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Advances In Infant Formula Over The Years

Today, scientific advances in formula are bringing it closer than ever to the gold standard, breast milk.

Jan 4 2016

From the moment they first feed their new bundle of joy, all parents want to make sure their baby is well nourished. And while science and experts both agree that breast milk is the gold standard for infant nutrition, if moms cannot or choose not to feed their baby breast milk, then they should have the best alternative possible.

For more than a century, researchers and scientists have made this their goal as they work to improve the nutrition and benefits of infant formulas available to consumers. These experts study the thousands of individual components that make breast milk so special — and each discovery helps them make formula safer and more beneficial for babies’ developing bodies.

Abbott has been at the forefront of that science. Similac was introduced in 1925 in the United States and since then, formula has experienced a great evolution. Improvements in the first 50 years were numerous and included:

  • Adding iron and other key minerals and nutrients

  • Introducing pre-made liquid formulas versus powder forms

  • Providing options for different protein blends such as soy

  • Developing specialized nutritionals for preterm babies in Neonatal Intensive Care Units
     

However, some of the most significant and exciting growth to infant formula has occurred during the past few decades. Through this evolution, Abbott has used both its own latest research, as well as feedback from moms around the world, to develop new improvements.


Research-Led Advancements

Feeding Premature Babies

In 1978, Abbott introduced a formula at 24 calories per ounce for hospitalized preterm infants. Over time, as smaller, sicker infants survived, the need for a formula with higher caloric density became stronger.

Melody Thompson, RD, a pediatric nutrition specialist with Abbott, explains that regular formulas have about 19 to 20 calories per ounce. The development of a nutrient dense 30-calorie per ounce formula was critical to sustain preterm babies in the hospital, she says.

In 1994, Abbott introduced a formula that parents could use at home to nourish their premature babies to continue proper growth. “Preterm babies are small and can’t take much volume of formula,” Thompson says. “Most can only take 10 to 12 ounces per day, so the formula has to be packed with calories and nutrient-dense to meet their needs.”

Feeding Preterm Babies


Nourishing Nutrients

In the late 1990s and 2000s, Abbott also began adding nucleotides, carotenoids and prebiotics to formula. All of these components are found in breast milk and help in a variety of ways, Thompson says. Nucleotides help support the immune system, while carotenoids contain antioxidant properties as well as lutein, a carotenoid that helps supports eye health. Prebiotics provide “food” for the good bacteria in babies’ digestive tracts. 

During this time, formula manufacturers also began adding DHA (docosaheaenoic acid) and ARA (arachidonic acid) to formula, both of which are fatty acids that naturally found in breast milk and helps aid in babies’ brain and eye development.

In 2014, Abbott introduced formulas with a unique blend of DHA, lutein and vitamin E. And, based on new research about breast milk, the company also reduced the calories in some of its term formulas to make it closer to the caloric density of breast milk.


Packaging: Meeting Parents’ Needs

While developing the latest research and formula benefits, Abbott also responded to parents’ preferences on packaging, too.

Many parents have experienced the struggle of holding a fussy baby in one arm while trying to prepare a bottle with the second one. It’s not easy, especially in the middle of the night. That’s why Abbott introduced a formula tub, called SimplePac, that could be opened and picked up with one hand. The canister features grip holds for parents’ hands, and a scoop that’s built into the lid.

“Before our SimplePac packaging, most formulas came in a large, round canister and the scoop was loose in the powder,” Thompson says. “So when parents wanted to make a bottle, they often had to dig around the canister, through the formula, to find the scoop.” And in addition to making the scoop easier to use and find, the design also helped decrease the risk for contamination.

Father feeding a baby


Reclosable Bottles

It sounds simple, but reclosable 32-ounce bottles for liquid formulas didn’t use to be common. Abbott introduced a new reclosable bottle design that included four layers of protection: an oxygen-impermeable layer, a light-impermeable layer, an outer layer and an inside layer that’s approved for direct food contact, Thompson says.

“Before that innovation, liquid formulas were in 32-ounce cans that could only be opened with a punch-style opener,” Thompson says. “As a result, parents could only shake up the container once. With the reclosable plastic bottle, parents can shake it up each time.”

In addition to packaging innovations, Abbott also developed formulations based on parents’ changing needs.

  • In 2006: Abbott was the first major formula brand to introduce a certified USDA organic infant formula.

  • In 2008: Similac produced its first formula that included a blend of prebiotics, nucleotides and carotenoids that are found in breast milk.

  • In 2013: Abbott developed the first formula designed for breastfeeding moms who choose to supplement.

  • In 2015: Abbott introduced the first formula that was free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
     

“Many of our innovations are based on market research,” Thompson says. “We’re actively listening to parents to see what they want.”