Lessons from Developmental Psychology

Posted 12.3.09 | Mallory West

Recently I was volunteering at a local organization which provides respite care to families of children with special needs. There was a baby in the center who had recently been switched from a milk-based formula to a soy-based alternative. The caregiver was explaining that the baby didn’t seem to like the formula and that she didn’t blame him because it tasted awful. Everybody smelled the formula and made disgusted faces, making a huge deal about how terrible it was that the baby had to drink it. And all I kept thinking was, well of course the baby doesn’t like it! How many of us would want to eat or drink something when everyone around us thinks it’s gross.

I wanted to share this with you because parents often call us for advice on transitioning their baby to Neocate. Hopefully, this entry will provide some helpful guidance if you are making that switch.

First and foremost, it’s important to remember that if your baby is prescribed a special formula, it’s because of a medical condition which makes him or her unable to tolerate typical formula. The special formulation of Neocate makes it taste different from standard formulas, but it’s also this special formulation which provides relief and allows your baby to grow, thrive and be healthy. So how can you help make the transition smoother?

The answer is a lesson of developmental psychology! Research shows that although children are born with predispositions for certain food preferences, the majority of food preferences are shaped by experience1. A child’s food acceptance and preference are strongly influenced by the way their parents present these foods. Children learn to accept and prefer foods which are presented repeatedly and in a positive manner. At the same time, if a food is presented in a negative context, the child is likely to dislike and reject the new food (which is the most likely reason for the baby I described above not wanting the formula).

Therefore, if you present the new formula positively, even tasting it yourself and showing a pleasant response, your child is much more likely to accept and even like it. Likewise, if you display your distaste for the formula in front of your baby (for example making a disgusted face and exclaiming “this formula tastes gross!”), your baby is likely to learn to dislike it as well.

So, the takeaways are:

  1. When introducing a new formula to your baby, remember to keep a positive and supportive demeanor. Try not to make unpleasant facial expressions or negative comments in front of the baby.
  2. Remember that children learn to accept foods which are presented repeatedly so don’t be discouraged if your baby doesn’t accept the new formula right away.

Keeping these tips in mind will hopefully make the formula transition much more pleasant for your baby and as a result, much more pleasant for you too!

Do any of you have tips for helping with the transition to Neocate? We’d love to hear them!


1. Birch, LL. Development of Food Acceptance Patterns in the First Years of Life. Proc Nutr Soc. 1998 Nov;57(4):617-24.

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About Us

Food Allergy Living is a resource for parents of children with food allergies, brought to you by Nutricia, the makers of Neocate. For more in-depth information about our purpose & authors, see our About Food Allergy Living page.