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Hypoallergenic infant formula is formula manufactured in ways that make infants prone to severe allergies to be less likely to have them. They are usually recommended for infants who have family histories of severe allergies or who have demonstrated strong allergic response to regular formulas. Sometimes when an infant may be prone to significant allergies to proteins, hypoallergenic infant formula is used to prevent exposure because delaying exposure may be a means of preventing allergies.
There are varieties of hypoallergenic infant formula. The two main groups are hydrolyzed and free amino acid. Hydrolyzed types treat the way protein is processed in the formula, and comes in two subtypes. Some of these formulas are partially hydrolyzed meaning the manufacturers break down the chains of protein, but they still leave fairly large chains. These formulas may work for some infants, but organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggest that partial hydrolyzation doesn’t really result in a completely hypoallergenic infant formula.
Instead, the recommendation is to look for extensively hydrolyzed formula. In this type, protein chains are much tinier, which makes it much more likely that infants can digest them without triggering allergies. The alternative to this is to use a formula that only contains amino acids, which are not formed into protein groups. These are called free amino acid formulas, and taken with extensively hydrolyzed formulas, they are only two types of formula truly considered as examples of the hypoallergenic infant formula by the AAP and other groups.
Ironically, hypoallergenic infant formula may be derived from milk products, but these have been extensively treated and do not usually cause allergies. Some babies with milk intolerance or allergies are able to well tolerate formulas that simply don’t contain milk products at all, like soy formula. It’s been shown that some babies with severe allergies don’t digest soy formulas very well, though they’re less likely to result in life-threatening reactions like anaphylactic allergic reactions.
One of the difficulties in needing to give a child hypoallergenic infant formula is that price for these formulas can be extremely high, usually at least double, and frequently triple, the price of standard formulas. Given a medical reason, it’s sometimes possible to get insurance compensation for feeding a child these formulas. It is important not to feed a child regular formula if it’s been shown that child has life-threatening reactions to it.
Another alternative may be providing breastmilk from a milk donor, when it is impossible for the mom to breastfeed the baby, since many infants don’t react to the proteins in breastmilk in the same manner that they do to proteins in formulas. Groups like the AAP stress the importance of breastfeeding infants who are likely to have allergies, but this isn’t possible in all circumstances. When not feasible, most people turn to a hypoallergenic infant formula and if this is not covered by their insurance policy, people can expect the expense of feeding the baby to be significant.