If you have ever tried to get a baby to take an elemental or amino acid based formula, you know it is quite a task! If you have ever tasted one of these formulas yourself, you probably know why! It smells like sour milk and tastes like hot garbage. But, if it’s the only thing your child can tolerate because they have severe allergies or GI issues, then it’s really important to get them to drink it.
So, how do you get a baby to transition to elemental or amino acid based formulas like Neocate, Elecare, Puramino, or Alfamino? There are a few different tricks you can try:
- Mix the new formula with breastmilk or their old formula for a familiar taste
- Flavor the new formula with something
- Mix the formula with a safe food
- Put the formula in a different type of bottle or cup.
- Mix up the normal feeding routine
- Offer bottles when your baby is sleepy or not fully awake yet
- Have someone new offer bottles for a while
There are some types of formulas that have a better taste than others. The bad thing is that if you have a child with food allergies, like IgE allergies to dairy or soy, or a condition like FPIES or EOE, you may not have much choice in formula. The elemental or amino acid based formulas are free from dairy and most have very small amounts of soy that is broken down.
However, they are created using amino acids, which have a very particular taste and smell. Ask just about any mom that uses one of these formulas for their kids and they will tell you that the taste and smell is not very pleasant. It’s no wonder that most babies need a little extra encouragement to start taking something like Neocate or Elecare when they are used to breastmilk or a cow’s milk based formula. There are a few tips that you can try that we learned along the way.
Try mixing a moderate amount of breastmilk or the previous formula used with a small amount of the new elemental formula.
Gradually increase the amount until your baby is drinking a full bottle of their new formula. The amount that you have to use to mix them can be different, depending on how sensitive your baby is to the change in taste. I’ve seen some moms that had to start out just mixing a few drops of the formula with breastmilk and work their way up with every bottle for several weeks. I’ve seen other moms report that they started out just mixing 25% of the new formula with 75% breastmilk or old formula and increasing the amount of formula every few days.
One important note here is that before you mix the breastmilk and formula, make sure you prepare the formula according to the directions on the can. You don’t want to use breastmilk in place of the water that is supposed to be mixed with the formula, or else the formula will be too concentrated. This can cause constipation and digestion issues for your baby.
Use a flavoring in the formula
I’ve heard complaints from moms that breastfeed that their kids didn’t like the formula mixed with breastmilk because it made the milk taste sour. I’m not sure if that’s true, I never tried it, but I do know that my daughter wouldn’t take formula at all if it had even a tiny drop of formula mixed with it.
We tried several different times and ended up switching gears altogether. We found that she did much better having a full bottle of just formula and powering through. There are several options for flavoring. One of the most popular is to just use a small amount of vanilla extract. It only takes a drop for a whole bottle to change the flavor just enough to help make a difference.
You can also use fruit puree from a safe food like strawberries or apple juice. Again, just a tiny drop will do the trick. This is only something that should be used for a short term solution, once you get your baby to take the formula with the flavoring added you should be able to slowly reduce the amount that you use. This isn’t great as a long term solution because it can add sugar to the formula that is already sweetened, and too much sugar can lead to other health issues. Make sure you check with your doctor before starting to add flavoring.
If you have a child over the age of one that is transitioning to an elemental formula for the first time, you can try purchasing one of the pre-flavored options to see if your child can tolerate these. Neocate has several types of flavored junior formulas for kids over age one, and so does Elecare. Check out the post I’ve got here that gives a full list of the options available for elemental formulas and their flavor options – there are more options than you might think!
Mix the formula with a safe food
This is a tip that Neocate recommends for picky babies who won’t take an elemental formula. Putting a small amount of neocate in with a baby’s cereal or a fruit puree can help them adjust to the taste outside of a bottle, so that they are less likely to refuse it when they smell or taste it in their milk.
Put the formula in a different type of bottle or cup
We actually tried this one several times with mixed results. I’ve seen other moms that have had great success with it though, so try it if you don’t have success with the other methods. The theory here is that trying it in a totally different type of cup or bottle can help your baby try it more often.
There is a theory that using a different type of spout or even a straw can allow the formula to hit different taste buds and the drink may not be tasted as strongly. For our kids, we had more success using a bottle than any types of cup. I think the bottle actually bypassed most of the taste buds and helped my kids not to taste it as much, because each time we tried with any type of cup my daughter would gag and throw it across the room, even when she was drinking it fine from a bottle.
Have someone other than mom offer the bottles for a while
This one is especially helpful if you are breastfeeding exclusively and trying to transition to formula for the first time. Sometimes when it’s mom trying to offer a bottle for the first time, the baby is willing to hold out and refuse the formula because they can smell her milk and they know there’s another option. I had my husband take over the first few feedings for my daughter when we were transitioning her to formula because for me she absolutely would not eat at all.
Offer bottles when your baby is sleepy or not fully awake yet
We had a lot of success getting my kids to start with small sips of formula when they were almost asleep or when they were just starting to wake up from a nap. This one is tricky, because you don’t want to end up with a cranky baby that has just awoken to realize it’s been tricked into trying something nasty, but we were able to get my daughter to eat one or two ounces right as she was waking up from her nap before she would fully wake up and realize what was going on.
Try switching up the feeding routine
We offered bottles in the car, while going on a walk, and even when we were out places like the grocery store. It may seem like the last thing you want to do is take a screaming hungry baby out to the park, but I found that if my kids were slightly distracted and we got them outside of their normal routine for bottles that they were more willing to drink a little bit. It started small at first, and we only had to do this for the first day or two. If you have a screaming baby, then you may want to stick to walking up and down your driveway or around the block, that way you are still close to home if it doesn’t work.
I have two kids that were on amino acid formula at one time or another, and we had quite a transition for my oldest. She was breastfed for the first few months, and when we made the switch to Alimentum, she and I both cried a lot for several days. I thought for sure that she was never going to drink the formula. At the time, I was on an elimination diet and I was slowly losing my milk supply from being pregnant with my son. We tried flavoring it, mixing the breastmilk and formula, and we tried just about every type of cup or bottle that existed.
When my husband took over feeding her for a couple of days she eventually started drinking the Alimentum slowly. After a few days, we saw a huge difference in her behavior (no more crying all day, no more gas, and she was sleeping at night!). She also started to take the formula easily as she got used to the taste and started to feel better for the first time.
Then, after she turned one, our GI doctor had us transition her again from the Alimentum and she did not want to switch to Neocate Jr. We essentially started over, using the same tricks again, and feeling the same desperate feelings that there wasn’t going to be another option she could (or would) tolerate. After a few days of mixing the two formulas in an increasing ratio, she started drinking the new formula. I think that second transition was much easier for us because she was already used to a bad tasting formula, so it was just a matter of adjusting to the new change.
If you are struggling with a baby that isn’t taking a new formula, just know that it can get better. This can be a very emotional and scary time for parents who aren’t sure if their child will start to take an elemental formula or if it will even help them improve. For us, it was so hard in the beginning, but after about 2 weeks, we had a totally different child (and we did this with 2 different kids!). Formula made such a difference for us and I’m glad that we pushed through to see the difference. Hang in there and know that it does get better.