Is organic infant formula healthiest?

Many parents who feed their babies infant formula choose organic formula because they think it’s healthier than other types of formula. Organic baby formula (like all infant formulas) is made from either cow’s milk or soy. The only difference is that the milk or soy used in organic formula is free of hormones, chemicals, and pesticides, which, in theory, makes it safer than non-organic formulas. But reports of high arsenic levels due to use of brown rice syrup, health risks from cane sugar, and the controversial use of additives such as DHA and ARA in organic products cause many to wonder if organic infant formula is better.

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t clear cut. A New York Times article about the U.S. organic label noted that there is a “National List” of non-organic materials that have been approved as acceptable for organic foods, and that the list is not static. The List has grown from just 77 substances in 2002 to more than 250 today, including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA).

Aside from the formula itself, bisphenol-A (BPA) in product packaging is also a concern. Despite a recent decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prohibiting the use of BPA, a hormone-disrupting chemical in baby bottles and sippy cups, BPA is still used in food packaging, such as infant formula cans and cartons.

Some tips when shopping for your infant formula:

  • Read the labels. Manufacturers that have responded to consumer concern about BPA and removed the chemical from their products often proclaim “BPA free” on their labels. Pay attention to the ingredients, and consider what you want for your baby. (For example, although DHA and ARA are increasingly found in more products, many parents avoid them.)
  • Choose your bottles carefully. Thanks to the FDA, baby bottles can no longer contain BPA. You’ll likely want to avoid those that contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and phthalates as well.
  • Go to the source. Infant formula manufacturers change their formulations and their product packaging often, so we cannot offer a product recommendation. Contact the manufacturers—typically, contact information for a 1-800 consumer question line can be found on the product canister—and ask about the issues that concern you. Be persistent, until you find out what you need to know.

Last updated June 15, 2017

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