Homemade Infant Formula?

I breastfed both of my babies. In fact, I’m still breastfeeding my 2 1/2 year old Jacob, although I see him moving closer and closer to weaning every day. What’s more, I consider myself a lactivist, or breastfeeding advocate. I strive to help other mothers meet their own breastfeeding goals, and I speak out when I see societal barriers to breastfeeding.

I understand that no infant formula can ever come close to breast milk. For one thing, we still don’t know all of the ingredients in human milk. For another, breast milk composition changes over the course of the day, and even over the course of a feeding. Plus, breast milk contains antibodies that help protect an infant from illness. There’s just no way to replicate this kind of system artificially.

While we all know how super-awesome breast milk is, not everyone breastfeeds their baby. There are a whole lot of reasons for this, but honestly, I am not inclined to evaluate anyone else’s specific situationi. We’re all doing the very best we can for our babies, and I understand that different people face different circumstances and make different choices. I also know that infant feeding is only one small part of parenting, and that in and of itself it’s not likely to be the deciding factor for how your child turns out. My goal in advocating is to help those who want it, not to judge those who don’t.

When breastfeeding doesn’t work, the best alternative is human donor milk. This is especially critical for very sick or premature infants, with less-developed digestive systems. And, at present, they’re mostly the ones who receive donor milk. While human milk banking is on the rise, there’s still nowhere near enough supply to meet the demand. While some people turn to informal milk-sharing arrangements, or groups such as Eats on Feets, there are still challenges in securing a supply, as well as some debate over the safety of informal milk sharing. What this means is that for most people who don’t breastfeed, the only viable alternative is infant formula.

A couple of years ago I read about the history of infant formula. I concluded that the current commercially-available formulas represent a significant advantage over previous breast milk substitutes, but that they should not have been as widely-adopted as they were during the middle of the 20th century. Infant formula, as it exists today, has no doubt been life-saving, but it’s certainly not equivalent to breast milk, and it never can be.

This probably isn’t really news, though. We’re all pretty well-versed in the risks of infant formula now. We also know that formula companies market their product aggressively, and in ways that can undermine breastfeeding. I personally boycott Nestle because of their formula marketing practices.

So what happens when you don’t like what the formula industry does, and you’re faced with using their product? It’s a big issue for some families. I’ve heard of several parents who, when faced with using infant formula, chose to make it themselves at home. They’ve heard about the risks of infant formula, they’re not comfortable with the practices of the formula industry, so they’ve decided that making their own formula is preferable to buying a commercially-prepared product.

If you search online, you can find a lot of recipes for homemade formula. It’s touted as healthier and cheaper, and many people point out that it’s been used for generations. In fact, groups like the Weston A. Price Foundation recommend homemade formula over commercial formula. Other parents say that their children react badly to commercial formulas, because of dairy and soy allergies. Homemade goats’ milk formulas seem particularly popular as an alternative to commercially prepared formulas, because some children reportedly handle them better.

Homemade formula isn’t new. My grandmother gave me her baby book when my daughter was born, and it contained instructions for preparing infant formula. The process essentially involved cow’s milk, water, sugar, and a whole lot of sterilization. However, it should be noted that the same book recommended giving weeks-old infants drops of tomato juice and cod liver oil, in part because the homemade formula was nutritionally deficient. If you didn’t supplement it, babies were at risk of developing scurvy and rickets.

So, how safe is homemade formula? Most health bodies recommend against making your own formula, including Health Canada and the FDA. The concern is that if you get the ratios wrong, you’re putting your baby at risk for a whole host of health problems. Dr. Sears and Dr. Greene agree.

While I don’t agree with the marketing practices of formula companies, I do believe they’re creating the best product they can. I’m sure that their goal is to provide the most complete nutrition possible. It may not always be clear how to provide that nutrition, since there’s much about breast milk we still don’t understand, but I don’t think that they would deliberately harm babies. It’s certainly not in their best interest to do so, if they want customers. And so, since the risks of poorly-prepared infant formula are so high, the commercial formulas that formula companies produce are probably the best alternative to human milk we have.

I wonder what your thoughts are. Have you heard of people making their own formula? Have you (or would you) make your own formula? And if you were faced with feeding your own baby formula, what would factor into your own decision? I’m curious to know!

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  1. A local LLL leader once said that when her pediatrician adopted a baby, she made her own formula, but from goat’s milk rather than cow’s milk. Apparently (she said — I haven’t checked) the sugar/fat/protein composition of goat’s milk is closer to that of human milk than is cow’s milk? But it’s certainly not cheaper than commercial formula.
    Rachael’s last post … On My Mind- Poetry! Baseball!My Profile

    • Goats Milk costs $5 a gallon around here from local farms. When diluted and made according to the recipe this should last 5-7 days. Commercial formula is anywhere from $15-$20 and also will last 5-7 days. Goat milk formula is way cheaper and way healthier.

    • Actually, I just did extensive calculations with the prices of all the ingredients for the homemade milk based formula that weston a price gives, versus canned commercial formula. For a 36 ounce batch, the WAPF formula is $3.20. For a 40 ounce commericial formula, the store brand (not similac, enfamil, etc) is $21.99. The name brands of formula are more expensive. You do have to spend more money up front with the formula recipe to gather the ingredients, but the cost is much lower per batch. It’s like buying in bulk saves money over time, same principle, but this is quite a bit of savings per batch with the homemade formula recipe. Also, all the ingredients are shelf stable except the dairy components. So buy them in bulk and they will last for a while.

      • Just wanted to add that I used online prices, from amazon, radiant life, and vitacost. Anyone in the U.S. can get those products from them for the same prices I used in my figures. Obviously the price of milk, yogurt (to make whey), and cream will vary in your area.

  2. I agree with you, Amber. Making your own formula doesn’t sound appealing to me, but others may have better access to goat milk (maybe in rural areas). I seem to be in the minority amongst my family and friends. Most exclusively formula feed their babies either from the onset or before the 3-month mark. I understand when my co-workers choose formula when they need to go back to work six weeks postpartum. I don’t understand the thought processes of my other friends and family who don’t try or don’t try to prolong breastfeeding for long term when they’re stay-at-home moms. I’m glad that you wrote that your goal “is to help those who want it, not to judge those who don’t.” It has helped to ground me and realize that judging doesn’t accomplish anything. On the other hand, I was surprised how many of my older co-workers did breastfeed. However, I think the reason for lack of follow through is that formula is getting better, so it’s much easier for them to buy it. I actually didn’t find it easier because I didn’t like preparing bottles or cleaning them. Anyway, overall I think the commercial formula is adequate and has been much improved in the last 50 years.
    Rebecca B’s last post … March- in like a lion- out like a lambMy Profile

  3. Good post Amber. What I find personally interesting when working with culturally diverse families, is that ‘homemade formula’ actually exist in some cultures. I notice this especially across generations of some families. I’ve been told by women about how back in the day grandma did breastfed but also made a homemade gruel and fed it to the newborn baby with fingers. OR I’ve met some cultures who feel it is perfectly normal to give warm water to their newborns, and the grandma will always looked shocked when I say, ‘no water’. We educate them about breasfeeding but they get to go home and do what they feel is best practice. Even if that is mixing up some ‘homemade formula’ with sugar, water and some rice substance.
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  4. Kathleen (amoment2think) says:

    When my daughter was born I was faced with just this deliema. While trying to breastfeeding we were supplementing and eventually switched to 100% formula. In those first couple months we contemplated a lot of formula options. Organic, specialty, homemade. Anything to not use the big brand names and to find something healthier. I am particularly bothered by the use of high fructose corn syrup.

    We didn’t go homemade because of safety concerns. But we might have if we knew someone we trusted, like a health care professional, recommended it.

    The whole experience though was very frustrating, particularly with my daughters milk allergy and our concerns about too much soy.

    I agree that commercial formula is ‘safe’ but I don’t believe is ideal. There are a lot of foods out there that are sufficient and safe but not healthy. Honestly, I would have loved to see an oat or goats milk formula made with brown rice sugar or something.
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  5. I appreciate your kindness and your wisdom Amber.
    Heather’s last post … Chewing on The FatMy Profile

  6. That’s really interesting. I probably wouldn’t make mine own if we needed to formula feed, but I appreciate the history part of it. I love hearing about the ways our grandparents raised children. My grandmother lived on the third floor with no washing machine and every night after she put the kids to bed she went and hand washed their cloth diapers in the bath tub and then boiled them.

    She said by child #7 pampers came along and she thought it was the best thing ever.
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  7. If it came down to it, I would choose wet nursing over banked milk. Banked milk over formula. Organic formula over standard formula. Standard formula over homemade. I have read Weston A Price & Mercola, and do agree with some of their advice. But in spite of the health risks of formula, there ARE big bucks behind it, and a strong desire (because, money) not to produce a poorly tested or unsafe product for infants (which, as we know doesn’t always guarantee a safe product – can we say melamine & bugs?). Factory-produced formula is formulated to approximate breastmilk, and is studied, checked, etc. It’s not ideal, but it’s regulated & I’d imagine, backed by studies. Creating formula in your kitchen leaves a lot up in the air. If it were just a supplement (with breastmilk as the main diet), I’d say it’s less of a problem, but creating formula from online recipes and trusting that as your baby’s only source of nutrition? That’s far more risky than off-the-shelf formula.
    kelly @kellynaturally’s last post … Sunday Spark- This Weeks AwesomenessMy Profile

    • I am not a weston a price fanatic. I have only recently come across them in my research to find an alternative to commericial formula. But I just want to say that you are placing a lot of trust in mega corporations. They want to make money. None of their formulas are proven. It is essentially a big experiment we are doing on babies, and we will need a few more generations to really see the full effects, even though we can see some now. National obesity epidemic comes to mind. I have found through my research for my baby and myself and everyone else in the family is that whole food is the way to go. I can at least know that through the homemade baby formula I am using whole foods, not chemicals and synthetic vitamins. But no one should make a snap judgement. Learning about the formula recipe and the ingredients, and why each ingredient is there makes sense, it is not just thrown together. I am very much leaning toward making my own formula versus commercial at this point.

      • I’m just going to make one quick point around formula companies. It’s true, they want to make money. However, if you look at it logically, the best way to make money is to make a reliable product. Tragic situations like recalls cost them big bucks. So while it’s true that we don’t have any single proven recipe for infant formula (and we can’t, due to reasons I cited in my post), I think we can at least give them the benefit of the doubt, and believe they’re doing their best.

        The fact is that when commercial infant formula was first introduced, it saved lots of lives. Of course there is an element of experimentation with any and all nutrition, as information improves. For example, 20 years ago no one was talking about Omega 3s. But I don’t think it’s fair to suggest formula companies are being malevolent.

        And just as an FYI, I’m writing this as someone who boycotts Nestle because of their infant formula marketing practices. I’m not saying they’re angels, I know they’re not. But there’s a difference between saying they engage in deceptive marketing and suggesting they’re somehow evil.

        In any case, I’m glad you’ve done your research and reached a decision that works for your family. I wish you all the best.

        • I never said they were evil. I only implied they don’t have your child’s best interest at heart like “mom and dad” do.

          • The same could be said for anyone though – including the Weston A. Price Foundation. They’re all well-meaning, and they all have their own beliefs and agendas.

            As I said, we do all need to do our own research. It sounds like you’ve done yours, and I’m glad you’re happy with it.

  8. I consider myself a breasfeeding advote who fed their baby formula due to him being adopted and my not wanting to take hormones to activate a dribble of milk. I know it’s not fashionable but Theo really is the picture of health. I always felt a bit weird feeding him formula so at a year, I went right to milk and healthy foods. The big thing for me was bonding. I’ve been very consious of not having the bond created by breasfeeding but interestingly I feel that in the last 3 months (he’s 20 months now), we’ve hit a super glue bond that perhaps many have earlier on in their babies’ lives. And this has nothing to do with making your own formula but I’d never risk it prior to 6 months if I felt inclined and motivated. I don’t doubt that women in Africa give their babies the water rice is boiled in and such to supplement breastmilk – I’m just making that up but I wouldn’t be surprised.
    harriet Fancott’s last post … Bye Bye Big HairMy Profile

    • Due to my own lack of ability to produce enough milk to fully feed my children, I supplemented their diet with formula. My second daughter Hannah was supplemented with a lactose free formula as she was very sensative as a baby to cow milk. I wasn’t very sucessfull at breastfeeding, but like yourself I consider myself a breastfeeding advocate. I am very happy to hear that you and your little boy have bonded like glue! Having to bottle feed alot, I worried about this too. But, I took a cue from breastfeeding moms and made sure my daugthers and I were skin to skin while they fed (when we could be) and I was always aware of making eye contact with them while I fed them their bottles. Now that they are older (four and five) I know I did the right thing for myself and for them. We all bonded wonderfully!
      Heather’s last post … Chewing on The FatMy Profile

  9. I haven’t researched making my own formula, and at this point I would say that if I were to use formula, I would buy commercial.

    Just to add to your statement about the Weston Price group, there are also quite a few (vocal) members who are now recommending formula over breastmilk.
    Casey’s last post … I Have an IdeaMy Profile

    • I did see something on their site that said breastmilk is best – as long as it’s from “a healthy mother”. Honestly, the qualifier makes me quite uncomfortable. Regardless of your health (unless you’re, say, undergoing chemotherapy, which is obviously a special case), your breast milk is going to be of uniformly high quality. And certainly a better choice for your baby than formula, no matter how it’s made.

  10. I know people that are very involved in the Weston Price stuff and I have no doubt they would make their own if need be. I think there is a big difference between a person dabbling and a committed creator of homemade formula. Who is at fault for a sick child if they screw up….a formula company or a do-it-yourselfer,

    ‘They’ also recommend against making your own Pedialyte type stuff for dehydration under the same guise…yes, it could be bad if you screwup…but it is also just sugar salt and water!
    I don’t like the idea of a general blanket “most people screw this up so don’t even try because your baby might get sick” People screw up powdered formula all the time, watering it down, using unsafe water, leaving it out for extended periods… the rules of mixing and feeding formula are actually quite complex and there is a lot of room to screw up even there but it is the most common feeding method so everyone is used to it. What if a local person started delivering homemade formula to a few nearby families who decided against store brought? Imagine the scandal even if all children were perfectly healthy. I bet Nestle would do something awful to them!
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    • Actually, that’s a good point. I make my own jam, for instance, because I like the idea of taking responsibility for my family’s food.

      However, having said that, I would still be reluctant to make my own formula. The consequences of screwing it up seem much steeper to me, as compared to jam. You could still screw up pre-made formula, and there have been cases of contamination and so on, but the overall complexity is greatly reduced. Perhaps I’m falling victim to formula marketing myself by thinking it’s better than what I could mix up, but I guess we all have our own comfort level.

      In the end, we all need to make the best decisions we can for our families. This is just another example of that.

  11. Wow. I had never heard of this.
    Emily R’s last post … YellingMy Profile

  12. I loved breastfeeding, and to my mind it’s a world easier than bottle-feeding (and cheaper – one of my friends figured she could make a good case to her husband that nursing two kids for three or so years had saved them enough money that she could get a boob job to reverse the effects of said nursing), and most of my friends also nursed (although most were done by one year). I’m way too mainstream to think making your own formula is a good idea. Yeah, vaccine and formula manufacturers are out to turn a profit, but they’re also subject to pretty strict regulations.

  13. I can’t imagine making my own formula. I recently finished weaning my youngest from breastmilk, and feel so grateful I never needed formula for any of my kids. Even if I had, I probably would have sooner trusted store bought formula over making my own.
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  14. I haven’t researched this at all because I wasn’t faced with this problem. I was able to breastfeed, and both kids were nursed exclusively until they point that they weaned and went on to regular food and drink. That said, if I had not been able to breastfeed, I wouldn’t have even considered making my own formula. I may not completely agree with the marketing of formula, but I 100% trust that these formula companies are putting the very best products out there that they can. I would doubt that anyone could make the same quality of formula in their home.
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  15. I trust commercial formula more than my own because I know my own limitations and because those companies really don’t want to be sued. But I would try my best to acquire breast milk if I couldn’t breastfeed myself. I am hoping to stop my slacking here soon and start donating breast milk (There is a milk bank at the hospital where I delivered!) and would breastfeed someone else’s baby in a hot minute!

    I think that most people who will take the time and effort to make their own formula, those who are doing it because they wish they could breastfeed but can’t, are going to be the ones doing the best job at it. As I said, I wouldn’t make my own, BUT I know of a couple bloggers off the top of my head who I would use formula from if they made it!

  16. P.S. I opened one of the links on breast milk from Science Daily and there was a huge banner ad for Enfamil up top. LOL (but not really).

  17. I know that formula companies have good intentions and a lot of research to back their products up. But the same can be said for GMO food, for plastics and for medicines. The people who invented and used Asbestos, DDT, and BPA’s in plastics had good intentions and indeed those are great products that served a good purpose. But later we discovered health consequences that hadn’t been imagined by their developers or users.
    Formula was developed to solve real problems that people used to have to face and it seems to have done a good job. But I don’t want my kid to grow up having consumed high fructose corn syrup everyday of his life.

    • I agree. You can’t just put your blind faith in a company, or worse, government regulations. To the above commenters: If you haven’t researched this, you probably shouldn’t say you would never do it. I don’t want to wait until the next huge recall happens and they we’ll all wonder why we put so much faith in corporations and government instead of our own God given minds.

  18. Marie Rule says:

    I currently make my own Weston A. Price formula as a supplement. I use about 12 ounces a day, because my body, no matter how many tears I cried and no matter how much baby wearing, baby co-sleeping I did, wouldn’t make enough for him to gain weight. Formula in a can is NOT food. Babies who are raised on commercial formula are 8 times more like to develop leukemia and lymphoma. It doesn’t matter if the formula companies are trying to do their best for babies. I’m sure their intentions are honest but they don’t know what is best. Or you’re right, they wouldn’t do it. Chemical in a can is what they are selling. Processed nutrition. Not my choice. We have an obesity and cancer issue. It’s my guess this is one of the many reasons. The FDA warns against making your own formula and this warning is issued for the lowest common denominator. Because let’s face it, there are people who can’t even add water to an instant formula properly. So I understand the warning. But I feel there’s no reason I can’t do a better job than a factory at making real food for my baby.

  19. Holly Bayer says:

    I do make my own formula for my twins. I had a breast reduction 7 years ago and they removed over half of my milk ducts. My twins came early and were in the NICU for 6 weeks, so we didn’t start BF right away which led to nipple confusion. I pumped and did my best but we started supplementing half and half at 2 months. At first they were on Enfamil, but as I educated myself I knew that soy and corn syrup weren’t the right things for my babies. They also weren’t going to the bathroom and were having gas pains. A friend had recommended I try making my own. Weston Price has broken it down to a very simple recipe. I have had them on this for two months now and they are thriving and using the bathroom regularly. My BM supply ran out three weeks ago so they are completely on this now. At their 4 month visit my Dr came in and said everyone was cheering them bc they couldn’t believe they had been 2 months premature. She even questioned my due date (Yes we knew the exact moment we conceived) she said they weren’t preemies anymore and they were amazing miracles. I told her about me making my own formula and she said she cannot advocate it bc FDA hasn’t approved it. I am ok with that. It was hard at first, and I was constantly questioning whether I was doing the right thing. Clearly, my twins are doing well and I know I am giving them the best I can.

  20. Sarah Rathburne says:

    After trying unsuccessfully to EBF my son, I began supplementing with formula so he would gain weight and avoid hospitalization. Initially I used Earth’s Best Organic Original hoping it would be a short lived thing, however, at 5 months I have not been able to provide a full supply of breastmilk. Now I am planning to switch over to the Weston Price formula as soon as my last cans of Earth’s Best are gone. The only thing I will do differently from the suggested recipe is used re-cultured commercial milk rather then raw milk – although I do have access to it in my area I have decided I am not quite comfortable with the idea. At first I thought some of the ingredients were odd, but then I looked at the formula can and saw they were in the ingredient list there as well. I’ve done a lot of research on the nutritional content of the home made formula and feel confident that it is adequate and that I have the discipline and attention to pepare it properly. If I doubted either of these factors I would continue with commercial formula. As others point out though, you can mix up powdered formula incorrectly as well, and I have to imagine that the contents of the can are not equally distributed (and I’ve never seen it suggested you “shake well before use”) so there are probably bottles of formula that don’t end up being balanced in nutrition even when the correct ratio of water and powder are used. I believe formula producers provide us with the best possible products they can – making fortified powdered milk as good as it can be for what it is (and being a god send for mothers short on milk and their babies). The issue is that something gets lost when you over-process food and more yet when it is stored and shipped in less than ideal environmental conditions (heat, humidity). Since I have worked many years in the grocery industry I can assure you dry goods are often not kept in ideal conditions. Powdered milk has suspected links to heart disease due to increased levels of oxidized cholesterol – granted, I don’t believe babies are at risk of developing heart disease during their first year or two, but it just indicates that over-processing distorts food so it is no longer “whole.” The home made formula bit is not for everyone, and I doubt my pediatrician will be thrilled to hear it (if I even tell her), but after researching for some time I feel far more comfortable providing my son with formula that much more closely approximates whole food.

  21. I have been using the karmin baby milk maker and works really well for my baby 🙂

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  1. […] our goat. It’s simply not possible to manufacture something that closely matches breast milk. Formula companies do their very best to try, and I commend their efforts to ensure that babies who aren’t exclusively breastfed […]

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