RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
As we just heard, breastfeeding can prove challenging for some mothers, and most American infants do drink formula at some point. Evidence shows that formula babies gained weight more rapidly, and in some cases too much weight. NPR's Patti Neighmond reports on what researchers found when they tested different types of formulas.
PATTI NEIGHMOND: Like most parents, raising a healthy baby topped the agenda for Ali Brownrigg and her husband.
Ms. ALISON BROWNRIGG: Would you like any more bottle?
NEIGHMOND: Brownrigg is feeding her seven-month-old with formula.
Ms. BROWNRIGG: Hungry baby.
(Soundbite of baby)
NEIGHMOND: Not her first choice, she says, but both her children were born prematurely and they ended up on formula.
Ms. BROWNRIGG: I was formula-fed and I feel like I'm okay. You know, that's all I cling to is, I'm okay, my kids will be okay too.
NEIGHMOND: But the decision about which formula to choose was one Brownrigg and her husband took very seriously.
Ms. BROWNRIGG: My husband spent some time in the grocery store aisle looking at the labels.
NEIGHMOND: And there were lots of labels to look at, advanced formula, iron supplemented formula, sensitive tummy formula, milk-based, soy based, protein-based, organic.
Ms. BROWNRIGG: We settled on one that she seemed to like and we tried to switch to the organic brands but she just didn't like the flavor. So he really spent a lot of time just examining the labels in the grocery store aisle.
NEIGHMOND: All formulas are regulated by federal health officials and pediatrician Nicolas Stettler, with Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, says they're all safe and effective. If infants like them and eat them, he says, they all maintain babies' health and their weight. The problem is formula-fed babies often gain too much weight.
Dr. NICHOLAS STETTLER (Pediatrician, Children's Hospital, Philadelphia): Infants who gain weight rapidly during infancy, during the first few months or even the first few weeks, are much more likely to become obese later in life when they are children and when they are adults.
NEIGHMOND: Five times more likely to be overweight. And Stettler says overweight children often have significant health problems.
Dr. STETTLER: We can see that their liver is affected, their lipids are affected, their blood sugar is affected. So we know that the kind of obesity that we're talking about in children is really affecting their physical health.
NEIGHMOND: So scientists at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia wanted to see if one formula caused more rapid weight gain than another. Researchers compared a predigested protein formula typically used for infants with digestion problems with the far more commonly used cow-milk formula.
After seven months, biopsychologist Julie Mennella says the babies on cow-milk formula gained an average of two pounds more than the babies on protein formula, and that's a lot if you weigh only 15 pounds.
Dr. JULIE MENNELLA (Director, Education Outreach, Monell Chemical Senses Center): There's something in cow-milk formula, or something is lacking in cow-milk formula, that's resulting in babies overfeeding. I can give the same baby cow-milk formula on one day and protein hydrolysate formula on another, and that baby will satiate sooner and consume less formula on the protein hydrolysate day.
NEIGHMOND: But pediatrician Stettler says before you rush out to grocery stores to buy this expensive protein formula, remember, the findings of this study are very preliminary. And Stettler says there's just as much danger if your baby doesn't gain enough weight.
Dr. STETTLER: We know that children who gain weight too slowly during infancy have less neurological development and attain a lower I.Q. during childhood and adulthood.
NEIGHMOND: So the take-home message for parents, says Stettler, work with your pediatrician to monitor your baby's weight, make sure the baby is gaining enough but not too much.
Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
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