Doctor Opens Up About Why Parents Should Care About the DHA Levels in Their Babies' Formulas


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When it comes to welcoming a new baby to the family, there are so many things to consider. All parents want the best for their children, but there are so many choices you have to make -- from what kinds of diapers to use to how best to clothe your newborn, the decisions can be overwhelming! Luckily, we’re here to help ease the stress of being a new parent. One of the biggest decisions parents have to make is how they want to feed their newborn babies -- breast milk, formula, or some combination of both? If formula-feeding makes the most sense for your family, how do you choose a formula for your baby?

Dr. Christina J. Valentine, a neonatologist and a physician-scientist focused on maternal/infant diet strategies, knows that feeding can be a point of anxiety for parents. In the informative Q&A below, she answers some of parents’ most pressing questions about formula-feeding.

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  • Q: What should you look for when choosing a formula?

    Parents should look for US-manufactured formulas that follow FDA guidance for adequacy and safety. You should also ask your baby's doctor about formulas that are inspired by breast milk, meaning that they have balanced nutrition, as well as expert-recommended amounts of DHA and ARA, two important Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids that support your baby's brain and eye development.

  • Q: What is DHA and why is it important to my baby’s development? Is there a recommended level of DHA parents should look for when choosing a formula?

    DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega-3 fatty acid that helps support eye and brain development. Nutrition during the first year of life can have a profound and lasting impact — particularly on the developing brain. A child’s brain increases 175% during the first year of life. Providing nutrition that supports brain development during this window is key.

    Global expert bodies, like the World Health Organization and FAO of the United Nations, has an expert recommended range of DHA for infants from 0.2 to 0.36% of total fatty acids. The average level of DHA found in worldwide breast milk is also 0.32% of total fatty acids. There are many clinical studies that show that formula supplemented with DHA at that expert-recommended amount support better problem-solving skills, attention span, visual development, mental development, and verbal ability when compared to formula without DHA.

    Enfamil is the only leading formula brand to provide this global expert-recommended amount of DHA in all its formulas.

  • Q: Do all formulas have the same ingredients?

    All US-based formulas must adhere to the Infant Formula Act guidance from the FDA, but special nutrients like DHA may be included at different amounts. Enfamil is the only leading brand that has a unique blend of global expert recommended amount of DHA and MFGM, nutrients also found in breast milk that support infant brain development.

  • Q: What are some other important formula ingredients you should talk to your doctor about?

    It is important to talk to your pediatrician about formula ingredients as not all formulas have all ingredients and in the recommended amounts. A few of those nutrients include protein, specific fats, prebiotics, probiotics, and more.

    Brain-building nutrients: According to an article published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are specific nutrients that particularly affect early brain development and demonstrate a critical or sensitive period, which is conception through 2 years of age. DHA, ARA Omega fatty acids are some of these important nutrients. MFGM (milk fat globule membrane) is a milk globular membrane found in human and dairy milk. When MFGM was clinically studied in the amount added into Enfamil NeuroPro and Enspire infant formulas, it was shown to be an important step in minimizing the neurodevelopment gap between formula-fed and breast-fed infants. (1)

    Easy-to-digest protein blend: Breast milk contains a specific blend of easy-to-digest whey and casein proteins that give your baby the nutrition he/she needs for healthy growth and development. The whey and casein protein ratios in Enfamil infant formulas are inspired by human milk.

    Immune-health supporting prebiotics: Additionally, makers of infant formula continue to respond to breast milk research, which results in additional ingredients being added in formula. Prebiotics help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the stomach. The most frequently used and well-studied prebiotics added into infant formula are galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and polydextrose (PDF).More recently, two of the most abundant human milk oligosaccharides (HMO) have been replicated (2-FL’ and LNnT) and added into infant formulas. Enfamil has dual prebiotics with an HMO effect on immune health.

    Probiotics: Probiotics play an important role in digestive, immunological, and respiratory health. Probiotics are generally well-tolerated by infants, and some infant formulas have added probiotics for specific benefits such as potential relief of crying due to colic seen with L. reuteri or reductions in asthma and eczema associated with cow’s milk allergy with L. rhamnosus GG.

  • Q: Is it okay to formula feed and breastfeed your baby (combo-feed)?


    Mother’s milk is encouraged, but if the volume is not enough or if there is no mother’s milk available, infant formula is a safe and nutritious alternative.

  • Learn More

    To learn more about Enfamil and get free samples, visit enfamil.com. Enfamil’s calling on other formula brands to #RaiseTheDHA in their formula so that every baby gets DHA in the amount global experts recommend, regardless of the brand he/she chooses. Help #RaiseTheDHA for all babies by signing Enfamil’s petition at www.enfamil.com/raise-the-DHA.

  • Christina J. Valentine

    Christina J. Valentine

    Dr. Christina J. Valentine, MD, MS, RD, FAAP is a physician-scientist focused on maternal/infant diet strategies to attenuate inflammation and improve outcomes. Valentine is also a neonatologist and is a visiting associate professor at the University of Cincinnati (UC).

    1Auestad D, Halter R, Hall RT, et al. Growth and development in term infants fed long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids: a double-blind, randomized, parallel, prospective, multivariate study. Pediatrics. 2001;108:372-381.

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