Sometimes, babies need formula. So what is the best baby formula?
Regardless of how adamantly you or I may suggest that breast milk is the best food for a baby, the fact remains that about 25% of newborns in the U.S. are not breastfed. According to the CDC’s 2008 statistics, roughly 64 % of babies receive supplemental formula by three months.
Based on these numbers, nearly two-thirds of our newborns begin life with synthetic food – at least in part. In my practice, I find that most moms do their homework and understand why they need to breastfeed. But whether it's tummy troubles or too much stress, many moms still come to the conclusion that finding the best baby formula is the way to go for their little ones.
The best baby formula is made with real food
The World Health Organization makes it clear that breast milk is the gold standard for babies. You can read more about the composition of breast milk here. I’ve also written on Increasing Milk Supply, Is Formula Necessary for Underweight Babies?, and even Is Breast Always Best?
But the point of this post is not to educate on the merits of breastfeeding or make formula feeding moms feel guilty.
I would like to explain why homemade formula can be far superior to any commercial formula. And it's easier to make than you may think.
Bottom line, commercial baby formula is not an ideal food. Most contain toxic ingredients and lack essential living components that can only be created with real, unprocessed foods. These commercial formulas tend to grow babies who have far more allergies, eczema, asthma, and behavioral and developmental issues…all of which can lead to severe health problems in adulthood. I see this day in and day out in my practice. Thankfully, there are alternatives to both breast milk and commercial formula that provide a happy medium.
The problem with commercial baby formula
The key to understanding why it is so important to bother making your own baby’s formula: read your labels. Please bear with me. I promise we will get to alternatives, but I’m going to start by showing you the ingredients in one of the best formula options on the market:
Organic Lactose, Organic Nonfat Milk, Organic Oils (Organic Palm or Palm Olein, Organic Soy, Organic Coconut, Organic High Oleic Safflower or Sunflower Oil), Organic Whey Protein Concentrate, Less Than 1%: Mortierella Alpina Oil*, Crypthecodinium Cohnii Oil**, Fructooligosaccharide, Lutein, L-Carnitine, Vitamin A Palmitate, Beta-Carotene, Vitamin D (Cholecalciferol), Vitamin E (d-Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate), Mixed Tocopherol Concentrate, Vitamin K (Phytonadione), Ascorbyl Palmitate, Thiamine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Cyanocobalamin, Niacinamide, Folic Acid, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Ascorbic Acid, Choline Bitartrate, Inositol, Calcium Carbonate, Calcium Chloride, Calcium Hydroxide, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate, Manganese Sulfate, Cupric Sulfate, Magnesium Phosphate, Potassium Bicarbonate, Potassium Chloride, Potassium Iodide, Potassium Hydroxide, Potassium Phosphate, Sodium Selenite, Sodium Citrate, Taurine, Organic Soy Lecithin, Nucleotides (Cytidine-5-Monophosphate, Adenosine-5-Monophosphate, Disodium Uridine-5-Monophosphate, Disodium Guanosine-5-Monophosphate, Disodium Inosine-5-Monophosphate). Contains Milk and Soy.
For starters, it is wonderful that this formula is using organic ingredients. There are a bunch of words I can’t pronounce here, but most of those are synthetic vitamins and minerals. Although they are not ideal and most likely fail to be properly absorbed, these are the least of my concerns with the list above. Let’s look at the top nine ingredients that make up 99% of the content of this baby formula:
Organic lactose – A necessary ingredient, lactose is a milk sugar that naturally occurs in breast milk. GOOD.
Organic non-fat milk – Sounds benign enough, but there is NO reason a baby should ever consume non-fat milk. Not only do babies absolutely NEED the milk fat and cholesterol, but the process of making powdered skim milk creates a substance that is not only devoid in nutrition, but is also laden with oxidized cholesterol and neuro-toxic amino acids. NOT GOOD.
Organic palm oil or organic palm olein – Not the worst ingredient if it’s coming from a reputable source. QUESTIONABLE.
Organic coconut oil– Good choice to provide the special medium-chain fats found in mother’s milk. Should be expeller pressed only. OK.
Organic soy oil – Soy oil is not fit for human consumption and should not be in baby formula. It can act as a hormone disruptor among other issues. NOT GOOD.
Organic high oleic (safflower or sunflower oil) – Good if expeller-pressed only. QUESTIONABLE.
Organic whey protein concentrate – See issues with Organic Reduced Minerals Whey above. NOT GOOD.
So just for comparison, here are the ingredients for an organic soy formula advertised to be the only soy formula free of corn syrup (yikes!):
Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Soy Protein Concentrate, Organic High Oleic Sunflower and/or Safflower Oil, Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Soybean Oil, Calcium Phosphate, Organic Vanilla, Organic Soy Lecithin, Potassium Phosphate, Magnesium Sulfate, Calcium Carbonate, Calcium Ascorbate (Vit. C), Sodium Chloride, Potassium Chloride, Calcium Citrate, Choline Bitartrate, L-Methionine, Taurine, Ferrous Sulfate, Inositol, Zinc Sulfate, Natural Vitamin E Acetate, L-Carnitine, Niacinamide, Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Thiamin Hydrochloride (Vit. B1), Riboflavin (Vit. B2), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vit. B6), Copper Sulfate, Folic Acid, Phylloquinone (Vit. K1), Potassium Iodide, Sodium Selenate, Biotin, Vitamin D3, Cyanocobalamin (Vit. B12).
I do not recommend feeding a baby brown rice syrup. Even if organic, rice has knack for drawing the arsenic from the soil. Arsenic is a toxic carcinogen. I have already mentioned the dangers of soy (soy protein concentrate, soybean oil, and soy lecithin) above. Not to mention the synthetic vitamins. Next…
Here are the ingredients for athat is given to babies having a difficult time digesting regular formula:
Corn Maltodextrin (35%), Casein Hydrolysate [Derived from Milk] (18%), Sugar (15%), High Oleic Safflower Oil (10%), Medium-Chain Triglycerides (10%), Soy Oil (8%). Less than 2% of the Following: C. Cohnii Oil, M. Alpina Oil, Calcium Phosphate, DATEM, Potassium Citrate, Xanthan Gum, Magnesium Chloride, Monoglycerides, Salt, Ascorbic Acid, L-Cystine Dihydrochloride, Calcium Carbonate, L-Tyrosine, Potassium Chloride, Choline Chloride, Ferrous Sulfate, L-Tryptophan, Taurine, m-Inositol, Ascorbyl Palmitate, dl-Alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate, Zinc Sulfate, L-Carnitine, Niacinamide, Mixed Tocopherols, Calcium Pantothenate, Cupric Sulfate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Thiamine Chloride Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid, Potassium Iodide, Potassium Hydroxide, Phylloquinone, Biotin, Sodium Selenate, Vitamin D3, and Cyanocobalamin.
Just looking at the first eight ingredients, does that look like something that you would feed a BABY?
And finally, here are the ingredients for a standard newborn formula commonly given as samples to new moms in the hospital:
Nonfat Milk, Lactose, Vegetable Oil, (Palm Olein, Coconut Oil, Soy Oil, High Oleic Sunflower Oil), Whey Protein Concentrate, Galactooligosaccharides, Polydextrose, Less than 1%: Mortierella Alpina Oil, Crypthecodinium Cohnii Oil, Soy Lecithin, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D3, Vitamin E Acetate, Vitamin K1, Thiamin Hydrochloride, Riboflavi , Vitamin B6 Hydrochloride, Vitamin B12, Niacinamide, Folic Acid, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Ascorbic Acid, Inositol, Calcium Carbonate, Calcium Phosphate, Magnesium Oxide, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate, Manganese Sulfate, Cupric Sulfate, Potassium Iodide, Sodium Selenite, Potassium Citrate, Choline Chloride, Potassium Chloride, Sodium Chloride, Nucleotides, (Cytidine 5′-Monophosphate, Disodium Urdine 5′-Monophosphate, Adenosine 5′-Monophosphate, Disodium Guanosine 5′-Monophosphate), Taurine, L-Carnitine
Personally, I think it is UNACCEPTABLE that our medical institutions are sending new moms home with samples of this stuff.
Keep in mind that analyzing these lists of ingredients only begins to explain the problems with these formulas. What’s not mentioned is what’s excluded. Such as probiotics, special milk sugars that act as a prebiotic, adequate saturated fat and fat soluble vitamins, and more. But, on to the solutions…
Healthy, doable alternatives to store-bought formula
Homemade formula is not only so much healthier for your baby, but it can be (relatively) cheap and easy too!
Raw milk formula ingredients
Filtered water, whole raw cow’s milk, homemade liquid whey, good quality cream, lactose, bifidobacterium infantis, fermented cod liver oil, high-vitamin butter oil, expeller-expressed sunflower oil, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, nutritional yeast flakes, gelatin, acerola powder.
Bone broth (aka liver based) formula ingredients
Homemade beef or chicken broth, organic liver, lactose, bifidobacterium infantis probiotic, homemade liquid whey, expeller pressed coconut oil, fermented cod liver oil, unrefined expeller pressed sunflower oil, extra virgin olive oil, acerola powder
When I mention homemade formulas to most moms, their eyes tend to widen in disbelief and doubt.
Is homemade the best baby formula? Who’s got time/money for that?
Well, when it comes to your baby’s health, I am confident that you and your partner can make time for making the best formula option from scratch. Once you have gathered the ingredients – most of which you can get online – the actual time to make a few days’ supply should take about 10 minutes. You can also freeze some to have in a pinch, just like you would do with breastmilk. Plus, according to the , the homemade formula actually costs less than even the most expensive store-bought formulas.
What are all of those strange ingredients?
I don’t know about you, but to me those ingredients look a lot less strange than the science lab ingredients found in the store-bought formulas. The cool thing about these real food ingredients is that they multi-task, not only providing the macro-nutrients (fat, protein, carbohydrates, cholesterol), but also providing vitamins, minerals, probiotics, etc in bio-available form for your baby’s ease in absorption.
Here are just some of the nutrients these ingredients provide:
Whole raw cow’s milk and cream from pasture-fed cows – Protein, saturated fat, cholesterol, lactose, vitamin K2, vitamin A, and probiotics
Homemade liquid whey – protein, probiotics
Bifidobacterium infantis – this is a probiotic specific to a baby’s gut
Expeller-expressed sunflower oil and extra virgin olive oil – Monosaturated fats, a.k.a.oleic acid
Expeller pressed coconut oil – medium-chain fats found in mother’s milk
Nutritional yeast flakes (Frontier brand) – folic acid and vitamin B12
Gelatin from grass fed cows – to support healthy digestion
Acerola powder – another name for vitamin C which is naturally present in mother’s milk
Ingredients unique to the meat based formula provide:
Homemade beef or chicken broth – Calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, gelatin, glucosamine, chondroitin, silicon, sulphur and trace minerals. Want the health benefits of bone broth, but don’t want to make your own? Buy bone broth online here.
Organic liver (from a grassfed source) – Saturated fat, cholesterol , vitamin A, omega-3 fatty acids, folate, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, niacin
Raw milk for my baby??? Is that safe?
In short, yes. You can read all about raw milk safety and sourcing in this post on milk or at RealMilk.com. Most conventional formulas use milk as their base, and raw milk contains the fat, intact proteins, and living micro-organisms that a baby needs, just like human breast milk.
Liver??? For a baby?
In my office, I refer to this as the Bone Broth Formula because it sounds less intimidating. Many adults are squeamish about liver, so the thought of feeding their babies a liver-based formula may seem out the question, but it's absolutely worth considering.
Liver from healthy pasture raised animals is extremely nutrient-dense and a perfect first food for baby. Many cultures around the world feed their babies chewed liver in their early days of eating solids.
For those babies who have digestive issues, especially those that have already consumed commercial formulas, it may be necessary to provide baby with a casein-free formula. The liver based formula is therefore not only a safe and nutritious alternative, but also preferred to commercial formulas as well as the milk based homemade formula. For babies with severe milk allergies, you may also need to omit the whey and substitute an alternative sugar for the lactose (milk sugar).
The wonderful thing about the liver-based formula is that not only will it allow your baby to grow and thrive, but the gelatin from the broth will help to heal your baby’s gut and may even reverse their digestive allergies over time. The meat-based formula may also be a good alternative for those who do not have access to raw milk.
Where can I get the ingredients for homemade formula?
Conveniently, you can now buy an entire Kit for Homemade Baby Formula here. Once you have this, all you need to source is the filtered water, raw milk and cream, and liquid whey for the milk based formula or grass fed liver and bone broth for the meat based formula.
Rather than go into the details of making the best formula here, you can check out all the recipes, videos and more from Sarah Pope of The Healthy Home Economist or directly on the . In particular, Sarah’s videos take the mystery out of the fairly simple task of whipping up your own healthy formula for your baby.
If you are lucky enough to live in Los Angeles, the wonderful and amazing Monica Ford of Real Food Devotee makes and delivers homemade baby formula per the Weston Price recipes to your door. Whoot!