Diluting baby formula: When frugality can be fatal

(BPT) – The average American family spends about $12,000 on a new baby in the first year of the infant’s life, and food represents the second-largest expense (after housing) in the total cost of raising a child, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Given the high costs of child-rearing, it’s understandable that parents look for ways to save, but sometimes thrift can be dangerous — especially if you’re trying to save money by diluting your baby’s formula or breastmilk.

Two-thirds of families that receive aid through the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program run out of WIC-supplied baby formula toward the end of the month, and 27 percent add more water or less powder than recommended to their babies’ formula, according to a study published in Clinical Pediatrics. More than a quarter of low-income families report watering down formula or reducing the number of feedings, according to a study by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Unfortunately, many families don’t understand how dangerous these practices are for the health and well-being of an infant.

“Formula diluting is one of those vital issues that isn’t talked about enough,” says Dr. Lisa Thornton, a specialist in pediatric rehabilitation and assistant professor in the departments of Pediatrics and Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine. “It’s critical for new parents to understand the serious harm this can cause to their baby.”

Infant formula is specifically designed to meet the exact nutritional needs of babies, so altering the formulation — by adding more water or less powder than prescribed in the manufacturer’s mixing instructions — creates an imbalance in the nutrition provided by the formula. Babies need the calories and nutrition found in formula and breast milk, and water has none. Diluting the mixture may mean your baby doesn’t get the essential vitamins and minerals he or she needs to grow and develop normally. Weight loss, developmental delays and even death can occur if parents opt to dilute their baby’s food source.

In fact, most pediatricians recommend that babies not be given only water to drink until they are at least 6 months old. Babies who get too much water can develop “water intoxication,” and become groggy, confused, drowsy, twitchy or even suffer from seizures.

Over the years, news stories have emerged warning of the dangers of diluting formula and breast milk. Most recently, a Georgia couple faces criminal charges in their baby’s death. Authorities say that watering down breast milk caused the newborn’s electrolyte and sodium levels to fall, leading to brain swelling and death.

“I encourage moms to talk to their pediatrician. Their pediatrician can review formula preparation guidelines and discuss additional options for mom, including using store brand formula, which has the same nutritional value as name brands, but generally costs 50 percent less,” Thornton says.

If you fear that only name brand formula is good enough for your baby, you’re not alone; half of caregivers wrongly believe that store brand formulas and name brand options are not nutritionally comparable, and less than a quarter say they would use store brand, according to a study published in Clinical Pediatrics.

Research shows that name brand formula offers no clear benefits over far less expensive store brand formulas, nor do babies have any problem tolerating the switch from a name brand to a store brand. Switching to store brand formula can save a family up to $600 per year, and the store brand formulas, like those offered by Perrigo Nutritionals, are available in varieties that address common feeding issues, like reduced or low lactose, soy-based and specialty formulas.

“The Food and Drug Administration strictly regulates all infant formula, both store brand and name brand, so that they meet the nutritional needs of infants,” says Thornton. “Moms can feel secure knowing that the same stringent guidelines for quality and safety must be met by all infant formula manufacturers.”

To learn more about store brand infant formula and to find coupons, visit www.storebrandformula.com. For a list of Perrigo Nutritionals infant formulas, go to www.storebrandformula.com/types-of-baby-formula. For more information on feeding and caring for your newborn, visit www.healthychildren.org.

 

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