Infant formula vs. Toddler formula

An infant is a baby under the age of one year, while a toddler is a child between ages 1- 3. 

Infant formula is used to feed infants and toddler formula to toddlers. Have you ever wondered if there is a significant difference between the supplements, or are they just the same, with a different label stating ages? Let’s find out!

Both the infant and toddler formulas are commercially manufactured. They are marketed as products that provide several nutrients to the little ones. The formulas are generally made of cow’s milk-based but for those who are lactose intolerant soy-based formulas are also available. 

Infant formula was first introduced in the late 1800s, which is available only when prescribed by physicians. Later this formula became a choice of feeding method. By the 1970s, around 75% of babies in the US were formula-fed.

Infant formula is used as an alternative to breastfeeding. Women who have problems breastfeeding their babies or simply those who don’t wish to breastfeed use infant formula to provide necessary nutrition. An infant formula usually contains calcium, iron, and phosphorus. The formula generally has 60IU of vitamin D, Polydextrose, and Galacto – oligosaccharides type of probiotics, calcium, iron, and phosphorus.

The Toddler formula was introduced in the 1900s. Toddler formula also contains calcium and phosphorus but in more significant amounts compared to infant formula. It also contains omega-3 fatty acids, iron, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, etc. 

The differences between the infant and toddler formula are summarized below –

  Basis    Infant formula    Toddler formula  
  Definition  It is manufactured for babies under a year  It is designed for babies above a year and up to 3 years of age.
  Used by  By mothers who have a problem breastfeeding their little ones.  Used by women whose babies are picky eaters    
  Contains  Infant formula contains lower calcium and phosphorus.  Contains comparatively more calcium and phosphorus than infant formula  
  Regulated by  Food and Drug Administration   Unregulated  

 Can you give a toddler formula to an infant?

The answer to this is a straight no! Though most of the ingredients in both the formulas are pretty much the same, the percentage of ingredients in them is not the same. Toddler formula contains more corn syrup solids, and the protein may not be hydrolyzed. They also have slightly less protein and more carbs than the infant formula. Usually, Toddler formulas have more significant amounts of calcium which can be around 200mg, while breast milk has approximately 50mg of calcium which is excess for infants. Infants must be given formulas that are the closest match to breast milk.

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More on breastmilk

Breastmilk is the best option for your babies because it contains a unique mix of nutrients required for proper development, growth, weight gain, and building good immunity. Breastmilk contains up to .9 % protein, 7.1% carbohydrates, 4.5 fat, and .2 minerals.

The proteins contained are alpha-lactalbumin, Lysozyme, etc. alpha-lactalbumin converts into HAMLET, which kills tumor cells and protects babies against cancer. 25% of breastmilk comprises of amino acids, nucleotides, creatine, creatinine, urea, and uric acid.

The principal carbohydrate is lactose which makes almost 40% of total calories.

Lactose promotes a healthy balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract. It also boosts the absorption of nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. It contains long-chain fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and infection-fighting components.

Breastmilk contains 600 various types of bacteria, which help colonization of the infant’s gut. It has sugars known as HMOs, which prevent disease-causing pathogens from sticking to the receptors preventing infectious diseases.

Can toddlers be fed infant formula?

Well, you can. As the infant formula and toddler formulas have similar ingredients, only infant formula has less calcium, iron, etc., which much be necessary for your toddler. Therefore, it best to go for formula suited to the age of your baby.

Who regulates formulas?

FDA regulates infant formula to keep in check the nutrient quality, content, etc. The manufacturers of infant formula must provide all necessary information regarding ingredients and others within 90 days prior to introducing the product in the market. There should a quality control system to ensure consistency between batches of formula.

FDA states that all infant formulas must contain 29 essential nutrients, and 9 of them must be according to the prescribed amount per serving is 100 calories, and these should not exceed the specified amount. Any formula may be banned from entry into the market with regulations that are not complied with, and such manufacturer who has introduced such unapproved product is subject to fines.

Despite such strict regulations, infant formulas may contain some ingredients that parents would prefer to avoid, such as 

  1. Palm oil
  2. Artificial flavors and coloring 
  3. Corn syrup and artificial sweeteners
  4. Antibiotics and hormones in dairy-based products
  5. Lastly, GMOs

Also, the regulations which govern the infant formulas apply to products marketed for children less than a year.

Toddler Formula Regulations

Toddler formulas are usually unregulated. Toddler formulas contain more sodium, fat, and sugar, which may make them less nutritious than infant formulas.

Therefore, it is recommended to go through the ingredient list before purchasing any formula for your infant or toddler.

Know your ingredients – 

To know which formula to choose, go through the list of ingredients and determine which contains the maximum vital components Protein

  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Vitamin C
  • Zinc
  • Linoleic Acid
  • B Vitamins: B6, B12, Niacin, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Pantothenic Acid, Folic Acid
  • Fat
  • Fat-Soluble Vitamins A, D, E, K
  • Phosphorus
  • Magnesium
  • Copper
  • Iodine
  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Chloride
  • Only required to be added to non-milk based formulas: biotin, choline, inositol

What to avoid? 

  • High fructose corn syrup, added sugars, unnecessary sweeteners
  • Palm oil. It inhibits calcium absorption in infants
  • DHA and ARA are processed using hexane solvents and neurotoxin, which are not beneficial for the baby.
  • Hormones and antibiotics may be present in dairy-based formulas. 
  • Artificial colors/ flavors. These increase the chance of behavioral disorders and hypersensitivity.
  • Carrageenan is usually considered safe but may cause inflammation in the intestines.

Now you know what to choose and what to avoid. There still may be questions while looking behind the formula tin it is best to get a complete understanding of the ingredients and nutrition required. Also, you can consult your healthcare specialist/ pediatrician regarding any specific formula. If your baby has a health condition, it is always advised to consult pediatrics before choosing any diet.

So, choose the formula best suited for your baby and make changes if necessary.

Antara Chowdhary

Antara Chowdhury is a Content Marketer and Strategist with 6 years of experience. She is Master degree holder in Journalism and wants to explore everything she can write on.

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