some parents try a formula that doesn't seem to agree with their baby and switch to another to see if it helps cut down on tummy troubles. Others stick with one brand from birth to toddlerhood. Ultimately, you may need to decide whether or not you believe sustainable farming practices are worth the cost of an organic formula.

"What I really highly recommend parents do is read labels," says Trabulsi. "And then they can ask either their pediatrician or a registered dietician or nutritionist about what they see on that label."

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