Social media posts claim parents facing formula shortages should do it themselves. But pediatricians told AFP they do not advise their patients to use homemade formulas, warning they may lack essential vitamins and nutrients to help infants grow and thrive.
“Homemade formula recipe, 1960,” reads a Facebook post from May 12, 2022.
Posts sharing the same list of ingredients – evaporated milk, water and Karo, a popular brand of corn syrup – have been shared hundreds of thousands of times as parents in the United States face a nationwide shortage of products mothered.
Parents say purchasing restrictions and price gouging have made them increasingly desperate to get their hands on the food needed by infants who are not breastfed. But the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns against homemade formulas.
Tanya Altmann, founder of Calabasas Pediatrics in California, agreed.
“I advise my patients against making homemade formula,” she told AFP. “It will not meet your baby’s essential nutritional needs, can be very dangerous for growth and development and can even make your baby sick.”
In 2021, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an alert following the hospitalization of “infants suffering from hypocalcemia (low calcium) who had been fed homemade infant formula”.
Looking at the recipe circulating online, Altmann said the added sugar would not be safe or healthy for infants.
“Karo syrup was once used to help relieve constipation, but it’s not advised because it’s not effective and may even contain harmful bacteria,” she said.
Azza Ahmed, an associate professor of nursing at Purdue University, said homemade formula can put a baby at risk of “contamination and infection”.
She said she understood the stress of shortages, but stressed that parents should never dilute formula as this can quickly lead to nutritional imbalance.
Ahmed, who is a certified pediatric nurse practitioner, also cautioned against importing formulas from countries that are not reviewed by the FDA. “We are unsure about the safety of shipping this formula and it is very expensive,” she said.
AFP also verified a misleading claim about buying infant formula in Canada, here.
Publications also claim that orange juice mixed with water can be introduced at three weeks of age. But Altmann said that while orange juice contains natural sugar, she wouldn’t recommend offering it to an infant.
“There’s also a high amount of sourness that might not be good for your baby’s digestion,” she said.
The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine also issued a statement warning against juice and other formula milk substitutes.
“Do not give water, tea or juice to your baby under six months old,” he said.
Other Facebook posts recommended that parents replace goat’s milk with infant formula.
“Goat’s milk is almost identical to breast milk! It has no fat globules, so it’s easy to digest, and it’s lactose-free! Babies do just fine with it. I’ve seen the results time and time again. many times over in my 27 years of breeding, rearing and milking dairy goats,” claimed a May 12 post with 15,000 shares.
But goat’s milk lacks nutrients needed by human babies, according to Gabrina Dixon of Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC. She pointed to her lack of folate and vitamin B12, which is needed to avoid anemia or a low red blood cell count.
Experts told AFP that parents should consult their pediatrician about feeding options. But they advised more open attitudes about switching formula brands or using generic products, especially for children who didn’t show signs of ingredient sensitivity.
Some options are available depending on the age of the child.
Ahmed said, “For pregnant women, we strongly recommended that they think about exclusive breastfeeding” for the first six months of the baby’s life.
For anyone currently breastfeeding but supplementing with formula, Ahmed recommended contacting a lactation consultant to learn methods to increase milk supply, including pumping. She also said donor breastmilk may be an option, while cautioning that parents should work with a breastmilk bank where donors are screened and the milk is tested.
For children who are six months old and have started eating solids, Altmann said toddler formula could be introduced. And Dixon said she advises introducing cow’s milk a little earlier than the recommended age of 12 months.
“If your child is very close to a year old, you can give him cow’s milk for a short time,” she said.
In either case, the child will need to be monitored for iron deficiency.
The US Department of Health and Human Services has compiled additional resources for families facing formula shortages.