While many babies tolerate infant formula quite well, it can cause gastrointestinal symptoms in others.
Gas, diarrhea, and an upset stomach are all possible signs that an infant is not tolerating the formula product they are receiving.
Premature infants are particularly at risk of developing a potentially serious gastrointestinal illness called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) after being fed certain instant formulas containing cow’s milk, like Similac and Enfamil.
NICUs often use baby formula to provide preterm and underweight newborns with extra nutrients to get their weight up and help them grow.
However, studies have shown that preterm infants who receive donor breast milk are less likely to develop NEC than those who receive bovine milk-based baby formula.
In some cases, allergic reactions can be more severe.
If an infant has a dairy allergy and receives cow’s milk-based formula, they could develop hives, swelling, and vomiting.
If the reaction appears to be serious, the infant will likely require urgent medical care.
An upset stomach can also occur if a baby consumes infant formula that is contaminated with bacteria, such as salmonella.
Recently, Abbott Laboratories, the manufacturer of infant formula products like Similac, issued a recall for some of their products that were found to be contaminated with Cronobacter bacteria, which led to a number of infections.
Imported or unregulated baby formula products that have not been evaluated by the FDA may not contain adequate nutrition and, as a result, could lead to malnourishment and other symptoms.
Homemade formula products that lack the nutrients an infant needs to develop can also be harmful.
For example, infant formula that doesn’t contain the proper amounts of iron can cause an infant to develop iron-deficiency anemia, which can lead to cognitive difficulties and other complications.
In addition to an upset stomach, NEC can cause other symptoms such as abdominal pain and swelling, vomiting, bloody stools and diarrhea, changes in body temperature, respiratory changes, refusal to eat, and inability to gain weight.
NEC occurs when bacteria cause inflammation in the intestines and begin to erode the intestinal wall.
This can result in tissue death and, in severe cases, perforations in the intestinal lining.
If perforations occur, bacteria can escape into the abdominal cavity and infect other organs.
If it passes into the bloodstream, it can lead to a life-threatening condition known as sepsis.
In some cases, antibiotics and other non-surgical remedies are sufficient to treat NEC, but when tissue death has occurred, or perforations have formed, surgical intervention might be necessary to restore function to the intestines.
If an infant has a certain food allergy, is showing signs of formula intolerance, or is facing other medical issues, their pediatrician might recommend changing formulas.
For example, if an infant has a dairy allergy, their pediatrician might suggest switching to soy-based formula products.
Switching formulas can cause an upset stomach and other minor gastrointestinal issues, including changes to stool consistency.
When introducing an infant to a new formula, it is important for parents to be on the lookout for signs of intolerance.
Symptoms include gas, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea.
More serious signs of intolerance include bloody waste, a stuffy nose, and wheezing after consuming the formula.
There are two primary ways to transition from one baby formula to another.
Infants who are transitioning from standard infant formula to powdered formula, or a formula that is gentler on the digestive system, can typically do so “cold turkey” without any transition time between the different formulas.
However, infants who are transitioning from powdered formula to standard formula may benefit from transitioning over time.
During the transition period, parents should combine the two formulas during feedings, slowly increasing the amount of the new formula while decreasing the amount of the original formula to mitigate side effects like an upset stomach.
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