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  • Does Your Little One Need High-Calorie Baby Formula?

    by Agustina Fernandez August 29, 2023 10 min read

    Does Your Little One Need High-Calorie Baby Formula?

    When feeding our little bundles of joy, regular breast milk or regular formula works fine for most babies. However, there are exceptional cases where breast milk or formula with extra calories per ounce may be recommended. For premature babies or for those who are not gaining weight as expected, high-calorie milk can provide the extra nourishment they need.

    High-calorie baby formula refers to a specialized formula designed for babies who have specific medical needs that necessitate more calories. These formulas contain more calories per ounce compared to regular infant formulas, providing a greater amount of energy. When making high-calorie formula, manufacturers may add extra ingredients such as medium-chain triglycerides, oil, protein, or polyose to give the calories a boost.

    If you've stumbled across this article today, you might be eager to explore the various options available or are curious about the situations that call for the use of high-calorie milk. Rest assured, we are here to answer these questions and satisfy your curiosities!

    Medical Considerations for High-Calorie Formula

    Meeting the growth goals of infants, especially those with low birth weight (LBW) or other health problems, often requires higher caloric intake. While LBW infants may need around 120 kcal/kg/day, infants with certain health conditions may require as much as 140 kcal/kg/day for optimal growth. However, balancing higher caloric needs with fluid tolerance can be challenging.

    This section explores the medical conditions that necessitate the use of high-calorie formula for infants, including congenital heart disease, prematurity, low birth weight, and failure to thrive.

    Here are some reasons that a baby may require high-calorie formula:

    Medical Considerations for High-Calorie Formula | Organic's Best

    1) Congenital Heart Disease

    Infants with Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) often face challenges in meeting their nutritional needs due to increased energy requirements and potential feeding difficulties. High-calorie formula can play a crucial role in providing these infants with the necessary calories to support growth and development while managing fluid restrictions.

    2) Premature Birth and Low Birth Weight (LBW) Babies

    Premature babies, especially those with LBW or extremely low birth weight (ELBW), have unique nutritional requirements. A premature baby has limited stores of essential nutrients like glycogen, fat, protein, fat-soluble vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and trace minerals in their body. This means they require a higher caloric intake to promote optimal growth.

    High-calorie formula offers a concentrated source of energy, facilitating the delivery of vital nutrients to these vulnerable infants. Formula-fed premature babies who receive high-calorie formula will ideally gain weight and eventually be weaned off and switched to regular formula or breast milk.

    There are specialized formulas designed specifically for premature infants, known as special premature formula for newborns or premature follow-up formula for older babies. It is important to note that premature formula should not be used for babies who are born full-term.

    3) Failure to Thrive (FTT) in Infants

    Failure to thrive is a diagnosis indicating that a baby is gaining markedly less weight than other infants of a similar age and gender. It can be a potential indicator of food allergies among young children, although it is important to note that failure to thrive can have various causes.

    Thus, FTT should be diagnosed through medical evaluation to determine the underlying factors accurately. High-calorie formula can serve as an effective intervention in addressing FTT by providing a nutrient-dense, calorie source to help these infants achieve the desired growth rates.

    High-Calorie Breast Milk: An Overview

    High-calorie breast milk is human milk that has been fortified to contain more calories than standard breast milk. This fortification process usually involves adding a breast milk fortifier or other nutritional supplement to pumped breast milk. Similarly to a high-calorie formula, these fortifiers are specifically designed to increase the caloric and nutrient content of the milk, thereby providing the baby with additional energy and essential nutrients.

    High-calorie breast milk is often used in neonatal care, specifically for preterm infants or infants with growth problems. Premature babies, for example, have higher nutritional needs compared to full-term infants because they missed out on the last few months of gestation when significant growth and weight gain occur. Therefore, to meet their special nutritional needs and to support their rapid growth, they might be prescribed high-calorie breast milk.

    Remember, it's important that any decision to fortify pumped breast milk should be made under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional to ensure it's done appropriately and safely.

    Benefits of High-Calorie Formula in Supporting Growth and Development

    High-calorie formula offers several benefits in supporting the growth and development of infants facing the aforementioned health problems and medical challenges. By providing a higher concentration of calories, it allows for the delivery of increased energy within smaller volumes, accommodating infants who struggle with fluid tolerance. This ensures that their nutritional requirements are met while minimizing the potential discomfort associated with larger fluid intake. This can help babies adequately develop and gain weight.

    Furthermore, these special infant formulas can play a vital role in promoting catch-up growth for premature infants and babies with health conditions. By offering a targeted approach to calorie supplementation, these formulas help bridge the nutritional gap and support optimal growth rates. This, in turn, contributes to improved overall health outcomes and enhances babies' developmental trajectories.

    Types of High-Calorie Formulas

    Commercially made high-calorie formulas are currently available with a prescription from your GP, but neonatal health practitioners have also developed recipes for increasing the caloric density of feeds. This section will delve into the composition and nutritional content of high-energy formulas, as well as touch on methods for preparing formula.

    Composition and Nutritional Content

    High-calorie baby formula refers to formulas containing over 20 calories per ounce (30 ml). These can be prepared at home by combining formula powder (or liquid concentrate) with breast milk or water, following medically-approved recipes. Alternatively, they can be purchased in ready-to-feed form with a prescription from a healthcare professional.

    High-calorie infant formula comes in different compositions and offers unique nutritional content tailored to premature babies (preemies), full-term babies, or toddlers to meet the specific needs of little ones requiring additional calories.

    These formulas often contain a higher percentage of macronutrients, including proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Proteins play a crucial role in supporting growth and development, while fats serve as a concentrated source of energy. Carbohydrates, such as lactose or glucose polymers, contribute to overall calorie content and provide a readily available energy source.

    In addition to macronutrients, high-calorie formulas are fortified with essential vitamins and minerals to ensure comprehensive nutritional support. These include vitamins such as A, D, E, and K, as well as minerals like calcium, phosphorus, and iron. The specific nutrient composition may vary depending on the brand and formulation of the high-calorie formula.

    Key Strategies for Enhanced Caloric Intake

    Did you know that the highest caloric density available in a commercial infant formula is 0.8 kcal/ml or 24 kcal/oz? Recognizing the need for higher caloric intake, neonatal health practitioners have taken the initiative to develop innovative recipes, augmenting commercial formulas to reach an impressive caloric density of 1-1.1 kcal/ml (30-34 kcal/oz).

    High-calorie infant formula can be modified using various methods to increase their caloric content. The choice of method depends on factors such as the specific indication for increased calories, the base formula being used, and the availability of additives.

    There are four primary methods for creating higher-calorie formulas:

    Methods for Creating Higher-Calorie Formulas | Organic's Best

    1. Concentration: This method of formula preparation involves using a powder formula or concentrated liquid formula that allows for the addition of less free water. While the percentage distribution of calories remains the same, the osmolality (concentration of particles) increases incrementally.

    2. Addition of dry formula: Powder formula can be added to an existing preparation of formula or pumped breast milk to increase calories. This method maintains the percentage distribution of protein, calories, and minerals but gradually increases osmolality.

    3. Single-nutrient additive: Modular nutrients (glucose polymers, protein powder, medium-chain triglycerides, vegetable oil, or fat emulsions) increase the percentage of calories from the selected macronutrient while decreasing delivery of the other nutrients per total calories.

    4. Combination approach: Combinations of any of the previous three methods may be used to increase calories, protein, and minerals.

    Considerations for Choosing High-Calorie Formula

    When it comes to selecting high-calorie formulas for infants with unique nutritional needs, there are important considerations to keep in mind. In this section, we explore the key factors that play a pivotal role in choosing the right formula. From consulting with pediatricians and healthcare providers to individualizing the approach based on your baby's specific needs, we navigate the path of informed decision-making.

    Considerations for Choosing High-Calorie Formula | Organic's Best

    Consulting with Pediatricians and Healthcare Providers

    When considering a formula, it is crucial to consult with pediatricians and healthcare providers. These professionals will assess the specific nutritional needs of your baby and provide guidance on the appropriate formula selection. In fact, some high-calorie formulas require a prescription from a general practitioner.

    Individualized Approach for Each Baby's Unique Needs

    Factors such as your baby's age, weight, underlying medical conditions, and feeding tolerance should be considered to determine the most suitable formula and its caloric concentration. Tailoring the approach to meet the baby's specific needs maximizes the potential benefits.

    Assessing Feeding Tolerance and Digestive Health

    Some infants may have specific gastrointestinal challenges or sensitivities that require consideration. Monitoring signs of discomfort, such as excessive gas, bloating, or diarrhea, can help determine the formula's compatibility with your baby's digestive system. Regular communication with healthcare providers ensures any issues are addressed promptly and adjustments are made as necessary.

    Carefully Research What Brand of High-Calorie formula to Use

    Parents should be mindful when selecting a brand of high-calorie infant formula, as certain brands have been associated with a higher risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a serious gastrointestinal condition in infants. Be sure to take the steps to educate yourselves on the risks associated with certain high-calorie formulas and raise any concerns you may have with your pediatrician.

    Feeding Strategies and Guidelines

    When it comes to making high-calorie formula, it is essential to employ proper feeding techniques for optimal results. Caregivers should follow package directions for preparing the formula precisely, ensuring accurate measurements and maintaining strict hygiene practices. Additionally, using appropriate feeding equipment, such as specialized nipples or syringes, can aid you in preparing formula.

    Like any other formula, remember to use it within the recommended time frame. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is important to use prepared infant formula within 2 hours of preparation and within one hour from the beginning of feeding. In the event that you are unable to commence feeding within 2 hours, promptly store the bottle in the refrigerator and consume it within 24 hours.

    Meal Frequency and Portion Sizes

    Determining the appropriate meal frequency and portion sizes is crucial in providing little ones on a high-calorie formula with their necessary calories. The frequency of feedings should be balanced to meet your baby's energy requirements while considering their feeding tolerance and digestive capacity.

    According to the CDC, typically, newborns who are fed infant formula will consume around 8 to 12 feedings within a 24-hour period. If your baby displays signs of hunger, you can offer feedings at a greater frequency.

    It is important to work closely with healthcare providers to establish an individualized feeding schedule that ensures the infant receives sufficient calories throughout the day. Monitoring your baby's cues for hunger and fullness can also guide you in adjusting portion sizes to meet your baby's needs, promoting healthy weight gain and adequate nutrition.

    Monitoring Weight Gain and Growth Progress

    Regular monitoring and medical evaluation of weight gain and growth progress are essential in assessing the effectiveness of the high-calorie formula and the overall well-being of your baby. Healthcare providers closely track the infant's growth curve, comparing it to standard growth charts for their age.

    By monitoring weight gain, length or height, and head circumference, any potential issues or deviations from expected growth patterns can be identified and addressed promptly. This monitoring process ensures that your baby is receiving adequate nutrition from their high-calorie formula, facilitating appropriate growth and development milestones.

    Remember that with any dietary change making high-calorie formula, there is a chance that your baby's body either will not tolerate it or need time to adjust. Look out for symptoms like dehydration and constipation, which are both associated with the consumption of high-calorie formulas.

    If you encounter any of the following situations, it is advisable to reach out to your baby's medical provider: 

    Monitoring Weight Gain and Growth Progress | Organic's Best

    1. Your baby is not exhibiting appropriate growth.

    2. You are facing challenges in preparing the high-calorie formula.

    3. The formula is leading to any issues or complications for your baby.

    Transitioning from High-Calorie Formula

    When weaning your baby off a high-energy formula, there are a few key steps caregivers must follow to ensure their little one's well-being. Let's dive into what you need to know about transitioning from high-calorie formula now.

    Gradual Weaning and Introduction of Regular Formula or Breast Milk

    As babies grow and their nutritional needs evolve, a transition from high-calorie formula to regular breast milk or regular formula powder / concentrated liquid formula becomes necessary. Gradual weaning is often recommended to facilitate this smooth transition to normal formula or human milk.

    In the case of formula feeding, the regular formula should be chosen based on your baby's age and specific nutritional needs, ensuring it provides an appropriate balance of macronutrients and essential vitamins and minerals.

    Caregivers and healthcare providers work together to gradually reduce the caloric concentration of the formula, incrementally replacing it with regular formula or breast milk over time. This gradual approach allows your baby's digestive system to adapt and ensures a seamless transition without compromising their nutritional intake.

    Even after transitioning from a high-calorie formula, it is important for healthcare providers to continue monitoring your baby's weight gain, growth progress, and overall health status to ensure they continue to thrive and meet their developmental milestones.


    High-calorie formula, tailored to your baby's needs, can help infants with certain medical conditions grow and develop healthily. This nutrient-dense formula is a vital tool for parents and caregivers, particularly when working with healthcare providers.

    It's essential to monitor your child's progress, as transitioning from high-calorie to regular formula should be carefully managed. By understanding your baby's needs and following expert advice, you're supporting their best start in life!


    Please be aware that this information is based on general trends in babies, and it is not medical advice. Your doctor should be your first source of information and advice when considering any changes to your child’s formula and when choosing your child’s formula. Always consult your pediatrician before making any decisions about your child’s diet or if you notice any changes in your child.

    Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby because breast milk provides your child with all the essential nutrients they need for growth and development. Please consult your pediatrician if your child requires supplemental feeding.

    Agustina Fernandez
    Agustina Fernandez

    Dr. Agustina Fernandez earned her medical degree from the prestigious Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Argentina. With a deep-rooted passion for pediatrics, Dr. Fernandez is currently on the path to specializing in children's healthcare. Recently, she has delved into the vital field of infant nutrition. Her research interests include breastfeeding, infant formula, and baby food in little ones’ formative years. Dr. Fernandez's commitment to this area of study underscores her dedication to ensuring the health and well-being of children from their earliest days.

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