Tag: Breastfeeding

What’s Wrong with Homemade Baby Formula?

Once upon a time, before we had commercial baby formula, didn’t everyone make their own homemade baby formula if they couldn’t breastfeed or were separated from their baby?

Not necessarily.

Some parents hired a wet nurse and others simply fed their baby wheat containing porridge or milk from camels, cows, goats, or even pigs. Of course, wet nursing was the safest option by far.

History of Homemade Baby Formula

There were recipes for ‘baby formula’ though, which often “consisted of a liquid ingredient (milk, beer, wine, vegetable or meat stock, water), a cereal (rice, wheat or corn flour, bread) and additives (sugar, honey, herbs or spices, eggs, meat).” These recipes were missing foods with vitamin C and were later missing vitamin D, iron, and protein, as they were mixed with more water and less meat and eggs.

Before commercial baby formula was widely available, public health nurses had to sometimes teach new moms how to make their own formula.
Before commercial baby formula was widely available, public health nurses had to sometimes teach new moms how to make their own baby formula.

Fortunately, there were several major breakthroughs in the mid-nineteenth century that offered hope to babies who couldn’t breastfeed, including the invention of the rubber nipple and other feeding devices, improved methods of hygiene and later pasteurization, and the first commercial baby formula.

Many of the first baby formulas basically looked like homemade recipes, such as the Leibig formula – a powder made up of wheat flour, malt, and potassium bicarbonate that was added to diluted cow’s milk. Later, there were recipes to make baby formula from condensed and then evaporated milk (mixed with corn syrup).

And eventually, in the 1950s, we got the commercial baby formulas that we still use today.

What’s in Baby Formula

Like breastmilk, baby formula has three main components that provide the calories:

  • a sugar
  • fats
  • proteins

Different combinations of these proteins (cow’s milk vs soy), sugar (lactose vs corn syrup), and fats (vegetable oils), etc., help produce cow’s milk based, soy based, and elemental baby formulas.

And then, to make it more like breastmilk, lots of other stuff can be added to baby formula, including DHA, probiotics, and nucleotides, etc.

Enspire, the newest formula from Mead Johnson, also adds lactoferrin, Milk Fat Globule Membrane (MFGM), and prebiotics, to try and make it their “closest formula ever to breast milk.”

What’s Not in Baby Formula

Are you still confused about what’s in your baby’s formula?

While it might make you feel better to feed your baby goat milk, it won't make your baby feel any better, and could make them sick...
While it might make you feel better to feed your baby goat milk, it won’t make your baby feel any better, and could make them sick… (CC BY-ND 2.0)

It’s possible that you are just confused about what you think is in your baby’s formula?

Kristin Cavallari has written that she made her own homemade baby formula because “I would rather feed my baby these real, organic ingredients than a heavily processed store-bought formula that contains ‘glucose syrup solids,’ which is another name for corn syrup solids, maltodextrin, carrageenan, and palm oil.”

So what are glucose syrup solids and why are they in your baby’s formula?

While cow’s milk based baby formulas use lactose (glucose plus galactose) as their source of sugar, non-milk based formulas usually use use sucrose (cane sugar) and corn syrup solids (glucose).

Should you worry about cane sugar in some organic formulas?

What about the corn syrup in formula? Isn’t that bad for them?

No. These are just different types of sugar. Even maltodextrin is simply glucose polymers made from corn starch that is used as a thickening agent in baby formula and other foods.

And no, corn syrup solids don’t have anything to do with high fructose corn syrup.

Goat Milk Formula

In addition to warning about making homemade formula, pediatricians have long warned about feeding baby’s goat milk and goat milk based baby formula.

Goat milk is very high in sodium and protein, giving almost three times the amounts present in breast milk. And cross-reactivity that occurs between proteins means that babies who are sensitive or allergic to cow’s milk will likely have problems with goat milk too.

“It is recommended that formula-fed infants who are allergic to milk use an extensively hydrolyzed, casein-based formula. This type of formula contains protein that has been extensively broken down so it is different than milk protein and not as likely to cause an allergic reaction.”

FARE on Formula for Infants with a Milk Allergy

Of course, that doesn’t keep folks from pushing “false and potentially dangerous information” about what some think are benefits of goat milk for infants.

What’s Wrong with Homemade Baby Formula?

In her latest book, Kristin Cavallari, known for dangerous stance against vaccines, even offers a recipe for a goat’s milk baby formula that is made with:

  • filtered water
  • goat milk powder
  • pure organic maple syrup – provides calories from sugar
  • extra virgin olive oil – provides calories and monounsaturated fats
  • unflavored cod-liver oil – for extra vitamin D and vitamin A
  • unsulfured blackstrap molasses – for extra iron and calcium
  • coconut oil – for omega-6-fatty acids
  • probiotics

In this homemade formula, much of the sugar, protein, and fat and half of the calories comes from goat milk.

The majority of the sugar comes from the maple syrup though, which is just sucrose. Just like the sucrose from cane sugar that folks complain about in some organic formulas.

Extra fat comes from the olive oil.

What about the other ingredients?

They provide extra vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, vitamin A, and iron.

What’s missing?

This homemade formula seems to be missing folate. Goat milk is deficient in folate and can lead to megaloblastic anemia and it is one of the main reasons babies should avoid unfortified goat milk.

And it is missing enough vitamin D to avoid vitamin D deficiency.

Cavallari’s recipe seems to add just 100IU of vitamin D to the whole 32 ounce batch (from the cod liver oil). That’s just 10IU per 100ml, about 6 times less than baby formula. Keep in mind that it is recommended that infants get at least 400IU of vitamin D each day.

Remember that formula is fortified with vitamin D and breastfeeding babies are supposed to take a vitamin D supplement. Depending on your water filter, this homemade baby formula recipe might also be missing fluoride, which infants start to need beginning at around six months.

Can You Find a Safe Homemade Baby Formula Recipe?

You probably can, especially if you use a full fat milk powder that has been pasteurized and fortified with vitamin D and folic acid and the right combination of other ingredients to get enough calories, protein, fat, sugar, and all of the essential vitamins and minerals that your baby needs to gain weight and development normally.

“FDA regulates commercially available infant formulas, which are marketed in liquid and powder forms, but does not regulate recipes for homemade formulas. Great care must be given to the decision to make infant formulas at home, and safety should be of prime concern. The potential problems associated with errors in selecting and combining the ingredients for the formula are very serious and range from severe nutritional imbalances to unsafe products that can harm infants. Because of these potentially very serious health concerns, FDA does not recommend that consumers make infant formulas at home.”

FDA Questions & Answers for Consumers Concerning Infant Formula

You will almost certainly have to give your baby a multi-vitamin each day too.

Also, you will have to make sure you are mixing all of the ingredients of your recipe correctly and safely, so that you don’t contaminate any of the batches.

But it still won’t be any better for your baby than store bought formula.

So just like skipping your RhoGAM shot, skipping your baby’s vitamin K shot and delaying or skipping vaccines, you will have some very big risks and absolutely no health benefits.

What to Know About Homemade Baby Formula

Stick to breastmilk or an iron fortified baby formula until your baby is at least twelve months old. There are no benefits to feeding your baby a homemade baby formula and there are certainly some risks. Those risks go up even more if you use raw goat milk or leave out key nutrients.

More About Homemade Baby Formula

Don’t Skip Your Baby’s Vitamin K Shot

Most parents understand and expect that their baby will get a vitamin K shot when they are born and before they leave the hospital.

It helps prevent bleeding from vitamin K deficiency.

Vitamin K for Babies

Leave the formula samples at the hospital, but don't leave without your baby's vitamin K shot.
Leave the formula samples at the hospital, but don’t leave without your baby’s vitamin K shot.

Newborns have been routinely getting vitamin K shots since at least since 1961.

While it was well known that newborns could suffer from hemorrhagic disease of the newborn (the old name for vitamin K deficiency bleeding) since 1894 (thanks to Dr. Charles Townsend), it wasn’t until later that it was connected to a temporary lack of vitamin K in newborns and younger infants. This occurs because:

  • vitamin K doesn’t pass through the placenta well, so your baby doesn’t build up a good supply during pregnancy
  • breast milk is a poor source of vitamin K, even if the breastfeeding mother eats well and takes supplements, so your baby isn’t able to quickly build up a good supply after she is born
  • babies have a mostly sterile gut and are not born with the bacteria in their intestines that can make vitamin K
  • some clotting factors need vitamin K to work

Although vitamin K deficiency bleeding was never very common, before newborns began it get vitamin K shots, it did affect from 1.7% (classic onset disease) to 7 in 100,000 newborns (late onset disease).

Since many of these bleeds were fatal, even though they were rare, no one thought that there was a benefit to being low in vitamin K and getting a vitamin K shot wasn’t controversial. At least not until a 1992 paper suggested that vitamin K shots could be associated with childhood cancer. That soon led some parents to refuse their babies vitamin K shots for a short time, at least until the link was refuted.

In 1996, a student called for the ‘End of the Vitamin K Brouhaha:’

“Because hemorrhagic disease of the newborn can be life-threatening but preventable, the studies by von Kries et al and Ansell et al should allay our fears and doubts about the dangers of administering intramuscular vitamin K immediately after birth. It seems that hemorrhagic disease of the newborn can be completely eradicated without the threat of leukemia and childhood cancer as a side effect.”

And the vitamin K brouhaha did seem to end.

The Vitamin K Controversy

It came back though.

In addition to holistic and natural parenting groups, there are some who are against vaccines who are also against vitamin K shots.

This is surprising to many people, as those who oppose giving babies vitamin K are often the same folks who push many other types of vitamins, including megadoses of vitamin C, vitamin B12 shots, and extra vitamin D.

Vitamin K Misinformation

So why do some parents skip giving their new baby a vitamin K shot?

It is possible that in doing their research, they have been mislead by some of the misinformation about vitamin K that you commonly find on the internet.

This includes claims that:

  • there is mercury and other toxic ingredients in the vitamin K shots (the truth is that neither mercury or thimerosal nor any other heavy metals are used as a preservative in vitamin K shots and all of the other ingredients are safe too)
  • vitamin K shots cause cancer (the truth is that they don’t and an early study that suggested they did was later refuted many times)
  • babies don’t need extra vitamin K (the truth is that some do though and it is typically impossible to identify them, except maybe for babies born to mothers taking certain medications, mostly seizure medicines, that put them at extra risk of early vitamin K deficiency bleeding)
  • babies start making enough vitamin K when they are 8 days old (the truth is that some babies don’t, especially those with liver disease and other disorders that might interfere with the absorption of fat soluble vitamins)
  • babies did fine before we started giving them vitamin K shots (the truth is that some died, which is why we started giving vitamin K in the first place)
  • you can just give babies oral vitamin K instead of a vitamin K shot (the truth is that oral vitamin K doesn’t work to prevent all cases of late onset vitamin K deficiency, which is also deadly)
  • only boys who get a circumcision need vitamin K (the truth is that we don’t know why some infants with vitamin K deficiency bleeding develop bleeding in their brains, as it isn’t usually any kind of big trauma, so it doesn’t have to be something like a circumcision or a fall or whether you delivered vaginally or by C-section, etc. In fact, late onset bleeding can occur up to 12 weeks, and sometimes as long as 6 months, after a baby is born!)
  • there must be a benefit to having low vitamin K levels when we are born, otherwise God wouldn’t have made us this way (even if this were somehow true, it doesn’t negate the fact that some babies die from their low vitamin K levels…)

Just as with vaccine preventable diseases, since vitamin K deficiency is now rare (because most parents make sure their babies get a vitamin K shot), it is easy for parents to be misled by this type of misinformation.

Bad Advice about Vitamin K

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, vitamin K deficiency bleeding “is most effectively prevented by parenteral administration of vitamin K.”

That’s the vitamin K shot.

While early (birth to 2 weeks) vitamin K deficiency bleeding can be prevented with either oral vitamin K or a vitamin K shot, late onset (2 to 12 weeks) vitamin K deficiency bleeding is best prevented with a vitamin K shot.

Some people didn’t get the message though, advising parents to skip the vitamin K shot against all standard medical advice:

  • Dr. Mercola still warns parents about the ‘jab with a syringe full of vitamin K.’
  • Sarah Pope at the Health Home Economist tells parents to ‘Skip that Newborn Vitamin K Shot’
  • 28 percent of parents who delivered at local private birthing centers in Tennessee had recently declined the vitamin K shot

So what are the consequences of this kind of non-standard, non-evidence based advice?

They are much as you would expect when dealing with a potentially life-threatening condition – a rise in vitamin K deficiency bleeding in newborns and infants.

Among the recent cases of early and late vitamin K deficiency bleeding include:

  • seven babies over eight months in  2013 at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, including three who required surgery to remove clots “out of their head” and who may “have issues with seizure disorders and will have long-term neurological symptoms related to seizures and developmental delays.”
  • a 5-week-old in Florida with late onset vitamin K dependent bleeding. The youngest of 6 children, none of whom had been given vitamin K, the baby had a seizure and stopped breathing after developing two brain hemorrhages.
  • a 3-week-old in Indiana with late onset vitamin K dependent bleeding who was born in a birthing center and whose “parents signed a waiver to forego vaccination and prophylactic therapies,” and required an emergency craniotomy to evacuate braining bleeding, prolonged intubation, and difficult to control seizures
  • a 6-week-old in Illinois with late onset vitamin K dependent bleeding who never received vitamin K prophylaxis at birth and developed brain bleeding and swelling, seizures, a DVT, and who was hospitalized for 10 days
  • a 6-week-old in South Texas with late onset vitamin K dependent bleeding who never received vitamin K prophylaxis at birth and died after developing brain bleeding and seizures
  • an infant in Australia who had not been given a vitamin K shot as per her mother’s birth plan and  died of late vitamin K deficiency bleeding (at 33 days of life)
  • another infant in Australia who is in critical condition after his parents refused a vitamin K shot
  • infants in Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, and the Netherlands who have suffered from vitamin K deficiency bleeding while receiving oral vitamin K, often because their parents refused a vitamin K shot

Tragically, most parents who refuse vitamin K shots also refuse other potentially life-saving medical interventions, including getting a hepatitis B vaccine and even getting erythromycin eye ointment. And many go on to refuse all childhood vaccines.

On the bright side, the great majority of parents do allow their newborn babies to receive vitamin K when they are born. One study found that only 0.3% of parents refused vitamin K.

What To Know About Vitamin K Shots for Babies

The bottom line is that vitamin K shots are a safe way to prevent vitamin K deficiency bleeding. This is no good reason to skip this shot for your baby.

More Information About Vitamin K Shots for Babies

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Preventing and Treating Vitamin D Deficiency

More people seem to be getting the message that too little vitamin D in our diets can lead to health problems. In addition to being at risk of developing rickets (extreme vitamin D deficiency), children with milder forms of vitamin D deficiency can develop weak bones and muscle weakness.

Why is vitamin D so important?

Vitamin D is a hormone that helps our bodies absorb both calcium and phosphorous, two very important minerals that help keep our bones strong.

Without enough vitamin D, we absorb 85-90% less of the calcium in our diet! And then, to keep calcium levels normal, our bodies pull more calcium out of our bones, causing osteopenia and osteoporosis.

Some experts also think that a low vitamin D level is associated with other conditions that are not linked to calcium and our bones, including some psychiatric conditions. The American Academy of Pediatrics even states that “new evidence suggests that vitamin D plays a vital role in maintaining innate immunity and has been implicated in the prevention of certain disease states including infection, autoimmune diseases (multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis), some forms of cancer (breast, ovarian, colorectal, prostate), and type 2 diabetes mellitus.”

The role of vitamin D in preventing infections, cancer, or anything else beyond preventing and treating vitamin D deficiency (extraskeletal effects) is far from proven though. In fact, a 2010 investigation by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) didn’t find any evidence to support a role for vitamin D in any other health conditions besides supporting bone health.

Surprisingly to many people, the IOM report also found that most people in North America are already getting enough calcium and vitamin D in their diet and that getting too much can be harmful. They also warned that “the number of people with vitamin D deficiency in North America may be overestimated because many laboratories appear to be using cut-points that are much higher than the committee suggests is appropriate.”

Tests for Vitamin D Deficiency

Although vitamin D testing seems to becoming part of the routine screening tests that some doctors order, it is important to keep in mind that only those at risk for having low levels should be routinely tested.

Are your kids at risk for vitamin D deficiency?

These high risk children can include:

  • exclusively breastfed infants who don’t get a vitamin D supplement
  • babies born to mothers with a vitamin D deficiency, especially premature babies
  • children with chronic kidney or liver disease
  • children with malabsorption syndromes (Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, cystic fibrosis, etc.), as vitamin D is absorbed with fats in our diet
  • obese children, because vitamin D is stored in fat tissue and is not readily available for use
  • children with dark skin, who live at high latitudes, and/or spend a lot of time indoors (less vitamin D from sun exposure)
  • children taking certain medications, including antiseizure medications and oral steroids
  • children who simply don’t get enough vitamin D – at least 400-600 IU of vitamin D each day, depending on their age. This might include vegetarians, vegans, and children who simply don’t drink vitamin D fortified cow’s milk, soy milk, or almond milk, etc., or other foods that are high in vitamin D.

If your child falls into one or more of these risk factors for vitamin D deficiency, then talk to your pediatrician about testing his vitamin D levels.

Although different tests are available, the test that is recommended by the AAP and the Endocrine Society is the serum 25(OH)D level (25-hydroxyvitamin D). This actually measures the levels of a prehormone of vitamin D, calcifediol, but is thought to give a good idea of a person’s vitamin D status.

This vitamin D test is preferred over testing 1,25(OH)2D levels, another test that is available, as those levels can be normal or even elevated when someone has a vitamin D deficiency. Similarly, measuring vitamin D levels (the active hormone) has not been found to be helpful. Instead, we use 25(OH)D levels as a marker for vitamin D levels.

Treating Vitamin D Deficiency

Is your child’s vitamin D level low?

That question is a actually a little harder to answer than you might realize. According to the IOM, in discussing cut-points for 25(OH)D levels, or what’s low and what’s normal, “At this time, there is no central body that is responsible for establishing such values for clinical use.”

The serum 25(OH)D level is typically defined as low (vitamin D deficiency) in children if it is below 20 ng/ml. Some experts think that a 25(OH)D level above 16 ng/ml is normal for infants and children though.

Experts do agree that a level below 5 ng/ml is a sign of a severe vitamin D deficiency.

Recommendations for treating children with low vitamin D levels depend on their age, and might include:

  • newborns: 1,000 IU /day vitamin D2 or D3
  • children 1 to 12 months old: 2,000 IU /day vitamin D2 or D3
  • children > 12 months old: 2,000 IU /day vitamin D2 or D3

These vitamin D supplements, together with adequate amounts of calcium, are usually continued for at least 1 to 3 months, at which time the child’s serum 25(OH)D level can be repeated to make sure it is responding to treatment.

“The upper limit for vitamin D is 1,000 to 1,500 IU/day for infants, 2,500 to 3,000 IU/day for children 1-8 years, and 4,000 IU/day for children 9 years and older, adults, and pregnant and lactating teens and women. Vitamin D toxicity almost always occurs from overuse of supplements.”

NIH Vitamin D Fact Sheet for Consumers

The Endocrine Society also advises that some children can take 50,000 IU of vitamin D2 once a week as an alternative treatment for vitamin D deficiency. Since you can definitely get too much vitamin D, be sure to talk to your pediatrician and make sure your child is getting the right dose before starting a treatment regimen for vitamin D deficiency.

Preventing Vitamin D Deficiency

Once you get your child’s vitamin D levels back into a normal range, it is important to take steps so that they don’t drop again.

To prevent vitamin D deficiency, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that healthy infants get at least 400 IU of vitamin D each day, while older children – toddlers to teens – get at least 600 IU. This vitamin D should come from some combination of:

  • foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D – salmon, tuna, shitake mushrooms, etc.
  • foods that are fortified with vitamin D – vitamin D fortified milk, orange juice, cheese, yogurt, margarine, and cereal, etc.
  • a vitamin D supplement – with just vitamin D, vitamin D plus calcium, or a children’s multivitamin

What about sunlight? Can’t your kids just spend more time in the sun to boost their vitamin D levels?

Although we all have the ability to make vitamin D when we are out in the sun, it isn’t considered a good source of vitamin D. Intentional, unprotected (no sunscreen) exposure to the sun has risks of sunburn and skin cancer. And it is very hard to judge how much sun exposure is necessary to get adequate amounts of vitamin D. The intensity of the sun’s radiation varies greatly in different parts of the world and at different times of year and will also affect how much vitamin D your body makes.

Other Things To Know about Vitamin D Deficiency

  • Raw milk, in addition to being unprocessed and unpasteurized, is unfortified and has very little vitamin D.
  • Although other foods may be fortified with vitamin D, in the United States, only milk, margarine, infant formula, and “fortified-plant based beverages” are mandated by the FDA to be vitamin D fortified.
  • In addition to low 25(OH)D levels, children with vitamin D deficiency will often have low phosphorous, high alkaline phosphatase, and high parathyroid hormone levels. These levels might be checked and monitored when kids are treated for vitamin D deficiency.
  • Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol, derived from plants) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol, derived from animals) are two major forms of vitamin D. Some experts think that vitamin D3 is more potent than vitamin D2, especially at higher doses. Still, these prohormones are converted to the same active form of vitamin D (calcitriol) in the liver and kidney.
  • Some experts think that 25(OH)D levels between 21 and 30 ng/ml are a sign of vitamin D insufficiency in children, as in adults, and are a sign that the child needs more vitamin D in their diet.
  • Although the use of sunscreen can block the synthesis of vitamin D by blocking UVB radiation and has been blamed for lower vitamin D levels in recent years, many people likely don’t use sunscreen properly and don’t use it consistently enough and so “sunscreen use may not actually diminish vitamin D synthesis in real world use.”
  • Taking high doses of vitamin D is yet another nutrition fad which has been linked to serious consequences. Mega doses of vitamin D have been linked to kidney problems and tissue damage. That makes it important to stay below the upper limit that your child can likely take each day without causing harm, which ranges from 2,500 IU/day for toddlers to 4,000 IU/day for teenagers. Most only need 400 to 600 IU/day though.

Children with severe vitamin D deficiency are often managed by a pediatric endocrinologist or a pediatric nephrologist.

More Information on Treating Vitamin D Deficiency

  • AAP – Vitamin D: On the Double
  • The rise and inevitable fall of Vitamin D
  • Help Your Child Build Healthy Bones
  • NIH Vitamin D Fact Sheet for Consumers
  • Study – American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report. Optimizing Bone Health in Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics. Pediatrics Oct 2014, 134 (4) e1229-e1243
  • Study – Institute of Medicine Report. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Released: November 30, 2010.
  • Study – The Endocrine Society. Evaluation, Treatment, and Prevention of Vitamin D Deficiency: An Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, July 2011, 96(7):1911–1930.
  • Study – Misra, M. Vitamin D Deficiency in Children and Its Management. Pediatrics, Aug 2008; 122: 398 – 417.

Breastfeeding Recommendations

Parents often have a lot of questions about breastfeeding.

One thing that they shouldn’t question is that breastfeeding provides a number of “short- and long-term medical and neurodevelopmental advantages” for their baby.

That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics, in their 2012 policy statement on Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk recommended:

“Exclusive breastfeeding for about six months…”

And for breastfeeding “to continue for at least the first year and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child…”

Since the AAP has concluded that “breastfeeding and the use of human milk confer unique nutritional and nonnutritional benefits to the infant and the mother and, in turn, optimize infant, child, and adult health as well as child growth and development,” be sure you get all the help you need to effectively breastfeed your child.

And remember, if breastfeeding was easy, we wouldn’t need lactation consultants. So don’t be afraid to ask for help.

For more information: