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Is Starch In Formula Bad for Babies?

Many brands of formula include starch, including European organic brands. Starch provides essential carbs that babies need for energy, and can help hungrier and more active babies stay fuller for longer. Starch is also used to help thicken formula, making it creamier and more appetizing. 

While starch is a carb, just like sugar, it provides slow-release energy that shouldn’t spike blood sugar. It also doesn’t taste sweet, so eating starch won’t give your baby a sweet tooth.

For most babies, especially those aged 6 months+, there’s nothing wrong with starch in formula. Once they start to eat solid food, most babies will be eating starch in foods like potato and rice, and their stomachs will have matured enough that they generally won’t have any problems digesting it. 

But some younger babies will struggle with starch – which is why many parents choose to avoid it.

Starch and digestion problems

A newborn baby’s developing digestive system isn’t designed to cope with anything other than milk, and it takes time for babies to develop the enzyme they need to break down starch. 

This enzyme – amylase – develops in the salivary glands during the first few months of life. It develops slowly, and some babies won’t be making enough amylase to cope with starch in formula before six months. This is why six months is the recommended weaning age.

If your baby is struggling with starch in their formula, you’ll probably notice that they seem unsettled and suffer from tummy pain or diarrhea. Of course, these symptoms could be caused by other problems, such as an allergy or intolerance to cow’s milk or lactose, but it’s worth eliminating starch to see if it helps. 

Is starch the same as maltodextrin?

Maltodextrin is a modified starch, with shorter glucose chains that mean it’s usually much easier for babies to digest. This means that even if your baby can’t tolerate standard starch in their formula, they might be fine with maltodextrin. 

It’s used in much the same way as other forms of starch – as a thickener and to make it creamier and more filling. The way it’s modified means that maltodextrin is not only easier to digest, but releases energy more slowly than unmodified starch or other carbs. 

Maltodextrin is also used to balance out sugars such as lactose – formulas that don’t use it might add more lactose to provide for babies’ energy needs.

Even though it’s gentler than unmodified starch, some babies find that even maltodextrin is difficult to digest, so you might need to look for a maltodextrin-free formula. 

Which formulas are starch or maltodextrin free?

Among European organic brands, some are free of both starch and maltodextrin, while others contain one or the other. Some brands use starch only in their follow-on (stage 2+) milk, but not their infant stage 1 or pre formulas.

  • HiPP UK, HiPP Dutch, Loulouka and Lebnenswert are maltodextrin and starch free for all stages.
  • HiPP German uses starch in stages 3 and 4, no starch in stage pre or 1, and at stage 2 offers both a starch included and starch-free option.
  • Holle uses maltodextrin but no other starch
The right balance of nutrients can be different for each baby, and all European organic formulas carefully balance their ingredients to provide the right nutrition. If your baby seems hungry on a starch-free formula, try one with starch or maltodextrin added. If they’re unsettled or have diarrhea on a formula that includes starch, try switching to one that’s starch-free.

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