What is Powder Infant Formula?

Gina Ritter

Powder infant formula is a nutritional supplement intended to support health and growth in babies. It’s meant to be as safe and suitable an alternative to breast milk as possible. Baby formula is most often used for the first 12 months of life, sometimes longer. The powdered formulas generally aren't nutritionally the same, but the formulations are based as closely as possible on the composition of mother’s milk. Powder infant formula is typically convenient for home and travel. It is lightweight and often less expensive than the concentrated liquid or ready-to-feed forms. It’s often packaged in different sized cans or single serve pouches, and typically expires at a slow rate.

Powdered infant formula is often made from cow's milk.
Powdered infant formula is often made from cow's milk.

Infant formula is usually made from cow’s milk. There are some brands that are made from soy milk, and some are hypoallergenic, being synthesized from raw amino acids. Neither animal milk nor soy milk could be a complete, healthy alternative on their own, so ingredients such as vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates are mixed in.

Some babies are allergic or sensitive to infant formulas that are based on soy.
Some babies are allergic or sensitive to infant formulas that are based on soy.

There are several brands of powder infant formula that are iron fortified, low iron, or have other ingredients added. Some additives include DHA/ARA, which are nutrients called lipids that occur naturally in human breast milk; probiotics, or live bacteria thought to contribute to a healthy diet and often found in yogurt; and prebiotics, ingredients that promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive system.

Due to dangerous bacterial infections in infant formula in the past, steps were taken to ensure safety compliance by manufacturers and users. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) consulted on the Code of Hygienic Practice for Foods for Infants and Children. The FAO and WHO held expert meetings on microorganism infections, such as enterobacter sakazakii and salmonella, in infant formula. In order to minimize infection risk to infants, they included recommendations for production, preparation and use.

Powder baby formula goes through rigorous manufacturing processes such as pasteurization to eliminate bacteria, mold and yeast. It is also homogenized to break down oils and fat particles into smaller, more digestible pieces. Each batch is also standardized to ensure the quality and content are consistent. Baby formula ingredients are usually blended using one of two ways: dry blending or wet blending, in which case it must be spray dried to produce the powder consistency. Before the formula is shipped out, there’s also a standardized sterilization process administered using heat.

Because of the possibility of infection, nutritional or health risk to the infant, experts recommend following all formula preparation guidelines listed on the container. The preparer should use clean hands and careful measuring with clean cups and sterile bottles. He or she may use bottled or boiled water if there are concerns. When mixing powder infant formula, it is typically important to use low or non-fluoridated water.

Infant formula in a powder form is handy for both home and travel.
Infant formula in a powder form is handy for both home and travel.

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