Iron in formula is unlikely to be cause of baby's distress


Q: I'm sure that formula with iron gives my baby gas, but my doctor told me that can't be true. What do you think?

A: Without knowing more about your baby's age and symptoms, we doubt that the iron in the formula is the problem. Scientific studies support this. When babies are fed from unlabeled but coded cans of formula, and switched back and forth from a formula rich in iron to one that is low, their parents and doctors cannot tell any difference in their behavior or symptoms. However, when babies are colicky or having symptoms related to their digestive tracts, iron in the formula is an easy target.

The extra iron is there because babies very much need it. Iron is crucial for building hemoglobin, the major oxygen-carrying substance in red blood cells. It also is essential for many of the enzymes that modulate the energy-producing chemical reactions inside the body's cells. Without the right amount of iron, your baby cannot grow and develop to his fullest capabilities. Milk, from which formula is made, is a poor source of iron. Iron must be added in the correct amount because too much can be deadly.

If you think your baby is not tolerating his formula, discuss your concerns with your doctor again. But babies must get the iron they need from somewhere.

Q: I just got married and haven't even thought about getting pregnant yet, but I know I would like to breast-feed. When I mentioned it to my husband, he just laughed. I have very small breasts. Will that matter?

A: You are not unusual. Most women decide how they want to feed their baby long before they have one. And many, many women have small breasts. We can assure you that you do not have to have large breasts to produce plenty of milk for a baby.

The glandular, or milk-producing, parts of the breasts grow during pregnancy. Most women experience some tenderness and increase in breast size as this occurs. This happens to almost every woman, so there are very few women who cannot breast-feed if they get proper support and nourishment.

Many hospitals have breast-feed ing (or lactation) consultants to help moms get off to a good start. Or call the LaLeche League for information. And tell your husband this is important to you, a subject not to be taken lightly. The bottom line is that small breasts, like small penises, get big enough when their time comes and perform quite well.

*Dr. Wilson is director of pediatric primary care of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.

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