You may have noticed some changes in your little one out of the blue. If frequent gas, spit-ups, and constipation ring a bell, then you’re probably beginning to wonder if your baby’s formula might be the culprit.
While it’s true that sometimes your baby may need a different formula, the aforementioned symptoms aren't always health concerns. Digestive issues aren't uncommon in babies, so it can be difficult for parents to decipher whether these symptoms warrant a formula change or not.
Red flags to watch out for include: extreme fussiness, severe constipation, diarrhea or bloody stool, excessive spit-up or forced vomiting, and allergy symptoms. These all could be signs that your baby may not be tolerating their formula. If you suspect that to be the case, it’s time to seek out professional medical advice to determine whether you need to switch your baby to a new formula or not.
Generally, a new brand of the same kind of formula (i.e hypoallergenic formulas, goat’s milk formulas, etc.) will have the same basic ingredients as your baby's current formula. So if you want to try out different brands of the same type of formula, it’s generally not a problem. That being said, it's always best to consult your pediatrician first before making any changes.
It’s for the big changes—let's say switching from a lactose-free formula to a goat's milk formula—that you’ll want to do so carefully and of course still with the guidance of your child’s doctor.
If you’re curious whether a different formula would be better for your baby, read on for a crash course in all things related to switching baby formula!
Normal Symptoms During Infancy
Infants experience lots of normal bodily activities that can appear concerning to parents, so we have to start by learning about what's normal for your baby and how to identify if their formula is being tolerated well.
During infancy, parents will likely notice their little one spitting up now and again. This is because babies have an immature digestive system. Combined with all the time that they spend on their back, it’s hardly surprising that milk sometimes finds its way back up.
Constipation is another common occurrence that can worry parents. The majority of infants have at least one bowel movement a day, but it’s not unusual for them to go up to two days before passing a stool. Because young babies have underdeveloped abdominal muscles, during a bowel movement, they may strain and fuss.
Finally, babies are almost certain to experience gas, this happens when too much air is swallowed from crying or bottle feeding. While gas can certainly cause your little one discomfort, as they continue to grow and their digestive and abdominal muscles have more time to develop their bodies will be better equipped to handle it.
The fundamental role of baby formula is to support normal growth and development in your baby. Some good indications that baby formula is fulfilling its job are:
Regular bowel movements: 1 to 2 per day and a minimum of five wet diapers a day
Hitting growth milestones: gaining weight appropriately for their age
Generally good demeanor: feeling relaxed and satiated after eating
So if you can check those three things off your list, your baby is probably doing just fine with their current formula!
How to Tell When Your Baby Needs to Switch Formula
Occasional fussiness, gas, and diarrhea are to be expected. However, if any of these normal symptoms crosses the line into being excessive, then you’ve got cause for concern.
A change in demeanor is nothing short of alarming to parents but being a baby is not always a cakewalk, it can be hard to adjust to a new world outside the womb. Anything from a dirty diaper, to overstimulation, hunger, or temperature sensitivity can bring about fussiness.
If your little bundle of joy is suddenly inconsolably irritable, this is a sign that something is wrong. A fussy baby can be the result of innumerable reasons but if you notice these upsets during or after drinking formula, your baby’s formula may be the issue.
As we already know, constipation in babies happens from time to time, so going up to two days without a bowel movement is generally nothing to be worried about. If your baby is always straining, has very infrequent bowel movements, experiences painful stomach cramps, and passes small hard stools these are all signs of serious constipation, a formula switch may offer some relief.
If not enough water is mixed into a powdered formula or infant formula concentrate, it can lead to diarrhea and dehydration. However, if you know you’ve prepared everything correctly and your baby is regularly having diarrhea following feedings, it could be that they need to switch formulas.
Though it’s not a pretty sight, it's important to pay attention to your baby’s stools as an indicator of their health. Bloody stools can be a sign that your little one has a cow's milk allergy. Blood in the stool can also be the result of many other health issues so be sure to consult your baby's pediatrician to get to the root cause.
Excessive Spit Up and Vomiting
Spitting up from time to time isn’t an issue as long as your baby is hitting growth milestones and needs a diaper change every six hours or so. If after each feeding, your baby is producing over two tablespoons worth of spit-up, this could be due to an infant formula intolerance.
If beyond just spitting up, you notice that your baby is throwing up forcefully to rid their body of formula, this is a cause for concern. Not only is your baby's discomfort a problem, but vomiting prevents your baby from getting essential nutrients from their formula. When this happens, reach out to your child's doctor right away.
In the first few months of life, around 2-3 % of babies end up developing an allergy to cow’s milk (although thankfully many will outgrow it). Cow’s milk protein allergy happens when your infant's immune system has an abnormal reaction to the proteins found in cow's milk formula.
Though most babies with allergies are afflicted by a cow’s milk allergy, other infants may react to soy formula and formulas that contain corn starch. Usually, an allergy or intolerance is caused by the milk or soy proteins present in cow’s milk and soy-based formulas. It’s very rare for a baby to have lactose intolerance.
If your little one has an allergy or intolerance to their infant formula symptoms will arise between feeding and up to 10 days later. The signs of an allergic reaction include…
Make sure to contact your pediatrician as soon as you notice these symptoms.
When to Switch to Sensitive Baby Formula
If your baby is no stranger to persistent fussiness, gastrointestinal problems, poor weight gain, or allergic symptoms, it may be time to ask your baby's doctor if using a specialty formula instead of a standard formula may be the right move. There is a range of sensitive formulas each designed to address babies’ specific set of symptoms.
For babies with gas and fussiness, one formula option is a partially hydrolyzed formula. This infant formula helps aid digestionbecause of its gentle milk protein structure that has been broken down into smaller, more digestible pieces. However, these formulas are intended for sensitivities, not allergies.
Extensively Hydrolyzed Formula
For babies with allergies, pediatricians will recommend avoiding foods that cause allergic symptoms. Hypoallergenic formulas are intended for babies at risk of allergies. Your pediatrician may suggest that you start your baby off with one of these formulas if you have a family history of food allergies or an older child with severe food allergies.
Hypoallergenic formulas are made with extensively hydrolyzed milk. This means that the milk has been broken down一through a process called hydrolyzation一into its simplest molecular form. This process removes complex milk casein proteins leaving behind only a smaller and more digestible hydrolyzed whey protein that is low in allergens.
A popular choice for parents looking to minimize the risk of milk protein or soy protein allergies in their infant is the HiPP Combiotic HAformula. This hypoallergenic formula has been tried and tested for more than 25 years and has helped in the realm of allergy prevention.
Quitting the old formula cold turkey - An immediate switch in infant formula may be appropriate when your little one is switching formulas due to an allergy, intolerance, or medical condition
Switching formulas slowly - If your baby doesn’t have allergies, intolerances, or medical conditions, a slow transition will usually help give your baby’s tummy time to adjust to the change
For a smooth and slow transition, the key is to mix their new formula with their old formula and gradually increase this ratio each day until they’re exclusively drinking the new formula. We’ve prepared a helpful guide on transitioning formulas for you below!
Pro Tip: You can help minimize gas build-up during a formula switch by putting gentle pressure on your baby’s stomach 30 to 60 minutes after their feeding with either your hands or some tummy time.
Can Switching Formula Hurt My Baby?
So long as you use switching baby formula as a last resort to address your baby’s symptoms and you don’t disregard professional medical advice, then it is generally safe to switch formulas!
Parents' number one concern when switching formulas is that it will upset their baby’s tummy. While it’s true that switching formulas can lead to gas or a change in your baby’s bowel habits, both of these are fairly normal responses. Your little one needs time to adjust to their new formula and, in a short time, any cramps, gas, or diarrhea should go away.
How Long Will Side Effects Last After Switching Baby Formulas
Most of the time, babies only need a week to fully transition to a new formula but for some, it can be as much as 6 weeks. Your baby’s reaction to the new formula may include gas, constipation, and changes in your baby’s stool. Please contact your baby's doctor if you have concerns about your baby's adjustment to their new formula.
While it can be tempting to give your little one a timeline for adjusting, a better strategy is to look out for and document any new symptoms. Keeping track of these changes and comparing it to your baby’s previous symptoms allows you to identify whether your baby is improving or not.
If they haven’t improved after a week, it could be that they just haven’t adjusted yet or perhaps you haven’t yet found the right formula for your little one. If you don't see any sign of improvement at 3 weeks, it’s time to reach out to your baby’s pediatrician to make sure your baby is on the right track.
How Long Does Diarrhea Last After Changing Formula?
Diarrhea is normal during your baby's adjustment period to the new formula. It's no fun for your little one who may get tummy cramps and gas, and it’s also not fun for you who has to clean it up. Thankfully, most baby diarrhea clears up on its own within 24 hours without requiring treatment.
Until the bout passes, it’s important to keep your baby comfortable and hydrated. If diarrhea becomes severe or persists past 24 hours, make sure to consult your child’s pediatrician.
Parents are always on red alert for health complications in their little ones and babies often experience gastrointestinal issues making it easy to mistake a bit of gas or fussiness for legitimate health concerns.
Combine that with the fact that every baby formula on the market boasts about its amazing nutritional value and it can be easy to view a formula switch as a quick fix to all your baby's problems. Unfortunately, this is infrequently the case.
A switch in infant formulas can be stressful for your baby’s body, so it should only be done if you’ve exhausted all other options and you get the A-okay from your pediatrician. It's probably time for a change if you notice extreme fussiness, severe constipation, diarrhea or bloody stool, excessive spit-up or forced vomiting, and allergy symptoms in your little one.
For babies with allergies, intolerances, or medical conditions, they’re usually good to start their new formula immediately. For all other babies, it's typically best to take it slow so they have adequate time to adjust to their new formula.
And finally, remember that it can take up to 6 weeks for your baby to fully adjust to their new formula, so patience is a virtue! That being said, you should contact your doctor if you feel your child is not adjusting well to their formula.
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 is a medical doctor, who graduated from Universidad Nacional de Cordoba, in Argentina. She has experience working in an emergency room of a public hospital, where she helped many patients with urgent diseases. However, her true passion are children and she is planning on doing her specialization degree in Pediatrics soon. In the past year, she has become interested in researching about infant nutrition, including breastfeeding, infant formula and food in the first years of little ones' lives.
Dr. Hsu received his medical degree from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, and holds a Master’s of Science degree from both Harvard University and Tufts University.
Dr. Hsu did research in MRI neuroimaging research of fetal brains at Boston Children’s Hospital, an affiliated hospital of Harvard Medical School. Dr. Hsu is currently a full-time medical writer and consultant.
Outside of the medical profession, Dr. Hsu loves to write, learn new languages, and travel