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Ask The Green Mama: Soy versus milk infant formula

My two-month old baby is being formula fed and we just can’t find a formula that seems to work. He’s very gassy and seems to be in pain a lot of the time. He is also regularly constipated and will often go four to six days without a poop. My doctor has us on soy formula now and it seems to have made matters worse. Should I switch back? Can I give him anything else like prune juice to help?


Dear Vanessa,

I really feel for your struggle. There are so many stresses with having a new baby and feeding the baby is usually number one on all moms lists: whether they breastfeed or formula-feed. There are some additional stresses when formula feeding a baby, because the chances of the baby being intolerant are much greater. While I am not a doctor, I am going to share with you the advice that has helped other moms in similar situations and I hope it helps you too!

Many parents have similar questions to yours about soy formula and other questions like how to make my own formula or where can I get a modern day wet nurse? (Those links go to article on both of those topics.)

The research is clear.

Soy formula isn’t good for most babies (unless it is truly medically necessary. For instance because the baby has a congenital lactose intolerance—which is VERY, VERY rare and diagnosed in the testing they do right after birth).  There is mounting research that soy formula can cause harm to a child’s developing endocrine system, could be linked to ADHD and early onset of menses in girls and early formation of breast tissue, and that soy formula might have dangerous levels of aluminum and manganese. Soy formula can also constipate a baby.

In the U.K., Isreal, France, and New Zealand they have severely restricted or banned the use of soy formula for babies because of the mounting research on the adverse health effects. In the U.S. and Canada, the outcry has been much weaker and slower in response, but nevertheless, the American Academy of Pediatrics has updated their stance on the use of soy formula to be far more restrictive and cautionary than before. First, they remind readers that: “The AAP is committed to the use of human milk as the ideal source of nutrition for infant feeding.” Then, they go on to say that despite there being very few cases when using soy milk is really indicated medically it still makes up more than 20% of formula sales in the U.S.  (REMEMBER: your baby isn’t lactose intolerant without you knowing, ‘cause breastmilk is very high in lactose so a truly lactose-intolerant baby would have never survived its first few weeks of life until very recently). The AAP goes on to acknowledge the: “potential harmful effects of soy protein-based formulas and the phytoestrogens they contain.”
They conclude by saying that you should NOT feed your baby soy formula unless it is truly necessary.

Read more about what to do when breastfeeding isn’t an option. And tips for better bottle feeding.

And, read about Making your own dairy-free formulas.

So, if no soy formula, then what?

1. It’s not too late to try and get some breastmilk for your baby. Breastmilk has amazing health benefits for your baby, even if it isn’t coming from you, and may help give her the resources she needs to better digest any formula she also receives. Read more about it here and check out Eats on Feets and Human Milk for Human Babies  to find a source of breastmilk sharing near you.

2. You can make your own dairy-free infant formula. Read how . You can also supplement commercial formula to help increase the nutritional aspects and decrease issues such as constipation. Read more about it here.

3. Try going back to a better quality, organic, commercial infant formula. I don’t fully recommend any commercial formula, but some are better than others. Learn how to find better options.

4. See if you can find holistic nutrition help. Such as from a naturopath, homeopath, holistic chiropractor, Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor, holistic nutritionist, or Ayurvedic doctor near you to help give you guidance–along with perhaps finding a more nutritionally savvy family doctor–all of whom may help you figure out what is making your baby so uncomfortable. (Although most doctors aren’t very educated in nutrition.)

5. Don’t find your infant any sort juice, soy milk, or nut milk. All of these are very hard for a baby to digest and will make the tummy upsets worse.

6. Consider giving your child a gentle tummy massage with something like Weleda Baby Tummy Oil
Put a few drops on the baby’s belly and gently rub clock-wise, gently moving her legs up and in afterwards. Repeat. (Here’s a nice video tutorial.)

7. Remember that even a bottle-fed baby can be “nursed” by holding, cuddling, and spending the time to really nurture the baby while you are feeding him. This bonding and relaxing will also help with digestion.

8. And don’t forget to burp the baby. Whether breastfeed or bottlefed, young babies need to be burped. Since gas and constipation are an issue, try stopping 1/4 of the way through the bottle to burp the baby and then 1/2 way through and 3/4 of the way through and then afterwards as well. Burping can be as gentle as holding the baby against your body so that your upper chest/shoulder is against his belly and stroking upward along his back. I also would hold my baby in a sitting position and rub gently upwards or hold the baby over my shoulder and pat.

I hope that these tips help.