Is it important to buy iron-fortified infant formula?

Yes. Your baby needs iron to grow and develop, especially during infancy. If you're not breast-feeding, using iron-fortified formula is the easiest way to provide this essential nutrient.

What about enhanced infant formula?

Some infant formulas are enhanced with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA). These are omega-3 fatty acids found in breast milk and certain foods, such as fish and eggs. Some studies suggest that including DHA and ARA in infant formula can help infant eyesight and brain development, but other research has shown no benefit.

In addition, many infant formulas include pre- and probiotics — substances that promote the presence of healthy bacteria in the intestines — in an effort to mimic the immune benefits of breast milk. Early studies are encouraging, but long-term benefits of these substances are unknown.

If you're unsure about enhanced infant formula, ask your child's doctor for guidance.

How important is the expiration date on infant formula?

Don't buy or use outdated infant formula. If the expiration date has passed, you can't be sure of the formula's quality.

While checking the expiration date, also inspect the condition of the formula container. Don't buy or use formula from containers with bulges, dents, leaks or rust spots. Formula in a damaged container may be unsafe.

How long should a child drink infant formula?

Infant formula is generally recommended until age 1, followed by whole milk until age 2 — but talk to your child's doctor for specific guidance. Reduced-fat or skim milk generally isn't appropriate before age 2 because it doesn't have enough calories or fat to promote early development.

Jan. 19, 2013 See more In-depth