If Breast is the Gold Standard, where does Infant Formula fall?
If Breast is the Gold Standard, where does Infant Formula fall?

If Breast is the Gold Standard, where does Infant Formula fall?

New Mom,
New outlook, &
New struggles thanks to the need for infant formula

Picture of Savannah & Baby (Miss H.)I am back, have you missed me? If you have noticed, I have not posted on SAIFood for the past year, as I was on maternity leave. As a new mom, my exposure to the world has grown. A whole section of the grocery store has opened up to me, and it has led to lots of questions. In my next few posts, I am going to share my experience of diving into the unknown world of infant formula and food. I will cover what information I did and didn’t find, and the pressure to find the best for my child.

Finding my formula resources

As you might have guessed by the title of this blog, my child was not breastfed. Going into this, I knew nothing about formula, and I couldn’t find anyone in my friends or family group to turn to at the time. What I needed was to be informed, and I had hoped it would be a pretty easy thing to figure out.

So where do you start? One might think the formula aisle, but first I wanted to know what the regulator of the product, Health Canada (HC), had to say on the subject. I figured HC should be able to guide me and reassure me that formula feeding was a great option for my family. WRONG! I should have known better. Having nearly a decade of experience talking about policymakers and their lack of clear communication, it should have been no surprise that HC doesn’t make finding the information I need simple.

Breast is best, but what about formula?

If Breast is the Gold Standard, where does Infant Formula fall? 1Besides not being able to find any clear definitive information on HC, I was a little discouraged when the first thing I read, was that “[b]reast milk is the best food for newborn babies. Health Canada promotes breastfeeding – exclusively for the first six months….” I am no dummy, of course, breast milk is best for a newborn. It’s evolutionary, of course, the best is breast. However, breastfeeding is not always an option available to each family or the primary choice of the parent. Those who choose not to breastfeed or those unable to should be able to find quality information to guide the nutritional choices they make for their child. I sought out the HC infant formula page to learn what is best to look for in infant formula, not to learn that it is not the suggested form of feeding an infant. As I read more on HC, the lack of information I was seeking jaded my search effort and frustrated my very pregnant emotions.

So many options, but not a lot of info

Infant formula is an entire food source for infants, and therefore they are complex. There needs to be a lot of choices and types as not every baby or their dietary needs are the same. There are formulas for low-iron, sensitive stomachs, allergies, and even human milk fortifiers (HMF) options. So where do you start? Assuming your child is born on-term and is healthy, the choice of formula is up to you [if your baby needs HMFs, the hospital will give you a crash on them]. At the store, you soon notice the formulas all seem very similar but have different quantities of ingredients when it comes to the nutrition label. All it takes is a quick walk through a fully stocked formula aisle (hard to find these days) and you will see the massive options available to new parents. It will help you see the difficulty in choices that a new parent faces.

Getting the right formula

So what does your newborn need? Again, this is something I thought I could easily find online. Wrong again! I did not want to rely on the manufacturers’ web pages, as I worried they would be biased towards their product. My doctor told me to pick one and see if it works, and from there use trial and error. However, I wanted to know which of the ingredients and ratios I should look for. Health Canada’s Infant Nutrition page stated that “[i]f your baby is not breastfed, or is only partially breastfed, commercial infant formulas [were] an alternative to breast milk.” Again, nothing I didn’t already know. It was when I found on the USA Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site that if your nation has approved the formula, all approved formulas will meet the minimum nutrition. This reinforced that all formulas were safe, but did not need anything special in the formula for brain development or reducing gas. Looking back at this experience now gives me a piece of mind, but at the time it didn’t make my search any clearer.

In my early search to understand infant formula, I was exposed to how vast a gap there is in parental literature and resources in feeding your infant formula. For those of you who haven’t experienced bringing home an infant and the joys of learning to feed a baby, it can be an extremely stressful and difficult time. While I didn’t have to worry about whether I was producing enough milk to feed my baby, I did worry if ‘breast is best’ and I was not giving my baby the best option; what was the next best thing to look for in a formula?


In the next saga of this story, I will share with you what I learned about formula ingredients, how I picked one, and the bigger lessons I learned along the way.