What is EleCare Formula? Is It Right For My Baby?

What is EleCare formula, and what are its unique benefits? How do you know if EleCare is the best choice for baby? And what do you need to know before you switch to EleCare? Today, we’re sharing everything parents need to know about EleCare.

What is EleCare?

EleCare is a specialty hypoallergenic formula made by Abbott Pharmaceuticals. It is meant for babies who can’t tolerate the cow’s milk in other baby formulas, due to either a milk allergy or significant milk intolerance.

Unlike many hypoallergenic formulas, EleCare is amino-acid based and completely dairy-free, so it contains no milk proteins at all.

EleCare is considered a “medical food” (as all amino acid-based formulas are). It must be used under medical supervision.

Always talk to your doctor before starting to determine whether EleCare is right for your baby, and always follow their guidance when feeding EleCare.

What babies can benefit from EleCare?

EleCare can be beneficial for any baby whose immune or digestive system is so sensitive to cow’s milk that they develop allergy, stomach, or GI symptoms when they consume most other baby formulas.

It may also be recommended when your baby has a rare allergic condition, such as eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), food protein-induced allergic proctocolitis (FPIAP), or food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES), if cow’s milk is the food that triggers the symptoms.

As EleCare is also lactose free and free of soy proteins, it’s suitable for babies who have a lactose intolerance or a milk-soy protein intolerance (MSPI).

It won’t cause stomach or GI symptoms in babies with these sensitivities.

EleCare is sometimes recommended for babies with malabsorption due to an intolerance or other condition. It is also recommended for babies who have short bowel syndrome.

Is EleCare a hydrolyzed formula?

EleCare is not a hydrolyzed formula. Rather, it is an amino acid-based formula, made especially for babies who can’t tolerate standard or hydrolyzed formulas.

EleCare falls into a formula category known as “elemental formula.” Elemental formulas use amino acids (“building blocks” of proteins) in place of proteins.

Here’s the main difference between hydrolyzed formula and elemental formulas like EleCare: broken down milk proteins vs. no milk proteins at all.

  • In hydrolyzed formula, the milk proteins are broken down into very small parts.
    • This means the proteins are much easier for babies with a milk allergy or intolerance to digest.
    • But some babies still struggle to digest the broken down proteins.
  • EleCare doesn’t contain any cow’s milk proteins --- in fact, it doesn’t contain any ingredients derived from cow’s milk.
    • So, it’s made for babies with severe milk intolerances or milk allergies, who can’t tolerate the broken-down proteins in even the most extensively hydrolyzed formulas.

Both hydrolyzed formulas and amino-acid based formulas (elemental formulas) are considered hypoallergenic.

But elemental formulas (like EleCare) are less likely to cause an allergic or GI response.

Hydrolyzed formulas are generally recommended for mild or moderate sensitivities to cow’s milk, while elemental formulas like EleCare are usually recommended for severe sensitivities.

How to tell if my baby has a milk allergy or intolerance?

Here are the symptoms of food allergies and intolerances, and why baby’s body develops these symptoms when you give baby standard or hydrolyzed formula.

Milk allergy symptoms: Two types of allergies

Milk allergies always involve the immune system. The immune system normally defends the body against harmful invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. But when a baby has a milk allergy, their immune system mistakenly treats milk proteins like harmful invaders. When baby consumes milk proteins (like the ones in many formulas), their immune system over-defends the body against these proteins and triggers allergic reaction symptoms.

There are two categories of milk allergies, based on how long it takes someone's immune system to trigger these symptoms. Each allergy category has different potential symptoms.

Immediate-type milk allergies are most common. These allergies cause symptoms seconds to hours after someone consumes a food containing cow’s milk.

In babies and young children, the most common symptoms of immediate-type milk allergies are:

  • Hives
  • Vomiting
  • Congestion
  • Swelling

(For a complete list of immediate-type food allergy symptoms, read our guide to identifying food allergy reactions in babies.)

Delayed-type milk allergies cause symptoms hours to days after someone consumes a food containing cow’s milk. This allergy category is much rarer than immediate-type milk allergies. FPIES, FPIAP and EoE are examples of delayed-type allergies.

Delayed-type allergies almost always cause GI symptoms, including:

  • Diarrhea
  • Loose or abnormal stools
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Reflux-like symptoms
  • Colic (very loud, repeated, and inconsolable crying)

(Please read our guide to delayed-type food allergies for more details on symptoms.)

Milk intolerance symptoms

Milk intolerances are completely different from milk allergies, because milk intolerances never involve the immune system. Instead, they involve the digestive system.

When someone’s digestive system can't properly break down parts of cow's milk, they have a milk intolerance.

Some types of milk intolerances include:

  • Lactose intolerance: A baby has a lactose intolerance when their body doesn’t produce enough of the lactase enzyme.
    • People need the lactase enzyme to digest lactose (the sugar in milk).
    • But when a baby doesn’t have enough lactase in their body, their digestive system struggles, and they develop uncomfortable GI symptoms.
  • Milk protein intolerance: Baby could also have an intolerance to the proteins in milk, which causes their digestive system to struggle to break down these proteins.
  • Milk-soy protein intolerance (MSPI) causes a baby’s digestive system to have trouble breaking down both milk and soy proteins.

Milk intolerances can cause GI symptoms such as:

  • Diarrhea
  • Loose stools
  • Bloody or mucousy stools
  • Constipation
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Stomach aches and pains
  • Abdominal pain/cramps
  • Nausea
  • Colicky crying
  • Spitting up
  • Vomiting

These symptoms are similar to delayed-type milk allergy symptoms, but milk intolerances are much more common than delayed-type allergies.

Is EleCare right for my baby?

EleCare must be used under medical supervision. Ultimately, your doctor must help you determine whether EleCare is right for your baby.

EleCare may be right for your baby if they have an allergy or intolerance (sensitivity) to cow's milk, and that sensitivity causes baby to develop symptoms while consuming standard or hydrolyzed formula.

Amino acid-based formulas like EleCare are tolerated by almost all babies with a cow’s milk allergy or intolerance, even if the allergy or intolerance is severe.

Usually, when babies show symptoms of a food allergy or intolerance while consuming standard cow’s milk-based formula, a doctor will recommend switching to a hydrolyzed formula first (such as Nutramigen or Alimentum).

But if symptoms don’t improve after a few weeks of using an extensively hydrolyzed formula (where the proteins are most broken down), talk to your doctor again. In this situation, they will often recommend switching to an amino-acid-based formula like EleCare.

If baby shows GI symptoms (or allergy symptoms on the skin) along with poor growth, your doctor may also recommend an amino acid-based formula --- but usually, without recommending the hydrolyzed formula first.

Do I need a prescription to access EleCare?

Although you must only use EleCare if your doctor recommends it for your baby, you don’t need a prescription to buy the formula.

However, having a prescription for EleCare from your doctor may mean that your insurance company will reimburse you for the full cost of EleCare, because the prescription proves EleCare is medically necessary for baby. Several states require amino acid-based formulas like EleCare to be covered under insurance.

As far as hypoallergenic formulas go, EleCare is slightly more expensive than hydrolyzed formulas (including Nutramigen and Alimentum). So, getting it covered under insurance is extremely helpful, if you're able.

How do I switch formulas to EleCare?

Your doctor will give you guidance on how to switch formulas to EleCare. They may recommend switching over all at once, or introducing the formula gradually.

If your doctor doesn’t have a preference between immediate and gradual switching, consider switching gradually so baby has time to get used to the taste of EleCare.

Introducing EleCare gradually means mixing EleCare with baby’s old formula for a few days, and gradually increasing the percentage of EleCare relative to the old formula.

For example, you might use this schedule:

  • Day One: 75% old formula, 25% EleCare
  • Day Two: 50% old formula, 50% EleCare
  • Day Three: 25% old formula, 75% EleCare
  • Day Four: 100% EleCare

After you’ve fully switched to EleCare, baby’s GI symptoms may resolve immediately, but they could take 1-2 weeks to resolve completely.

Can I switch back from EleCare to a different formula?

Whether you can successfully switch back to a different formula depends on your doctor's recommendation and what's causing baby's symptoms.

Doctors typically recommend reintroducing cow's milk to babies with milk intolerance at some point. This includes reintroducing regular (not hydrolyzed) formula.

So, if baby has a milk intolerance, talk to your pediatrician or allergist about when to reintroduce regular milk-based formula. The best timing to reintroduce is up to your doctor!

If your baby has a delayed-type milk allergy, you should also ask your doctor if and when baby should be reintroduced to regular formula.

Many babies with delayed-type milk allergies can be reintroduced to regular formula. But if the allergy is severe, your doctor may not want baby to switch back.

If your baby has a confirmed, immediate-type milk allergy, you cannot safely give them regular formula. Even small amounts of intact milk proteins will consistently cause them to develop an allergic reaction.

And since you’ve probably already found out that baby can’t tolerate the broken down proteins in hydrolyzed formula, they will probably continue on EleCare until they have fully transitioned to solids.

But many babies with suspected milk allergies really only have milk intolerances. And it's safe to reintroduce regular formula to a baby with a milk intolerance.

In order to know for sure whether baby has an immediate-type milk allergy, they’ll need to visit an allergist and undergo allergy testing.

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All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.  If your infant has severe eczema, check with your infant’s healthcare provider before feeding foods containing ground peanuts.