Homemade formulas: recipe for disaster or interesting alternative?

I was recently contacted by the Vegan Society of the United Kingdom, an organization which is trying to find a commercially available vegan infant formula for vegan moms who are unable to breastfeed. As a lifelong vegetarian myself, I sympathized with their plight, and tried to find a solution… but unfortunately, there is no vegan-friendly formula on the market. Yeah, there are soy-based and organic formulas, but due to the strict (and necessary) guidelines which infant formula manufactures must adhere to, certain components have to appear in all brands, and some of these components (for example, vitamin D) are animal-derived.

Now, I don’t know enough about the chemical makeup of food to know if this is out of necessity, or laziness on the manufactures parts, or because it’s cheaper to rely on animal sources of these components. If anyone out there knows more about this, I’d be interested in hearing more. It’s a tough one – I do believe that a vegetarian diet is a better one; but I also don’t believe in compromising a child’s health for the parent’s personal beliefs. It’s like this woman I know who refused to feed her 9-month-old daughter fruit because it was too sugary, and she didn’t want her daughter to have the weight issues she’d struggled with. Not really fair to the kid, not to mention that fruit is one of the healthiest, most vitamin-packed, kid-friendly foods, especially at that age. But I digress.

FFF Sarah wrote me last week to voice her concern over the safety of homemade formulas, which she’d seen recipes for online. I intended to write a post about how dangerous these amateur concoctions could be; how they could feasibly damage a baby’s liver and stunt their growth, yadda yadda yadda. But as I researched this topic, my mind started to twist a bit. Not turn, necessarily – I still believe that the safest bet is to use a commercial formula – but I’m not going to write off homemade formula as complete quackery. Especially as there are indeed options for vegans out there, if they go the homemade route.

Here’s the problem as I see it: many of these recipes call for meat or raw milk. We’ve had some pretty scary incidents with animal products in this country (let alone the mad cow crap in the UK); I fear that a layperson, in his/her own kitchen, would not have the ability to properly control for cross-contamination, spoiling, disease, etc., etc. Yes, I understand that commercial formulas can seem alien and over-processed, but they also have the advantage of the FDA and quality control specialists. The animal products in these formulas are so ridiculously processed – which I know is exactly what turns some people off – but processing also confers certain safety benefits.

I also worry that well-meaning parents could be persuaded to leave out certain elements because of bad advice on the internet. There’s a lot of conflicting info out there; much of it is very convincing. But think about it – you read one website about CIO, and you’d think it was child abuse; another, and it’s the answer to all your problems. Likewise, in this case, without a certain amount of education in nutrition, biology, and child health, you’ll have to be taking some random person on the Internet’s word for what constitutes a healthy food for your child.

Now, I’m aware of the flipside of this argument: aren’t we taking the formula companies’ words for it too? Why should we trust them over Weston A Price Foundation or another mother? Good question. That’s up to every parent to decide. But personally, with all my medical decisions, I follow this homemade recipe:

1 cup of a physician I trust. 
1 cup of own extensive research
1 cup of discussion with trusted physician about research
1/2 teaspoon of skepticism
1/2 teaspoon of blind faith


Mix all ingredients together and hope for the best.

I view formula in the same way. I think that commercial formulas have the weight of history behind them. Generations of us have grown up on the stuff (and contrary to what some believe, I think most of us turned out pretty darn great). If my pediatrician told me that a homemade formula was a better option, I’d go for it. But she didn’t, so I spent money on a commercial product that worked best for my family.

Does this mean that I think homemade formulas are dangerous? Not necessarily. I don’t know enough about them. But then again, I can read pages and pages (thanks to the breastfeeding studies) of evidence that reassures me that formula is a safe choice for my child. I can’t say the same for homemade formula recipes found on the Internet.

In the end, I have to stick to my old mission statement of “everyone makes the best choices for their particular situation.” If someone’s beliefs makes homemade formula a more viable option than commercial formula, I’m okay with it. It may not be my choice, but just as I haven’t seen any definitive proof that homemade formula is safe, I haven’t found anything not coming from the formula companies or those working for them that suggests it is inherently unsafe, when made properly. That said, I hope that parents considering this choice would find a pediatrician they trust, and talk over this decision thoroughly; use much care in preparation; and make sure that the homemade formula has at least the minimum requirements necessary for infant health (Weston A Price has a breakdown of this on their site).

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

9 thoughts on “Homemade formulas: recipe for disaster or interesting alternative?

  1. We contemplated…. and when I say contemplated I mean for all of about 30 seconds, if we should 'make' our own formula. Mostly because when we were searching for something that wasn't milk formula (which was making A sick) and wasn't soy formula, we contemplated giving her Goat milk and adding vitamins.

    Apparently (based on my minimal research) Goat milk is the most similar milk to human milk and has been given to babies for thousands of years. Some toddlers who are allergic to milk can tolerate Goat milk. But in doing our research there were BIG concerns about it and our Doctor didn't recommend it. (Totally agree with you on the discuss with your doctor recommendation!!)

    Why am I saying all this? I guess because I wish there were more 'alternative' options for formula. I am glad there is regulation, but at the same time that regulation really makes innovation difficult. So there are not a lot of options for us formula feeding Mom's that are vegan or Oat based or Goat milk based or Organic hypoallergenic, ect. ect. A bit more choice would be nice.

  2. @Kathleen-

    Amen, sister. I would kill for a vegan formula myself, if I knew it provided the same nutrients as normal formula. I really don't like dairy products myself, and the whole soy thing is a bit daunting… I've also heard great things about goats milk (umfortunately FC was allergic to that as well), and I pink puffy heart LOVE the oat milk, almond milk and hemp milk we use in our house, and wish there could be a formula that uses one of those as a base.

    I think part of the problem is that since formula is seen as a “last resort” for most alternative-health-minded folks, there just isn't much demand for alternative products. I'm sure if the companies thought they could make a profit on a hypoallergenic organic formula, we'd have one on the shelves in no time. Sigh.

  3. I have heard many say to use goat milk instead of formula. I would actually be pretty open to this as long as I felt well-informed about it and spoke to my pediatrician about it. This made me have a funny thought because a cousin of ours took the advice of her mother to make her own formula from powered milk and vitamins. The babies did fine, but I always thought it was pretty risky.

  4. I really don't think “feeling well-informed” should be the arbiter of what we feed our children. There should be a commercially available vegan formula, and those concerned should work to see that happen. In the mean time, I think it's patently irresponsible to feed anything but regulated, safe foods.

  5. I have a friend who made her own almond-milk and almond-butter based formula for her three adopted children. Since she was adopting through social services, they ran a spectral analysis check on the formula through a local hospital. Turned out that her formula was just about perfect; all she had to add were vitamin drops as a source for trace minerals. Her children all had sensitivities to commercial formulas, but they thrived on her version. Other adoptive parents at our church have used the formula as well. Seeing my friend do such a great job with homemade formula has made me think it's a pretty good option for people willing to do research and use safe practices.

    I'm pretty sure that vitamin D comes from animals only, but you can get cruelty-free vitamin D supplements, such as those derived from lanolin in wool.

    • It would be amazing if you could get you’re friend to share what she used.

      D3 is not vegan but D2 is. If it comes from wool in it not cruelty free.

      I really wish they would make a soy based formula with D2 in it instead of D3. Or even better, an oat wasted formula.

  6. I know this is an old thread but I am very curious about Phoenix Berries friend who made her own almond milk formula. I have a 9 month old who is on a healthy array of homemade organic solids and I am looking for alternative milks for her – even in a month or so. Thank you for any information you may have to pass along!!

  7. I am not Phoenix Berries, but I do know of a vegan infant formula that might be the same formula she mentioned. My baby cousin was having bad reactions to commercial formula and just couldn't keep down soy milk. So, she did some research and came across a version of vegan milk for infants. To make sure it was safe, she took the milk to her family doctor and had them send it to the lab for testing. They approved the milk to be safe and nutritionally up to par for infants! We were elated to have finally found a nutritionally safe alternative for my baby cousin. The recipe for the formula can be found here:

    http://dherbs.com/articles/infant-formula-milk-alternative-176.html

    (He has plenty of other interesting articles as well)

    If you're unable to get the Irish moss, or other ingredients, you can order the nutritive powder he sells from his new website that you add to your vegan milk base here:

    http://www.dhealthstore.com/clients/dhealthstore/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=2&products_id=916&zenid=34d1353d40340d4e004fc886408dcffd

  8. @Whatpaledot….

    Regulated foods are absolutely not safe. Do your research, name brand formulas are recalled usually on average once or twice a year at least for problems. They also contain rgbh, gmo ingredients, and all kinds of terrible things in them.

    With a proper recipe just about anyone can make a better alternative than the store bought brands. However I do agree that if the formula can be professionally analyzed, that would be ideal.

    Here is a link to another forum where there are a ton of vegan formula recipes…
    http://www.vegfamily.com/forums/showthread.php?p=20927

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *