Part Three: Nurse Claire blunt talk you won’t see anywhere else on junk baby formula, and final recommendations on how to survive the crisis


In this series, we have taken a look at the current baby formula shortage, its causes, and alternatives such as human milk banks, online purchasing of human milk, and preparing a DIY baby formula.  Everyone has heard “breast is best” & “fed is best”, so there’s no need to mention that breastmilk is the superior choice but also babies shouldn’t be starved for lack of breastmilk.  I briefly mentioned the shortcomings of American baby formula, especially in comparison to its European counterparts.  But let’s examine that topic more closely so that parents can make an informed choice when deciding on baby formula.  

As I mentioned in previous parts of this series, not all women can breastfeed.  Regardless of the reason, the need for a suitable replacement for mother’s milk has been around for a long time.  Wet nurses were often employed in Europe and colonial America.  This practice was so popular that in the 18th century, some European nations developed wet nurse “bureaus” where wet nurses could register and reside until their services were needed. Governments enacted laws to regulate these bureaus, requiring wet nurses undergo routine health exams and prohibiting them from nursing more than one infant at a time.  When wet nurses weren’t available, and when wet nurses fell out of favor (eventually in the 20th century), babies were sometimes directly fed from animals or fed animal milk from devices that were the prototypes of the modern-day baby bottle.  The history on this topic is quite fascinating, but for the sake of brevity I will leave it short, and address what I specifically want to confront:  what exactly passes for infant “nutrition” these days?

In the 19th and 20th centuries, scientists sought to replace breastmilk for families without access to farm animals or wet nurses.  These early researchers were able to identify the basic macronutrients present in human milk:  carbohydrates, protein, and fat; but they were also quick to realize that animal milks didn’t always contain these nutrients in the same proportions as human breast milk.  So while they employed various animal milks to meet protein and fat requirements, other additives were in constant debate.  As the quest for a breastmilk substitute advanced, various concoctions emerged and were marketed by retailers (Sears catalog featured no less than 8 brands by 1897).  Seeking a simpler solution, many doctors began recommending a formula that could be prepared at home using canned evaporated milk and table sugar.  As the Great Depression put a chokehold on the family budget,  the table sugar was replaced by corn syrup, a cheaper & more readily accessible option.  

Women continued to use that recipe for decades and if you’re over the age of 50, chances are likely that you were fed this mixture.  By the 1970s, mass-produced infant formulas became the standard for convenience, saving moms the work of making their own.  And that’s pretty much where we are now:  moms heading to large retailers to buy commercial baby formula.

But what exactly is in that commercial formula?  Have we advanced much beyond the “evaporated milk and Karo syrup” that’s pictured above?  Well, to be honest, no.  While most formulas still use cow milk as their basis for protein, today’s infant formulas rely heavily on corn syrup solids to meet the carbohydrate needs of growing babies.  That’s kind of shocking, considering what we know about the nutritional deficiency, glycemic index, addictiveness, and inflammatory properties of corn syrup.   Some formulas that are labeled “organic” have replaced the high fructose corn syrup with sugar, which isn’t much better.  Dr. Benjamin Caballero, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and an expert in risk factors for childhood obesity, was quoted by the New York Times on this matter: “I would be very concerned about this as a pediatrician.  The issue is that sweet tastes tend to encourage consumption of excessive amounts.”    Evidence shows that babies and children will always show a preference for the sweetest food available, he said, and they will eat more of it than they would less-sweet food.  “This is how breakfast cereal manufacturers compete,” he added.  Yikes….talk about creating sugar-addicts right out of the womb!  Of note, the European Union banned sugar-sweetened infant formula in 2009, due to concerns with rising rates of childhood obesity and the possibility that overly sweet formula might lead to overfeeding.  Most of the European brands use only lactose to supplement the carbohydrate content.  

But what else is lurking in those big canisters of formula powder? 

  1. Soy:  The 1970s and 80s marketed soy as a fantastic source of protein.  But the truth is that soy is highly estrogenic in the human body.  You may think this is only a problem with baby boys, but the hormone development of little girls are affected, too, by this endocrine disruption.  What’s more, soy is genetically-modified and exposed to high levels of pesticides .  This isn’t only an issue with soy-based formulas – all formulas still contain plenty of it in the form of soy lecithin. 
  2. Palm oil:  Human milk is naturally high in certain types of fatty acids, among them palmitic acid.  To try to mimic this fatty acid, manufacturers add palm oil.  However, palm oil is structurally different from the palmitic acid found in human milk, and research has shown that infants do not properly absorb it. And because it’s not properly absorbed, overall fat absorption is low.  Fat is necessary for the rapid neurological development that happens in the first 3 months of life.  Furthermore, the unabsorbed palmitic acid remaining in the infant’s gut reacts with calcium, causing the formation of “soaps” in the baby’s intestines, preventing the calcium from reaching the baby’s growing bones.  And the soapiness in the intestines also leads to hard stools.
  3. Synthetic “DHA” and “ARA”:   Manufactures have seduced parents into thinking they’re feeding something wholesome with additives like “DHA” and “ARA”.  DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega-3 fatty acid necessary for brain development in early childhood.  ARA (arachidonic acid) is an omega-6 fatty acid, also important for a baby’s brain development and overall health.  Both of these treasures are naturally present in breast milk, so of course formula producers want to put them on the label to ensure parents they’re getting a nutritious product.  But are they? These synthetic additives, listed as C. Cohnii oil (DHA) and M. Alpina oil (ARA), are sourced from algae and fungus which have never been part of the human diet.  Their processing involves a petroleum-based neurotoxic solvent called hexane. Many studies have put forward that artificial DHA and ARA are useless, provide no benefit to babies, and may even be responsible for several gastrointestinal issues.  So it appears that their addition to infant formula is nothing more than a marketing ploy that could lead to health problems for your baby. (*The only company that has chosen a water-extracted source of DHA and ARA derived from egg yolks is Nature’s One Baby’s Only Organic formula.)
  4. Other synthetic “nutrients” and preservatives: In a further attempt to mimic breast milk, some manufacturers have added things like lutein, lycopene, nucleotides, taurine, l-carnitine and l-methionine to their labels.  But do these lab-created nutrients really match up to the naturally-occurring thing?  Let’s take a brief look.  Lutein for infant formula is sourced from conventionally-grown marigolds (read: pesticides) and processed with hexane (see above).  Lycopene used in baby formula is produced synthetically by the chemical manufacturer BASF instead of being sourced naturally from tomatoes.  A three-stage process is used and involves several solvents derived from benzene.  Taurine is another synthetic additive and can be produced using several methods.  One method includes the use of sulfuric acid, a toxic and carcinogenic material, and another technique involves aziridine, listed as a hazardous air pollutant by the EPA. The production of synthetic L-Carnitine involves epichlorohydrin, classified as a “2B material” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer because of its possible carcinogenic effects in humans.  The synthetic version of L-methionine used in infant formula is produced with materials including acrolein, an EPA Hazardous Air Pollutant, and hydrogen cyanide, described by the CDC as a “systemic chemical asphyxiant” and “chemical warfare agent,” “used commercially for fumigation, electroplating, mining, chemical synthesis, and the production of synthetic fibers, plastics, dyes, and pesticides.”  The list goes on, but you get the point.  One could certainly argue that these substances are of little consequence in baby formula since their quantity is small, but in a developing, tiny baby with immature detoxification capabilities, can we be so sure?  Interestingly all of these additives are banned in the European Union which has prompted many moms (including this one) to source their baby formula from abroad. 

Make no mistake:  the infant formula industry is a behemoth, expected to gross $103 billion by 2026.  It’s also armed with powerful lobbyists.  This industry has positioned itself as necessary, and rightfully so:  what’s a mom to do who can’t breastfeed? The answer has been to head to your local store & purchase any number of commercially-prepared baby formula products.  But as we’ve just seen, there are serious questions surrounding both the quality and nutritional value of those formulas.  Now that the carefully planned shortage has ensued, formula-dependent families are being gaslighted into NOT feeding their children healthy, wholesome formulas prepared at home.  Headlines and social media influencers have kicked into overdrive to convince you that homemade baby formulas are dangerous (just like ivermectin), yet no options have been offered by our overlords.  And now news articles are surfacing that show some babies requiring hospitalization for dehydration and malnutrition related to the lack of formula. 

But with a little work, you can prepare your own formula.  Leave the evaporated milk & Karo syrup for a real SHTF situation; that option isn’t necessary right now since everyone currently has access to milk.  If you can source raw milk, that is ideal.  But even if not, choose pasteurized  (not ultra-pasteurized)organic milk, preferably from grass-fed cows.  Goat milk is an option, too.  And if your baby suffers from allergies and tummy upset, don’t be afraid to feed a rich, homemade bone broth.  See below for more information, and in the words of my dear friend, Mark, stay frosty!

Additional resources…..

Recipes here:

Supplies for formula-making:

Acerola powder to add vitamin C.

Cod liver oil

Nutritional yeast flakes.  

3 thoughts on “Part Three: Nurse Claire blunt talk you won’t see anywhere else on junk baby formula, and final recommendations on how to survive the crisis”

  1. Nurse Clair, from what I understand, if your baby is over the age of six months and at the point of eating a variety of table foods, you can just stick with raw milk and not worry about the additives. Is this correct?
    When my daughter was nine months, I cut back drastically with breastfeeding and substituted with raw cow milk. But she was also eating nutrient rich foods like liver, egg, etc.
    Please correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t want to steer anyone the wrong way.

  2. Cow’s milk alone is not enough for a baby under the age of 1, so if they are not eating other foods as you mentioned above (egg yolks, puréed meats, liver, etc) then definitely make the formula using the additives. Bone broth and bone marrow are excellent for older infants, too.

  3. I wonder if overfeeding on formula is the reason so many babies spit up and regurgitate so much after they eat? I have long thought that infant formula was the most processed food of all time. I am glad there are resources out there for mom’s to make their own. I know it probably takes more effort than formula but otherwise that time would be spent breast feeding or pumping. Thank you Nurse Claire for taking initiative on this.

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