As a lactation consultant who has been helping moms breastfeed for the past seven years, I know how heartbreaking it can be when breastfeeding doesn’t work out for whatever reason. I have witnessed the anguish in the eyes of a mom who wanted nothing more than to breastfeed her baby, only to find out that her body couldn’t produce a full supply of milk. I’ve helped moms who had to abruptly stop nursing because of cancer treatments or other medical conditions that required weaning.
In some cases, these moms have been able to secure donated breast milk (often from their awesome mommy friends), but in most cases, they ended up needing to feed their baby formula. Now, as a lactation consultant and proud breastfeeding mom, I am not here to tell you that formula is the same as breast milk. Without even getting into science here (though there is a ton of it out there), I think we can all agree that milk produced by a human mother specifically for her human infant is pretty damn amazing and difficult to replicate.
But I am absolutely not one of those lactation consultants who is quick to knock formula. These days, formula is manufactured very carefully, and although it is not the same as breast milk, most babies do very well on it. Most importantly, no mother should be shamed for having to feed her baby formula — or even making the conscious decision that formula feeding is a better choice for her and her family than breastfeeding.
So now that I’ve gotten all that out of the way (i.e., I love you guys, however you feed your baby!), I need to be a little strict here, and maybe a bit judgmental (okay, a lot), and tell you this: Please do not feed your baby homemade formula. Really, don’t do it. Not now, not next week, not ever.
Now, I know that the impulse is there. You set out to breastfeed your baby because you wanted to feed your baby as naturally as possible, with the most wholesome, pure ingredients on earth. That didn’t work out, so you realize you need to get your hands on some formula.
So there you are, standing in the formula aisle at Target, reading the side of a container of infant formula. There’s the long list of ingredients, many of which you can’t even pronounce. The fact that you have to add water (boiled? bottled? what is best?) and mix it up yourself. And as you are just about sliding into a panic attack, someone taps you on the shoulder. She smells like patchouli and hemp-seed and is glowing head-to-toe from all that hot yoga and grass-fed butter.
You’re afraid she’s going to berate you for not breastfeeding, and buying formula, but instead she’s there to tell you there’s a better way: homemade formula! Yep, you can do it yourself, right there in the comfort of your kitchen, with your baby strapped onto your back. And it will be much better than that sad container of baby poison — maybe even better than breast milk!
She tells you the name of a website where you can find the recipe and glides out of your space, probably on her way next door to Whole Foods for her weekly raw foods binge.
As soon as she leaves, you’ve got the homemade formula website up on your phone. Immediately, you realize that there’s no way most of the ingredients can be purchased from this Target. Where the heck do you get liquid whey, bifidobacterium infantis, high-vitamin butter oil, nutritional yeast flakes, and acerola powder? WTF are they even? Also, cod liver oil? For an infant? Big fat nope.
You pause for a sec when you read that the recipe calls for raw milk. Umm, is that even safe for babies? Newsflash: It absolutely isn’t! In fact, babies and young children are the most vulnerable to complications associated with consuming non-pasteurized milk.
Well, this is where I hope you stop, realize the woman who told you about this may have meant well, but also may be batshit bonkers, and perhaps is working for the website she recommended you follow, which is riddled with a million “affiliate links” for these specialized, expensive, and hard-to-find ingredients, and strict instructions as to which particular overpriced website you should purchase these wholesome ingredients from. I hope you realize that not only does this recipe sound potentially unsafe for your baby, but will cost you more than your mortgage and will also take you an inordinate amount of time to prepare.
Here’s the deal, mamas: Infant formulas aren’t just manufactured willy-nilly. Each formula much be approved by the FDA. And contrary to the belief of some folks, the FDA isn’t some corrupt, slimy government organization. Their job is to make sure that none of us die from eating contaminated foods or foods with crappy nutrition. And they take this job especially seriously for infants, who require a very specific diet in those first few months of life.
Yes, no one can really replicate breast milk precisely, but the job of the formula manufacturers is to make it as close to breast milk as possible so that babies thrive and don’t get sick. And that requires tons of research, years of trial and error, and lots of attention paid to each and every ingredient added to infant formula (even the ones you can’t pronounce).
As the FDA explains on their website, “FDA has requirements for nutrients in infant formulas, which are located in section 412(i) of the FFDCA and 21 CFR 107.100. These nutrient specifications include minimum amounts for 29 nutrients and maximum amounts for 9 of those nutrients. If an infant formula does not contain these nutrients at or above the minimum level or within the specified range, it is an adulterated product.”
In other words, don’t mess with the FDA. They know what they’re doing, and it would be stupid to try to replicate this shit yourself. Sorry, but you’re not going to turn into some formula-making wizard overnight. You just aren’t.
The FDA actually has some strong words for those parents who are taking it upon themselves to make homemade formula for their babes. Besides basically saying, “DON’T DO IT,” the FDA conveys its concerns that parents might measure things out incorrectly, and that the recipes just won’t have that correct balance of nutrition everyone should be striving for. (You might remember a news story from 2016, where a baby was hospitalized because her mom added too much vitamin D to her homemade formula.)
“The potential problems associated with errors in selecting and combining the ingredients for the formula are very serious and range from severe nutritional imbalances to unsafe products that can harm infants,” writes the FDA. “Because of these potentially very serious health concerns, FDA does not recommend that consumers make infant formulas at home.”
So there you have it. Please listen to the medical professionals and research scientists who truly care about your baby’s health and well-being. I get why these homemade formulas sound magical and a perfect alternative to manufactured formula. But please, please, please stick to the stuff that is strictly regulated, tested, economically sound, made-to-order for your precious baby. There are plenty of organic formulas out there now if that’s the route you’d like to take.
And trust me: However you feed your baby, everyone is going to be eating Doritos off of the playground slide in just a few years.