Is homemade formula safe for babies? Should you offer homemade formula to your baby at all? And what should you do if you're struggling to access formula? Find out more below.
If there's a shortage of infant formula in your area, you may have wondered about making your own.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of feeding baby homemade formula? Is homemade formula safe for babies? Should you offer homemade formula to your baby at all? And if you're having trouble accessing or affording formula, what should you do?
We'll share all the answers here.
Why Might Parents Consider Homemade Formula?
Parents might consider making their own baby formula for their little ones, for several reasons:
- There is a shortage of store-bought formula
- They want an option that seems more natural or organic than formula, but can't (or have chosen not to) breastfeed
- They are having trouble affording store-bought formula, but can't (or have chosen not to) breastfeed
The Bottom Line: Homemade Baby Formula Is Unsafe
Medical experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Food and Drug Administration all agree that homemade baby formula is unsafe.
Never feed homemade formula to a baby of any age. The risks of homemade formula outweigh any and all reasons for making it, including the ones we listed above.
As the AAP states, "Babies should be fed only breastmilk or [store-bought] iron-fortified infant formula that has been prepared according to the directions on the package. Homemade formula can harm infants."
Learn more about the dangers of homemade formula from pediatrician Dr. Jeffrey Goldhagen and News4Jax:
Why can homemade formula be dangerous? Let's break down the reasons below.
With Homemade Formula, It's Impossible To Get The Right Nutritional Balance For Baby
Babies need very specific amounts of nutrients in order to properly grow and thrive.
Breastmilk provides these nutrients in the exact balance that babies need. Store-bought formulas are designed to provide this exact balance as well, by mimicking breastmilk as closely as possible.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration closely regulates store-bought formula ingredients to make sure that they're provided in the exact balance babies need.
The amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals in all infant formula brands must meet extremely specific standards that closely match the amounts in breastmilk. If a formula doesn't meet the standards, it cannot be sold in the U.S. under law.
Medical experts agree: it's impossible to mix up a homemade formula that matches this intricate balance of nutrients.
There's a high risk that babies could get too little or too much of a nutrient from homemade formula (And yes, taking in too much of a nutrient could be harmful for baby's delicate body!)
For example, they might not get enough protein, key vitamins, or calcium, or get too much of an electrolyte for their body to handle.
Homemade Formula Doesn't Contain The Right Forms Of Ingredients For Baby
If you feed baby homemade formula, they could also end up consuming a form of a nutrient that their body can't process properly. Many homemade formulas use forms of ingredients that are safe for older children and adults, but that babies' bodies aren't yet equipped to handle.
As the AAP affirms, "Even if it seems like [homemade formula ingredients] have enough from the label, the chemical forms of the nutrition may not be easily absorbed by the baby’s body. Or, certain ingredients may affect each other (such as calcium and phosphorus) in ways that is not ideal for things like bone growth."
Even though the names of ingredients in manufactured formula may seem "unnatural" to some, those are just names for forms of essential nutrients, processed in ways that are safe for babies to digest.
Impact to Baby’s Growth And Development
Because there's no way to match the nutrient balance of a store-bought formula, using a homemade formula puts baby at risk for nutritional and growth deficiencies.
This could negatively affect their brain development and bone growth. It could also make it hard for them to gain the right amount of weight -- they might gain too little or too much.
And as the AAP reminds us, growth and development in the first year sets the stage for the rest of baby's life: "If your baby doesn't get enough of the important parts of infant formula—even for a few days or weeks—they can suffer long-term effects on their abilities to grow strong and do well in school. Lack of these nutrients can lead to severe health problems."
Even giving baby homemade formula for a day or two is harmful, as this could cause baby to not have the right amount of salt and sugar in their blood. This could cause baby to become dehydrated, or possibly have a seizure.
There's A High Risk Of Contamination
Many homemade formula recipes call for raw milk as an ingredient. But raw milk can put baby at risk for foodborne illnesses, and infections such as E.coli, listeria, staph bacteria, and salmonella. That's because it isn't pasteurized to kill the bacteria.
These illnesses can be severe or even life-threatening. And babies and young children are at the highest risk for these illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Even if you aren't using raw milk, there's a higher risk of homemade formula getting contaminated.
Formula manufacturers have to follow strict safety standards, and they're inspected regularly to make sure the standards are followed. It's almost impossible for a home kitchen to meet all these standards.
So, there's a risk that the formula could be contaminated with bacteria during mixing or storage -- especially because there's no clear information on how long it takes the ingredients to go bad.
It's also impossible to know how safe or pure any homemade formula ingredient is for babies, as their immune and digestive systems aren't fully developed.
If You're Struggling To Access Or Afford Formula
Since homemade formula is unsafe, what to do if you're having trouble accessing or affording store-bought formula?
Do NOT water down, or add extra water to store-bought formula. This wrecks the nutritional balance of the formula and puts baby at risk for growth problems. Always follow the exact directions on the label when preparing formula!
And do NOT give baby standard cow's milk, or a milk substitute, to drink instead of formula.
Instead, call your pediatrician immediately if you need assistance accessing formula. They can help you with both a short-term supply and a long-term solution.
If you need help affording formula, these programs will cover the cost of formula if you qualify, through vouchers:
The state Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs provide short-term cash payments to qualifying families in need, which can go towards formula costs.
You can also dial 2-1-1 to be connected with a community resource specialist, who can help you find other resources in your area. Or, your local Feeding America food bank may distribute infant formula.
All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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