Nearly 10 years ago, I created a homemade baby formula recipe for my daughter Liesl that literally changed her life forever. This formula has since go on to transform the lives of thousands of little ones when breast milk is unavailable.
Not your typical Baby Formula
This homemade baby formula doesn’t come in a ready-to-mix can or in a ready-to-drink bottle. What it may lack in convenience, it more than makes up for in overall quality, consistency, and nutritional safety. Over the many years I’ve spent studying infant formulas, I have become more and more convinced that there simply isn’t a way to create a formula in a “ready-to-mix/drink” final form, that is as nutritionally bioavailable, palatable, or resembles breast milk as closely as a carefully researched, properly prepared homemade baby formula recipe.
How we got here.
Just a few short decades ago, buying commercial baby formula was unheard of since it was assumed to be an unnecessary expense. Most mothers either breastfed or employed a wet nurse. For those unable to do either, the easiest course of action was to prepare a formula at home from easily accessible ingredients. “Formula” was simply a recipe you followed (a formula of ingredients) when breastfeeding was unavailable. Some of the “formulas” utilized good ingredients. Others relied upon less-than-stellar ingredients, but all were made at home using simple preparation techniques.
It wasn’t until the 1950’s that the current in vogue popular opinion was that “the science is settled, formula is best!” At this time, commercially manufactured formulas began heavily marketing their products to moms as both a convenience and offering a nutritional advantage to breast feeding.
As laughable as this sounds today, commercially prepared infant formula really was genuinely thought, believed, and promoted by well-intentioned, scientifically-convinced doctors, nurses, and public health experts as being superior to breast milk! This kind of “scientific” self-deception by decree of so-called experts is with us to this day but as far as feeding babies is concerned we all can agree on one thing: breast milk is the best milk for babies.
Back to our history.
In the 1970s, commercially prepared infant formula was one of the fastest growing segments of the food industry. Any company looking to market to an eager public, ever-bent on “efficiency,” was guaranteed a strongly performing, profit-rich, product line.
However, because the industry was so new and the product was being made for a particularly vulnerable population, there were rampant nutritional deficiencies during the early years. Also, there was very little consistency between commercially available formulas, many of which simply followed the fickle nutrition advice popular at the time. For example, one particular manufacturer, Syntex Laboratories, in response to the constant refrain of reducing sodium (from those same darn “experts”), eliminated salt completely from their formula which resulted in chloride deficiencies in thousands of infants. 1
1980 Infant Formula Act
In response to public outcry, Congress passed the 1980 Infant Formula Act which listed, in specific detail, both minimums levels and maximum levels allowed for every 100 Calories (5 oz) of ready-to-drink/mix infant formula. While the act was far from perfect, it did give a nutritional baseline for infant formula manufacturers which at least ensured some level of consistency throughout the formula marketplace.
2011 Homemade Baby Formula Recipe
Fast forward 31 years and I found myself as a new dad to my 3rd child Liesl Carolina, a beautiful and extremely allergenic (to cow and soy milk) baby girl. Since my wife was pregnant again when Liesl was only 4 months old her daily breast feedings sessions needed formula supplementation.
It was critical though that this formula did not have cow and soy ingredients. It seemed simple enough.
This turned out to be a product that didn’t exist at the time.
In 2011, while there were certainly homemade baby formula recipes available, none of them satisfied the nutritional requirements I felt critical for growing little ones. I spent the next several months developing and perfecting the homemade baby formula recipe. The reason I say all this is that my commitment to the science of baby formula meant the formula recipe I was creating needed to follow the nutritional requirements set out in the 1980 Infant formula Act found here: 21CFR107.100.
All infant formula manufacturers must follow this legislation and I wanted to hold my own kitchen to the same standard.
I originally sought to create an infant formula recipe because, at the time, I observed a host of homemade formulas that, if properly prepared, would leave nutritional gaps, possible exposure to potentially dangerous pathogens, basic palatability problems, and egregious preparation requirements that I know would make prolonged usage unlikely. Even though this homemade baby formula is quite easy to make, I have had many parents literally beg me to make a “ready-to-mix” final formula. This is usually because the homemade recipe takes a bit more time to prepare and there are more ingredients to keep track of and stocked in your home pantry. However, I don’t plan on ever making a “ready-to-mix” formula powder. Here are 7 reasons why a homemade formula recipe will always be superior.
1. Wholesome Fat Content
In order to get fats in a shelf stable, dry powder form, they must be mixed with a carrier of some kind. You cannot take a fat source like olive oil and dry it without some kind of carrier. To facilitate the drying of oil, a carrier (generally maltodextrin) is added to the oil, to ensure that it reaches a consistency that is allowed for ready-to-mix infant formula powder. These carriers are not “the end of the world,” nutritionally but they are essentially “throw away” ingredients that are a “necessary evil” for ready-to-mix formula powder. Also, the drying of oils using traditional industrial drying techniques will always oxidize the oils and add a certain level of rancidity to the oil on day one. By purchasing fresh oil in a sunlight-protected container, you can ensure that the oil is neither rancid, oxidized, nor contains anything other than the oil itself.
2. Highly Optimized Fatty Acid Profile
To continue on fats, but in a slightly different vein, making your own goat milk formula at home allows you the opportunity to highly optimize the fatty acid profile.
First, a quick explanation of fatty acid profiles. Fats are broken down into three main groups: Saturated Fatty Acids (SFA), Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFA) and Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA). Generally speaking, the healthiest fats are MUFA’s and SFA from grass-fed/wild caught animals. Conversely, the fats to avoid are the far more inflammatory PUFA’s found in vegetable oils.
Western diets contain an enormous amount of the less desirable PUFA’s from corn, vegetable, and other cheap industrialized food oils and as a result, we commonly suffer from many inflammatory conditions. MUFA’s and SFA’s are less inflammatory but often more expensive, and therefore, used far less.
The tricky part is that certain PUFA’s are essential fatty acids, meaning that they contain substances that our body cannot produce on its own. Because a small amount of PUFA’s are essential, one of the requirements in the 1980 Infant Formula Act was a minimum amount of linoleic acid, a PUFA. This is because linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid and an infant cannot produce this naturally from other fat sources.
Linoleic Acid must be present in the formula.
Still with me? I promise I’m going somewhere with this.
Because linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid, because it is cheap, and because there is a minimum amount required by law in infant formula (.3g per 5 fl oz), the obvious choice for infant formula manufacturers was to use cheap PUFA oils.
Cheap PUFA oils perfectly checked both the regulation box and the profitability box. Now I am not opposed to any free enterprise organization maximizing their profits. It’s what good companies do. But if there was a way for me to optimize my health or the health of my child by “opting out” of the official system, I would jump at the chance.
By making your own HGMF, you get that chance.
With the Homemade Goat Milk Formula Recipe, there is an emphasis on both MUFA’s from Extra Virgin Olive Oil and an emphasis on SFA from grass-fed Goat Milk Ghee which contains the nutritional powerhouse conjugated linoleic acid. However, the essential fatty acid is not left out because we include a small amount of Grapeseed Oil which contains a high concentration of Linoleic Acid without overemphasizing the overall PUFA content.
Optimized Fatty Acid Content = Emphasized MUFA and SFA and minimized (but enough) PUFA’s.
Goat Milk Ghee/Full Cream Milk Powder
- 65% SFA
- 23% MUFA
- 4% PUFA
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 7% SFA
- 79% MUFA
- 14% PUFA
Expeller-pressed Grapeseed Oil
- 7% SFA
- 21% MUFA
- 71% PUFA
The real beauty lies in the fact that we can include a relatively tiny amount (1/8 tsp) of high PUFA oil (Grapeseed) which is enough to ensure the recipe meets the linoleic acid requirement without flooding the formula with inflammatory oils.
Our goat milk formula recipe has a fatty acid profile that is 65% SFA from grass-fed goat milk ghee, 24% MUFA from High-Oleic Sunflower oil (or olive oil if you choose to use that), and only 9% PUFA from Expeller-pressed Grapeseed oil. Compare that with commercial, ready-to-mix formulas high in oxidized PUFA’s and you’ll have to agree, this is a major benefit of making your formula at home.
3. No Carriers or Fillers
As I said earlier, I don’t blame formula companies for trying to maximize profits; it’s what successful companies do. However, because carriers are unneeded in our homemade formula, every bottle I make is guaranteed to be free of carriers or fillers such as maltodextrin and corn syrup. This means every dollar I spend on making formula at home is going directly to the health of baby and not simply padding the bottom line.
Optimizing the nutritional protein level is the number one reason formula exists in the first place. While infants do need less protein initially than the levels found in goat milk, as the child grows, their protein needs also grow. One of the beautiful things about the way the human body was designed is that the nutritional profile of breast milk adapts in-sync with the growing baby. At first breast milk is very low in protein and much higher in fat and carbohydrates, just like the nutritional needs of baby. As baby matures, so does the breast milk with the protein levels increasing in-step with the development of the kidneys. When you make your own formula at home, you can increase the protein levels (if you or your pediatrician wish) and/or reduce the carbohydrate/fat levels to emphasize growth, weight gain, or overall satiety. This is virtually impossible to do with ready-to-mix formulas as protein is a limiting factor.
While it is no secret that making your own baby formula at home is a less convenient method than simply popping two scoops of ready-to-mix powder into a bottle, it is still extremely flexible when it comes to securing ingredients. There are substitutions that can be made for both fats and carbohydrates that can adapt to the availability of ingredients for each individual. This means that there is a greater likelihood that ingredients needed for baby can be procured even if they differ slightly from the official recipe ingredients. If baby appears sensitive to a single ingredient in the formula, often that ingredient can be substituted for another and success can be found with the formula. This is in stark contrast to the the carousel many parents find themselves on of trying one formula after the next, never sure why this formula worked better than that one or why some formulas simply don’t work at all.
Have you ever tasted commercial baby formula? While I can’t claim to be a connoisseur, I have tasted many and “yuck” is usually the word I use to describe them. Generally I sense a gross, metallic, bitter flavor. Now while it is true that “appetite is the greatest spice” (In other words, baby will drink just about anything if he/she is hungry enough), do we really want our kiddos choking down their food at every feeding? Making your own baby formula at home means you are using real food and real ingredients that actually taste really good and baby won’t have to be starving to enjoy her/his bottle.
7. Quality Assurance
Infant formula is the most heavily regulated food product in America. This is for good reason too, as people want to ensure that their precious children are safe and adequately nourished. However, the majority of regulation on infant formula has little to do with nutrient quality and much to do with process verification. Such regulation includes final product pathogen testing, recall ability, label review/scrutiny, lot tracking, and other paperwork/process/testing regulations. Surprisingly there are very few rules on the quality of ingredients allowed. This is why many formulas contain such garbage like corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, maltodextrin, soy protein, etc. As long as a manufacturer can demonstrate that the ingredients have been handled and processed in a way that kept them safe from contaminants, the products/ingredients can be easily recalled if problems arise, and the formula promises precise levels of key nutrients are present, etc. then regulations have been met.
There isn’t anything else required regarding the quality of the actual ingredients i.e. Grass-fed, organic, non-GMO, etc.
Making your own baby formula means you can not only ensure quality processing (washing hands, sanitizing bottles, refrigerating formula, etc.) but can also ensure the best quality ingredients from sources you trust.
Baby Formula: Don’t be afraid
We all know that “breast is best.” That science really is settled; nothing can compete with the nutrient quality of breast milk.
For a multitude of reasons, breast feeding isn’t always available as the exclusive nutrient source for baby. For these situations, making your own baby formula at home doesn’t have to be scary. It really isn’t dangerous if you follow a scientifically sound formula recipe. The quality of ingredients and processing steps can be held to a standard that no corporate manufacturer could ever maintain. Making a homemade baby formula is simply using real food to feed and nourish your baby.
Join the Homemade Baby Formula revolution!