Perceived intolerance to infant formula is a frequently reported reason for formula switching. Formula intolerance may be related to perceived symptoms of constipation, fussiness, abdominal cramps, and excessive spit-up or vomit. Commercially available formulas differ from each other in processing and in sources and levels of protein, lipids, and micronutrients. These differences may affect tolerance. The objective of this article was to compare the tolerance of two commercially available powder infant formulas that differ in composition. Measures of tolerance in exclusively breastfed infants weaned to an infant formula and exclusively formula-fed infants were evaluated.
Two clinical studies were conducted. In study 1, 82 healthy, full-term infants who were exclusively breastfed at the time of enrollment were randomized at weaning to formula A (commercially available Similac With Iron Powder) or formula B (previously available Enfamil With Iron Powder). Parents completed daily records of tolerance during exclusive breast milk feeding, during the weaning period, and for a 2-week exclusive formula-feeding period. In study 2, 87 healthy, full-term infants who were exclusively formula-fed at the time of study enrollment (by 2 weeks of age) were fed a standard cow milk-based formula (previously commercially available Similac With Iron Powder) and then randomized to receive formula A or B for a 2-week period. Parents completed daily records of tolerance throughout the study. Formula A was a cow milk-based formula with a whey:casein ratio of 48:52 and a fat blend of 42% high-oleic safflower, 30% coconut, and 28% soy oils. Formula B was a cow milk-based formula with a whey:casein ratio of 60:40 and a fat blend of 45% palm olein, 20% soy, 20% coconut, and 15% high-oleic sunflower oils. Both formulas had lactose as the source of carbohydrate and contained 12 mg of iron per liter. Only formula A contained nucleotides at the time of the study. Measures of tolerance included volume of each formula feeding, occurrences of spit-up and/or vomit, and the color (yellow, green, brown, or black) and consistency (water, loose/mushy, soft, formed, or hard) of each stool.
In both studies, volume of formula intake, weight gain, and incidence of spit-up or vomit did not differ between feeding groups. In study 1, stool frequency decreased significantly from the exclusive breast milk period to weaning. Stools also became firmer as infants moved from breast milk to weaning and to exclusive formula feeding. When formula was introduced into the diet, stools became less yellow and more green. Infants weaned to formula B had less frequent stools, fewer brown stools, and more yellow stools than did infants fed formula A. In both studies, infants fed formula B experienced significantly firmer stools than did those fed formula A.
The present clinical studies indicate that the composition and/or processing of milk-based powder iron-fortified infant formulas affect stool characteristics experienced by infants. The inclusion of palm olein oil in formula B may be the reason for the observed differences in stool characteristics. Palm olein is used in infant formulas to provide palmitic acid at a level similar to that found in breast milk. However, palmitic acid from palm olein is arranged differently from that in breast milk triglyceride and is poorly absorbed. Unabsorbed palmitic acid tends to react with calcium to form insoluble soaps, and the level of these soaps is correlated with stool hardness. The pattern of softer stools and greater frequency of stooling associated with formula A is similar to the stool pattern in the exclusively breastfed infant. Thus, the use of formula A may ease the transition from breast milk to formula feeding and ameliorate parents' perception that constipation is associated with iron-fortified formula.