Why there's no reason NOT to buy store brand baby formula.
There’s nothing like starting an article with a double negative is there? Sorry, but it was the easiest way to get my point across. As a father of a 3-year old and a soon to be 1-year old, I’ve suffered the guilt of buying formula that wasn’t name brand. When money was short, we had no choice. But why the guilt? Is it so bad? In short, no. It’s almost exactly the same and it’s half the price.
So, what’s the deal? Why the huge price difference and why the guilt-trips? Well, to answer that I’d have to go back around 4 years to when my wife and I first discovered we were pregnant. The second you realize you’re responsible for a life, you start to do the responsible thing. You shop around for the best crib you can afford, decorate the nursery, invest in all kinds of gadgets and gizmos and become a walking cliché for the phrase “nothing’s too good for our baby.”
And that’s what lies at the heart of this issue. There’s a reason Babies R Us is growing so fast, and why the baby business is a multi-billion dollar industry. New parents, even old parents, feel that money should really be no object when it comes to a child. After all, how could you even think of pinching pennies when it comes to the life of your most precious addition?
I could go through all of the ways the moguls at big corporations factor guilt into every ad campaign and safety study, but I’m sure you know most of them already. But when it comes to infant formula, one of the biggest guilt trips of all is the purchase of store brand formula. You may as well be feeding your baby beer and yesterday’s garbage, the looks you get from people in the supermarket queue are the same.
Well, I’m here to say once and for all that there is nothing wrong with store brand formula, and I say this as an ashamed parent who has been buying name brand for over three years. Yes, name brand. The expensive stuff. After my wife stopped breast-feeding with each baby, around the 8-month mark, we have thrown away hundreds and hundreds of dollars buying name brand formula. That was money that could have gone towards all number of things for our babies...and why? To avoid looking and feeling bad, and to feel great knowing we were doing the best for our kids. But no more. It stops today, for today I did my research and found out the truth behind the infant formula cover-up. Let’s start with the most important point.
EVERY can of baby formula must meet FDA regulations.
It’s called the Infant Formula Act . It basically means that the “safety and nutritional quality of infant formulas are ensured by requiring that manufacturers follow specific procedures in manufacturing infant formulas.” In short, whether you buy Enfamil or Target brand, your baby is getting a product certified by the FDA as good and healthy for your baby. And as long as you buy a formula with iron, you’re fine. All you’re really paying for is a fancy label…and at an extra $13 a can, that’s one pricey label.
So what are the major differences?
There aren’t any. The differences are very minor, and it all comes down to taste and texture. For instance, Enfamil Lipil provides a whey-to-casein ratio of 60:40, which is supposed to mimic breastmilk exactly. Similac Advance contains no palm olein oil, which supposedly “promotes increased calcium absorption and greater bone mineralization.” And the one my family used (until today) was Nestle Good Start Supreme. It contains 100% whey and partially hydrolyzed 'comfort proteins'; these little proteins make the milk easier to digest and help with reflux, something from which both our girls suffered.
As for store brands, well, their formulas are almost identical. It’s hard to know for sure what they leave out or put in, you need to do a side-by-side comparison on the labels to see which name brand formula they are mimicking. And almost all of them are made by one company – Wyeth. You can check them out here. I also saw another company crop up quite a lot in my research. They’re called PBM products. Both companies supply infant formula to all the major supermarket chains, and they make a quality product.
But my pediatrician offers the name brand formula. Why?
Money. Pediatricians are hit by a barrage of marketing campaigns, samples and kick-backs in order to ‘give away’ samples of name brand formulas. When we left the hospital the nurse offered us one of two bags filled with formula samples, gifts and coupons. One was by Enfamil, the other Similac. No surprise there, they’re the two leaders of the formula world and can afford to dazzle you with free gifts and coupons in the first few months of your baby’s life. These coupons soon dry up though, and you’re faced with paying over $26 for a can of formula that is being sold next to store brand formula that costs half that price.
One thing I have learned is consistency. Whatever you choose, when you find one that works you should stick with it. It’s better on you baby’s digestion. But if you happen to stick with Target or Safeway formula, do it with your head held high and feel the power of being an informed consumer. You’re doing good by your baby and saving money for the future. Now, does that sound like something anyone needs to feel guilty about?