Using a baby formula without iron can cause problems for your baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all babies use iron-fortified formulas if not drinking breast milk.
The Need for Iron
Infants need iron because it is necessary for proper growth and nutrition. An iron deficiency can cause developmental delays and may be associated with lower intelligence when the child enters school. A lack of iron can also lead to iron-deficiency anemia where the growing baby cannot produce enough red blood cells. Most pediatricians draw blood to test for anemia at the child's first year doctor's appointment.
Possible Problems with Iron in Formula
Constipation or other stomach upsets have been blamed on iron in infant formulas. Many parents over the years have looked for iron-free formulas because of the digestive problems supposedly caused by the iron. Studies have disproved the iron and constipation relationship, but antidotal evidence of a cause and effect association still remain and may be fairly common.
As iron is so important to a baby's development, you should not change from a formula with iron to an iron-free or low iron version without discussing it with your child's pediatrician. There may be other ways to handle constipation in these infants such as:
- Additional water or prune juice
- Less rice, bananas, or applesauce
- More peaches, prunes, plums, and pears
Types of Formula
Breastfeeding is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, but not all mothers are able to exclusively breastfeed for a variety of reasons. When breastfeeding is not an option, there are numerous infant formulas available to meet your infant's nutritional needs. Changing to a different type of formula may help with any feeding or bowel problems that your infant may have that may seem to be associated with the iron in the formula.
Milk-based formulas are the most commonly recommended formulas. They contain heat treated cow's milk proteins and lactose from cow's milk. These formulas also contain additional vitamins and minerals comparable to what is contained in breast milk.
Soy-Based or Lactose-Free Formulas
For infants who are lactose-intolerant or have any allergy to cow's milk formula, soy-based formula is available. If your baby is fussy or has diarrhea after feeding, you may want to consider switching formulas; changing to a soy formula may improve the symptoms. A lactose-free formula that still contains cow's milk proteins may also solve this problem in infants who are lactose-intolerant; a few lactose-free versions are available as well. Some parents start these formulas first because there is a history of food allergies or lactose intolerance in their families.
Formulas for Premature Infants
Most formulas for premature infants are cow milk-based and are formulated for the needs of a premature infant. These formulas have more protein, calories, vitamins, and minerals to allow the infant to put on extra weight and maintain his/her growth.
Formulas for Infants with Metabolic Issues
Some infants may have rare metabolic disorders where they are unable to digest or tolerate various components of typical formula. Specialty formulas are created for children with conditions like phenylketonuria (PKU) and tyrosinemia. Since these conditions are rare, these formulas often have to be ordered from the pharmaceutical company. Your physician and dietitian will advise you about the use of these formulas.
About Baby Formula without Iron
Few formulas are available in no-iron or low-iron versions in the United States in the present day. This type of formula is almost impossible to buy over the counter; however, you can possibly get baby formula without iron at a pharmacy with a prescription from your physician. Your doctor will probably perform multiple tests and evaluations to make sure that a low-iron formula is really needed before making this determination.
Formula does not contain everything that breast milk does, but over the years the pharmaceutical companies have tried to mimic breast milk as closely as possible. Although there are some substances like antibodies that the companies are unable to imitate, including other compounds like DHA and ARA -which are long chain fatty acids that can be found in breast milk- in infant formula is thought to help with development.
Speak with Your Pediatrician
If you are concerned about your baby formula, you should discuss these questions with your pediatrician. There may be other tactics that you can try before placing your baby on baby formula without iron. Changing to a formula without iron without your physician's knowledge might leave your infant without the nutrients that he or she needs.