The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced an interim rule Thursday in hopes of improving the safety requirements for infant formula. The new, more restrictive standards will help ensure quality manufacturing practices, which should lead to healthier outcomes for children later in life.

“Many families rely on infant formula as either the sole source of nutrition or an integral part of an infant’s diet through 12 months of age,” said Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine. “The FDA sets high quality standards for infant formulas because nutritional deficiencies during this critical time of development can have a significant impact on a child’s long-term health and well-being.”

Though the agency is attempting to improve infant formula, the FDA still encourages new mothers to breastfeed because it is the proven healthier start for babies. A study last year found that children who were breastfed in their first year of life had more advanced cognitive development by ages 3 and 7. Breastfeeding has also been linked to decreased cancer risk in mothers and social advantages for breastfed babies later in life.

"Babies who are breastfed have lower risks of ear and gastrointestinal infections, diabetes, and obesity, and mothers who breastfeed have lower risks of breast and ovarian cancers," said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Tom Frieden, after a report released last year found that breastfeeding rates are on the rise in the U.S.

But the reality is only about 75 percent of newborn babies are breastfed. And by the time babies are 3 months old, about two-thirds of American infants begin to rely on formula more and more, according to the FDA.

These new safety requirements, which include testing representative samples to ensure nutritional value, have the potential to positively impact a good number of American children. The rule will apply only to formula used by healthy infants, not those with special medical needs or dietary problems. The main goal of these subtle, more stringent new requirements, the FDA says, is to do everything possible to promote healthy growth in babies.

“This rule will help to prevent adulteration in infant formula and ensure infant formula supports normal, physical growth,” said Taylor.