No benefit seen with special infant formula.
A new study finds that healthy infants seem to have a similar tolerance for standard and hypoallergenic formulas - suggesting that most parents need not make the expensive anti-allergy formulas their first choice.
The study, published online in the Nutrition Journal, compared infants' tolerance to standard cow's milk-derived formula and so-called partially hydrolyzed formula.
Like regular formula, hydrolyzed products contain cow's milk proteins; the difference is that the proteins are broken down, making them less likely to trigger allergic responses than the intact proteins used in standard formula.
Hydrolyzed formulas are commonly recommended for infants who aren't breastfed and have heightened risk of allergies, such as those with a strong family history of allergic conditions.
The new study included 335 healthy full-term infants without a family history of milk allergies. Dr. Carol Lynn Berseth and colleagues at Mead Johnson Nutrition randomly assigned parents to use either standard formula or partially hydrolyzed formula for 60 days.
Berseth's team found that the rate of doctor-diagnosed formula intolerance - problems such as diarrhea, gas, constipation and vomiting - was similar in both study groups.
Of infants on standard formula, just over 12% were taken out of the study due to doctor-diagnosed intolerance - as were nearly 14% of those on the hypoallergenic formula.
Where the researchers did find a difference was in doctors' and parents' judgments of formula intolerance. Regardless of which formula the infant was on, parents were more likely than doctors to think the baby was having trouble with digestion.
The findings, according to Berseth's team, are consistent with past studies showing that some parents mistake normal infant behavior - such as spitting up, excessive crying and "fussiness" - as signs of formula intolerance.
In one study, the researchers note, 47% of parents said they had switched their infant's formula based on their own opinions rather than a health professional's advice.
Based on these findings, Berseth and her colleagues conclude, healthy infants have a similar tolerance for standard and hypoallergenic formulas. The latter, they write, may be best reserved for babies at increased risk of allergies.