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Does Your Baby Need a Hypoallergenic Formula? The 7 Signs to Spot

Have you felt the tug-of-war of using a hypoallergenic formula?

On the one hand, you’ve heard other parents talk about how magical they are: turning miserable monster-babies into giggles and smiles.

On the other hand, you aren’t Bill Gates. Money doesn’t grows on computer trees.

You’ve got a limited amount of funds available. This common problem leaves you with two questions:

  1. Does my baby really need a hypoallergenic? And if he does…
  2. Will those hypoallergenics really work?

Buckle up, my friend, because we’re about to figure all that out. Here’s how to figure out what your baby really needs.

7 Signs a Hypoallergenic Formula
May Be in Your Future

Let me adjust my turban for a sec.

*squeak* *squish* *flibbbbbbb*

There. That’s better. Peering deep into the soul of my crystal ball, I sense seven indicators that a hypoallergenic formula is sitting on your kitchen shelf…

1.)  Your baby is struggling with acid reflux.

A pre-thickened (and less expensive!) reflux formula can help many babies…but hypoallergenics are also being shown to be a great help for reflux-weary parents.

2.)  There is blood in his stool.

 You should ALWAYS contact the doctor when you see blood in the diaper.  That said, sometimes with milk allergies there may be microscopic bleeding in the diaper you can’t see and only testing will show. (See Step Three below…)

3.) You see snot-poo.

Mucus production is a common sign of an allergy issue in the intestines.  This thick stringy mucus will often bridge the folds of the diaper.  (Isn’t parenting FUN??!!)

4.) Your baby acts like pooping is a full-body sport he hates. 

Inflammation in the intestines can lead to spasm and cramping, which is really uncomfortable.  Having a bowel movement can cause babies to cry and pull their knees up during a poop – acting as if they are about to pass a planet, only to reveal soft serve chocolate ice cream.

5.)  He has almost constant diarrhea.  

It’s the bowel’s way of going on strike.  Sometimes this can show up as small squirts – like baby-sized racing stripes in the diaper throughout the day. (On the other hand, sometimes babies already on hypoallergenic formulas can look like they have diarrhea – always check with your doctor on this one.)

6.)  She is plagued by eczema. 

Eczema (or tiny red raised dots from Hades) can be caused by many things, not just a milk allergy issue – but it’s worth listing.  Most babies see marked skin improvements after 2-4 weeks of being on the hypoallergenic.

7.) He constantly sounds like he’s congested.

This is also a sign of reflux, so if your baby seems to have a chronic stuffy nose and wheezing, talk to your doctor about reflux and/or a milk allergy.  (Wheezing in particular is something that should trigger a doc-call.)

Why is this Hypoallergenic Formula
so Gosh-Darn Expensive?

What makes a hypoallergenic formula so expensive?

Simple: expertise = expensive. They require more expertise to produce.

To help you visualize this concept, let’s compare a hypoallergenic formula to another expertise-required, infamously-expensive product: a pearl necklace. Picture protein strands like long beads on a purty pearl necklace.

You see, babies who are demonstrating the seven signs above don’t handle long protein-pearl necklaces very well. They need those long-strands broken down. The question is, how broken down?

A Regular Hypoallergenic Formula: Smaller Protein Strands

A regular hypoallergenic formula breaks those long strands into smaller sections. So instead of a long protein pearl necklace, you now have several shorter protein pearl toe rings.

This happens when the proteins are partially hydrolyzed.  It means the milk proteins have been heated with water to break down those necklaces into extremely small pearl protein chains.

These chains are small enough to slip through the iron-bars of your baby’s cell walls without triggering an Allergy Alarm.

Just so you know… “partially hydrolyzed” is not the same as “partially hydrogenated”.  Click here to learn the difference.

A Hyper-Hypoallergenic Formula: Protein Beads

In about 20% of the “protein sensitive” cases, the child’s system still won’t accept those 3-4 protein-pearl strings. So these formulas have to go one step further, breaking those necklaces completely and passing them across one by one. 

At this point they are no longer proteins, but are instead amino acids, which (if we can all remember from 8th grade biology) are – all together now! – the building blocks of proteins. 

Naturally, these are the most expensive formulas of all – because they are a lot harder to make than the standard formulas like Similac Advance.

  • In the US, look for the brands PureAmino, Neocate, and Elecare.
  • In the UK, look for the brands Neocate and Nutramigen AA (“AA” stands for Amino Acid).

Common Hypoallergenic Formula Questions (With Answers Because I’m Nice)

Should I try soy formula first?

Many times babies who struggle with milk protein will have the same struggles with soy.  Still, it’s something you could try.

Is there a cheaper alternative?

If your baby is ticking off all 7 of those signs above, I would go straight to a hypoallergenic.  However, if your baby is only hitting a few of those you may want to try a very low-lactose formula like Similac Total Comfort or Good Start Soothe.

These formulas have shorter protein-pearl strands than the standard “Sensitive” formulas.  Not as short as a hypoallergenic, of course, but it’s a less-expensive option you could try, if his symptoms aren’t too severe.

Can I just switch formulas abruptly?

If your parenting sanity is not in crisis modeI would recommend introducing the hypoallergenic formula slowly over a period of 2-3 days to prevent upsetting the tummy.  Here’s how.

That said if you are at “95% chance of Parental Breakdown” than go ahead and switch.  This is crisis management dude. Gotta risk it.

These formulas STINK.  Did something die in there?

Surprisingly, no.  You can thank that stench to Mr. Partially Hydrolyzed. It’s an after-product. (Which sounds really really gross in that sentence…)

Most babies don’t mind the taste. (Don’t try it.  Save yourself.)  However, if your baby has swished the formula around the bottle like a wine expert and seems to find it all too bourgeois, ask your doctor if you can add a drop of pure vanilla extract to the bottle.

Is there anyway to lower the price?

The best way to save some serious dinero, once you’ve decided that a hypoallergenic formula is the way to go is just to bite the bullet and buy in bulk. 

The best place to do that is Amazon. Not only can you get free shipping if you’re a Prime Member, sometimes you can choose the formulas as a “subscribe and save” item, and they will mail them automatically set to a schedule you choose. (Awesome to avoid 2 am “I forgot we were so close to the bottom of the can!” formula runs.)

When in Doubt…

…give Doc a shout!

These guidelines will help you as you’re trying to decide on a hypoallergenic formula, but sometimes it’s nice to have a doctor looking over your shoulder.

If you suspect your baby’s digestive system is hoisting a rebellion, it may be a good idea to call your doctor and set up an appointment. Just be sure to ask if he needs a stool sample.

If so, be prepared to fish that last dirty diaper out of the diaper pail and bring it with you as an early Christmas present to the Lab Technician. “A gift?? For ME?”

Have You Read These Yet?

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80 thoughts on “Does Your Baby Need a Hypoallergenic Formula? The 7 Signs to Spot

  1. Hi,my son has diarrhoea from birth.He was admitted in ICU for severe dehydration and acidosis when he was 40 days old.Then doctor said to try Isomil and stop bf with which his diarrhoea became worse(27 in a day).Then we tried Neocaye for threr weeks and again he was dehydrated with no differnce in motions.Then we tried Galactomin 19,Kabrita gold,Blemil Plus HR1 (all these formulas are started after keeping him Nothing Oral for 24 hrs and then giving the formulas 10 ml complimenting it with pedialyte to make up 60 ml every 3hrs).All his reports are normal.Please please help…we have tried almost everything

    1. Shazia, As much as I’d love to trot out the perfect answer here, I know that I really can’t. I’m just not a trained pediatrician. The best advice I can give you is to tseek a second opinion with a new doctor, or keep going back and “harassing” this doctor until he orders more tests and you start to get more answers. Could you refer you to a pediatric gastroenterologist? An expert on baby digestion may be able to give you some stronger clues. I really wish I could offer more, but I simply don’t have the education. Sorry, friend. You are being an AMAZING parent though – keep searching for those answers and being the advocate he needs you to be!

  2. My little girl is 7 weeks old. I was pumping my breastmilk for her for the first 5 weeks however she had very bad reflux and was extremely fussy so we switched her over to all the different formulas and on each one she old projectile vomit she did the same on the breastmilk.
    We have her on the alimentium hypoallergenic formula and she’s been on it for the 2 weeks. Well she is still fussy and seems to be constipated and is always sneezing and has a runny nose. The doctor told us we can try putting her back on breastmilk if we 2anted to however I’m unsure. I don’t want to keep switching my poor child on a bunch of different things and having her need to get use to them. I don’t want to switch her back to breastmilk and then have to have her back on formula. I can’t cut dairy out of my diet and that’s what we belive is the issue although doctors won’t run tests. On top of that my supply has gone down drastically and I’ve had 4 rounds of antibiotics for mastitis now.
    I’m not sure what to do.
    Any suggestions?

    1. It sounds like you really have had a tough time, Chelsea. I applaud you for diligently problem solving for your sweet little girl.
      First of all, I’d like to reiterate that we, here at Incredible Infant are not doctors and so with any kind of medical issue, we urge you to do whatever your pediatrician is encouraging you to do. However, I do have a couple of suggestions that you could take back to your doctor and discuss.

      #1. Continue to try a hypoallergenic formula if the thickened formulas aren’t helping. They are more expensive, but have been shown to be helpful. The runny nose and sneezing may just be a passing cold and have nothing to do with the formula. Sometimes doctors have free samples or coupons. If you stay within the same formula base, switching shouldn’t be an issue. Here is an article that could help.

      #2. Make sure she’s sleeping on an incline – use the tips in this article to incline the crib mattress safely, or put her in a swing or Rock N Play to sleep.

      #3. Keep her up right for 20-30 min after each feed – a baby carrier is great for this. Take a look at this article for more information on the types of carriers.

      #4. Also, talk to your doctor about using probiotic drops”. Recently studies have shown they can help with reflux.

      #5. Medication may be your best chance of getting a handle on the reflux (perhaps your little girl is already on medication). Zantac is usually the first drug prescribed – it makes the bile less acidy. It can be prescribed and used for a long period of time. Prevacid is usually the next thing they prescribe. It actually reduces the amount of acid being produced. Because of this, it can only be prescribed for a short period of time – which is why it is usually the last resort.

      I hope this can encourage you! You are doing great. Being a parent of a refluxing baby is not easy at all. She’s a blessed baby to have such a long-suffering and caring mama. Hang in there, friend. Xo

  3. Something to note is a baby with a milk protien allergy will eventually show signs of that allergy using hypoallergenic formulas because all of them are still MILK based. It will just take longer for the allergens to build up in the baby’s system again.

    Try switching to a non-milk based formula.

    1. I believe that’s why the have the hyper-hypoallergenic formulas like Neocate or PureAmino. Those formulas go beyond milk and are just the amino acids of the protein. If your baby is still having struggles with the regular hypoallergenics (like Nutramigen) it would be good to talk to your doctor about the hyper-hypoallergenic formulas like Neocate.

      Unfortunately, many babies who are allergic to milk will also be allergic to soy, so these hyper-hypoallergenic formulas will be your best bet. Thanks for adding this comment, Heather! It brings up a an important misconception!

  4. I had to begin supplementing with Alimentum formula with my son at around 10 weeks.  He took that for a couple months, but I noticed that it made him really itchy– constantly itching his eyes and nose.  The doctor didn’t really give my concerns much weight, but I followed my instinct and switched him to the Similac Sensitive (I think that is what it is called), where the proteins are just partially broken down.  He has been doing great with that for about 3 months.  We are now starting to introduce solids.  I really hate having to make a special run to another store to pick up this specific formula.  My question is– do you think at 6 months old it would be OK to switch him to a regular cow’s milk formula??  When do those allergies/sensitivities typically go away in an infant?

    1. Hi Christy!

      Thanks so much for commenting with your concerns. I totally get the not wanting to run a special errand to the store just to get formula. Have you thought about having it delivered to your house? If you join Amazon Family, you can get Similac Sensitive shipped for free in 2 days. Here’s the link to do that. http://amzn.to/28SGMoS I do this with other household items, and it is amazingly helpful!

      Since we aren’t medical professionals here at Incredible Infant, just moms helping other moms, I can’t give you any real advice on the switching to cow’s milk at 6 months. However, you do seem wary of your current physician, so you might find these to articles helpful in finding the perfect pediatrician for you and your family written by Chelsea. http://incredibleinfant.com/health/birth-provider-part-1/ and http://incredibleinfant.com/prenatal/perfect-birth-provider-part-2/.

      Thanks so much and hope this helps!

  5. My baby is 2 years old and recently he began to have symptoms of allergy to sea foods. our family live in beach, so we used to eat sea food everyday.

    what should we do?

    1. This sounds like a good question to take to your pediatrician, perhaps he will suggest a dietician or at least some resources to help you make the change (you might want to have a blood test done first to confirm the allergy to sea foods).

  6. I am so glad I found this forum!!! My daughter is almost 5 months old. I had to start supplementing because I had production issues. After I fought the guilt of giving formula (silly, I know), I settled on giving her Holle stage 1. After 5 days of what appeared to be success, she had a bottle and 10 minutes later her face turned bright red with screaming and scratching at her ears. She also had small hives on her cheeks and chin. The symptoms subsided an hour later and all was well. I switched to Hipp HA and she was doing better, but after 7 days she’s scratching at her ears again and fussing a little after a bottle. It’s nowhere near as severe as with the Holle. Should I switch to Alimentum at this point or try a different sensitive formula??? She also has some mild eczema patches on her legs and face, but nothing too alarming.

    1. Camille

      You should run this by your doctor first but it is probably ok for you to try a sensitive formula before you switch to a hypoallergenic. When you do the switch I recommend trying to do it as laid out in this article (even though you will be going from dairy to dairy it might be worth it). You should also consider putting her on probiotic drops to help her digestive system find balance.

  7. My LO has had blood blood in her stool since 2 weeks old. We first used gentle ease, but the blood showed up again 6 weeks later. We then switched too nutramigen and 2 weeks after that we had blood in her stool again. My LO has no other symptoms but the blood. She is not a fussy baby at all but all the formula switching is becoming difficult . Now the doctor wants us to go on Neocate but we can’t afford it. Are there any other options? The blood is at random . Has anyone tried gerber extensive HA?

    1. Paige,

      It’s so concerning when you find blood in your baby’s stool, isn’t it!
      A couple of things that might help: First take a look at this article about how to save money on formula.
      Second, if you do switch to Neocate try to do the switch gently (maybe you have already been following this pattern).
      Just an FYI, we just did a newsletter on the organic brand Holle. It might not be what you are looking for for your little one but I think you should at least know that it’s out there.

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