While most pediatricians start babies on standard milk-based formulas, Dr. Musielak says they may recommend a switch to gentle varieties if parents report any of the following symptoms:
- Digestive issues
- Colic and excessive fussiness
- Sensitivity to lactose
Gentle—or partially hydrolyzed—formulas are easier for tiny stomachs to digest as they have already broken down the protein molecules found in milk. In fact, gentle formulas may better mimic breast milk in terms of protein size, according to Bridget Young, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine in Rochester, New York.
“On average, human breast milk proteins are smaller in size than cow’s milk proteins,” says Dr. Young. “So partially hydrolyzed formulas provide proteins that are closer in size to breast milk proteins than standard formula proteins.”
Because they contain casein and whey, however, even gentle formulas are not suitable for babies with true milk allergies.
Similac Pro-Total Comfort
The Pro-Total Comfort formula from Similac uses 100% partially hydrolyzed whey protein that may be gentler on some stomachs. When it comes to this option, Dr. Hes is impressed by Similac’s inclusion of human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), which are prebiotics naturally present in breast milk that provide immune, gastrointestinal and cognitive support.
Cost: $1.50 per ounce (at CVS)
- Corn maltodextrin
- Whey protein hydrolysate
- High oleic safflower oil
- Soy oil
- Coconut oil
Intended to be easier on little stomachs, Gentlease provides partially hydrolyzed nonfat milk and whey proteins. This formula is geared toward infants struggling with digestive discomfort, and aims to ease gas and the fussiness that often goes along with it.
Cost: $1.45 per ounce
- Corn syrup solids
- Partially hydrolyzed nonfat milk and whey protein concentrate solids (soy)
- Vegetable oil (palm olein, coconut, soy, and high oleic sunflower oils)
- Calcium phosphate
The Winner: Similac Pro-Total Comfort
When it comes to comparing Pro-Total Comfort and Gentlease, one isn’t necessarily better than the other—it’s all about testing and choosing the option that your baby tolerates more easily, says Dr. Young.
The two formulas have different protein sources, which may affect your baby’s comfort: Gentlease uses a partially hydrolyzed mix of 60% whey and 40% casein while the Pro-Total Comfort makes use of 100% whey protein that’s been partially hydrolyzed. Dr. Young also notes differences in the carbohydrate and fat sources, explaining, again, that a parent’s decision should all come down to the baby’s preference.
If you’re dealing with an infant with lactose intolerance, however, Dr. Hes leans toward the Pro-Total Comfort formula. In addition to valuable HMOs, this variety also contains just 2% lactose versus the 20% found in Gentlease.