You don’t think twice about buying generic breakfast cereal, so why not generic infant formula?
Cat’s out of the bag: infant formula is tightly regulated by the government, so even generic formulas provide adequate nutrition on paper.
That much is right, and so recently I’ve seen it repeated all over the place that there’s just no reason at all to buy brand-name infant formula because infant formulas are all the same.
This would be great, simple, money-saving advice were it true. But it's not!
Sometimes generic formulas are the same, sometimes they're not, and sometimes it matters
Generic formulas are sometimes very close replicas of their brand-name counterparts, other times not so much. When the generic suggests to "compare to" another product, you're going to actually have to compare!
For example, some formulas have broken-down proteins that can be easier on babies' stomachs. Formulas are sometimes corn syrup-sweetened, instead of lactose (milk sugar), and there's not a lot of evidence confirming that will have no health effects down the line.
Plus, the brand-name formulas also vary pretty significantly in quality themselves. To learn much much more about the various ingredients in infant formula, head over here to Baby Formula Expert (no affiliation, I just like the site).
There's no substitute for doing your own research
The bigger takeaway is that parenting choices are basically never truly that simple. Those recommending generic formulas have their hearts in the right place. But parents who report that their children react differently to generic formula may not be imagining things, either.
Conventional wisdom will work for most people, but it’s also not one-size-fits-all, and anyways conventional wisdom changes. There is no real substitute for doing your own research rather than taking other people’s word for it.
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To the complete surprise of my parents, I was born two months premature — so, needless to say, the headline "Too many antibiotics can give preemies a lifetime of ill health” caught my attention.
Antibiotics are the source of a lot of fear and confusion these days
Everyone knows that antibiotic resistance is theoretically rising, but willingness to forego antibiotics is not quite as strong (as if it were even fully clear who shouldn’t take them and when, which it isn’t).
To make a long story short: basically every preemie in the U.S. currently ends up receiving antibiotics, sometimes for weeks on end, because the risks of infection (even just suspected infection) loom much larger than the possible risks of antibiotics themselves.
What does all this early antibiotic exposure do?
For one thing, it disrupts the normal development of the gut microbiome, though we don’t exactly know what health problems those microbiome changes go on to cause (maybe asthma, maybe obesity). In preemies, it will be difficult to tease apart which health problems are related to prematurity, which are caused by the same risk factors that cause prematurity, and which are related to antibiotics and other treatment early in life.
Early antibiotic exposure in preemies also leaves their guts over-colonized by the hardy, dangerous bugs instead. So preventing some bacterial illness now, through antibiotics, might just set them up to catch (or pass on) other bacterial illness a little later.
Do these concerns apply to regular, full-term babies who receive antibiotics?
Probably not exactly. Researchers have found that a higher/longer dose of antibiotics means more microbiome change. So, babies who spend time in the NICU and who receive prophylactic antibiotics have more time & opportunity to acquire nasty hospital-borne bacteria in place of the normal stuff.
It does seem that the cure is sometimes worse than the disease, especially for preemies. But for full-term babies who acquire known infections that are readily treatable with short-term antibiotics, the benefits of antibiotics still outweigh the risks.
Holding your new baby is sometimes a drag, especially when she’s sobbing and/or it’s 2am. Flashy headlines proclaim that "Babies Who Get More Cuddles Seem to Have Their Genetics Changed For Years Afterwards.” This would be a gratifying thought, for a tired parent. But is it even remotely true?
The (small, preliminary) study in question did not find that parent can literally change a child’s genes. That die has been cast. I hope you chose your co-parent wisely!
Epigenetics is complicated
Instead, there is some reason to believe that more holding and touching can change which genes get expressed in your baby (an “epigenetic” change). In other words, potential characteristics can possibly be brought out or suppressed a bit, via touch.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence yet that the epigenetic changes from touching a baby have any measurable impact on outcomes like longevity, happiness, etc. All the touch in the world won’t turn a constitutionally dour baby into little miss sunshine.
Hold them anyways
But babies who are touched more do cry less and grow better (genetics completely aside). Plus, ignoring a crying baby is painful for all involved. That’s all the reason you need.