Why We Avoided Commercial Formula
Conventional wisdom recommends breastfeeding exclusively for 6 months, followed by a combination of breastfeeding and solid foods for at least 1 year.
My twins never really nursed. My son would projectile vomit everything back up if it weren’t thickened with avocado. My daughter had a more silent version of reflux and she would just pass out (a condition that eventually led to the placement of a pacemaker). I pumped religiously for 9 months, but that was all I managed. We were preparing to use commercial formula when our avocado smoothies came to the rescue once again. (For background on the avocado smoothies, click here). In this case, the smoothies didn’t just help solve a problem, they provided a clear comparison of commercial formula vs breast milk. And, the formula certainly didn’t come away from that one looking good! When the smoothie was made with avocado and breast milk, the edges of the drink, where it came in contact with the air turned slightly brown from the oxidation of the avocado. The rest of the smoothie, however, remained green all day long. In fact, it was still a mild color even when it came back up (yes, my son did still vomit frequently, even after the introduction of avocado to his milk)! Our first smoothie we made with commercial formula wasn’t nearly so pretty. The whole smoothie turned brown before the day was through. When it came back up, it was black and stained everything it touched. My interpretation – the breast milk is full of anti-oxidants that keep the avocado from oxidizing and turning brown. The formula, on the other hand, seemed to offer no protection at best and acted as a pro-oxidant at worst. I really couldn’t feed my babies the black sludge. Had it not been for our avocado smoothies, I may not have been quite so motivated to seek alternative nourishment.
I consider ourselves lucky to have had such a dramatic visual representation of the quality of infant formula, but there is also research showing less desirable outcomes for infants fed commercial formula. Formula fed infants may have a higher risk of obesity later in life (1), lower cognitive ability than breastfed infants (2), increased risk of infection (3 and 4), and demonstrate altered metabolic and gut microbiome development compared to breastfed infants (5).
Support for a New Approach to Formula
Pumping enough milk for both twins was no longer an option. Feeding them formula-turned-black-sludge was also not an option. So, what next? We turned to homemade baby formula. The studies referenced above compare formula fed infants to breastfed infants so they don’t offer direct support for homemade formula. So, we turn to what we do have. It has been shown that infant formulas containing prebiotics improve levels of bifidobacteria (bacteria found in healthy infant’s guts) (6). Early supplementation with pre- and pro-biotics may improve infant symptoms such as excessive fussing and crying (7). And, supplementing infant formula with long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids may improve visual acuity at 1 year, as well as increase cognitive processing speed (8 and 9).
So, there is precedent for adding to the commercial infant formula and research supporting benefits of this practice.
Before I go further, I want to stress that, whenever possible, breastfeeding is best. The recipe linked to in the following paragraph should never be used in place of breast milk. However, I do believe it can be a wonderful alternative to processed formula.
Homemade Baby Formula
The Weston A. Price Foundation is a non-profit organization focused on nutrition education. Its recommendations are based on Dr. Weston A. Price’s findings in the early 1900’s. He was a dentist who traveled the world examining the health and diets of traditional peoples. He found that those following traditional diets enjoyed the greatest health. The foundation has published multiple recipes for homemade infant formula, including versions based on raw cow’s milk, raw goat’s milk, as well as a liver-based recipe. We used the liver-based formula. If you are unable to prepare the entire formula, the foundation also provides a recipe for Fortified Commercial Formula to be used in a pinch.
I would love to hear from anyone who has used one of the WAPF formula recipes for their babies!
DISCLAIMER: I am a licensed nutritionist, not an MD. I do not diagnose or treat disease. My recommendations are based on my best clinical judgement and you should always consult a physician before making dietary or supplement changes with your infant.