Homemade Baby Formula: Is It Safe?

Baby drinking from bottle

I keep seeing the same homemade baby formula recipe popping up on social media – the one with Karo syrup and evaporated milk. Some versions use goats’ milk. The recipe posts are usually accompanied by testimonials from adults who were given the formula as babies, or mothers who have used it. PLEASE check with your health care provider or your child’s pediatrician about these homemade formulas.

It’s unimaginably stressful for parents who are struggling with the national shortage of baby formula, but is it safe to use a homemade formula? With the proliferation of this recipe, I also wonder if parents will use it even if formula is available because the homemade versions may be less expensive.

But is it really safe for babies?

I asked Haley Billings, a local pediatric registered dietitian, about the safety of homemade baby formula recipes and also what solutions she might be able to offer parents.

Here is what she said:

Parents are stressed about the formula shortage, and with good reason. Everyone is offering their advice in hopes of providing solutions. While suggestions are provided with good intent, it is important to realize that every baby/child is different and what worked for one person might not work for you. As you consider how to keep your baby healthy, remember the most important thing is to provide safe nutrition. 

Here are a few things to consider when looking for formula: Check smaller drug stores and grocery stores for supplies. Stick to the same formula if you are able to; however, you can use a comparable formula from a different brand. To increase tolerance, mix a small amount of prepared new formula with your current formula. Slowly increase the proportions until you are using the new formula. If your baby or child requires a specialty formula, contact your pediatrician to see if they are able to special order formula. Remember to check the instructions to ensure you are mixing a new formula correctly. Do not add extra water to formula. 

Homemade baby formulas are dangerous and should NOT be used. While you may be able to provide adequate calories, fat, protein and carbohydrates in homemade recipes, it is much more challenging to ensure correct amounts of vitamins and minerals. Commercially prepared formulas include correct amounts of these essential nutrients in addition to calories, fat, protein and carbohydrates. Not only are homemade formulas nutritionally incomplete, but they also come with safety risks. Never create your own formula unless discussed with your pediatrician.

For parents or caretakers that rely on WIC benefits for formula – Oklahoma WIC is allowing waivers in response to the shortage. This creates more flexibility in what you are able to purchase. Call your WIC clinic to verify what stipulations have changed. 

Children can be introduced to solid foods around the developmental age of 6 months. Although your baby will still rely on formula, this could decrease the amount needed and allow the formula to last longer (Editor’s Note – Look for an article on introducing your baby to solid foods in TulsaKids’ June 2022 magazine.)

Remember that children under the age of one should not be introduced to cow’s milk unless otherwise stated by your pediatrician. If your child is above the age of one and relies on regular formula, cow’s milk and other age-appropriate “toddler” drinks may be offered if necessary. Aim to offer these alternatives for as little time as necessary. Just like homemade formula, cow’s milk may provide the calories that are needed, but it is missing many of the other nutrients provided by formula. 

If you are unable to find the formula you need or a suitable replacement, contact your pediatrician or a pediatric registered dietitian. Medical professionals will be able to help you find a nutritionally adequate solution that keeps your baby safe and healthy.

Here are the guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

  1. Don’t dilute formula. “If you’re using powder or you’re buying pre-made, you definitely do not want to water it down. It’s nutritionally balanced and it’s not volume that counts with kids, it’s the calories. Watering it down is not medically sound.”
  2. Only buy formula from reputable sources. “We want to reinforce that parents should not buy formula in parking lots or any place that does not seem on the up and up because there are recalled formulas that we’re not a hundred percent sure are completely disposed of and there are also expired formulas,” Dr. Cioffi said.
  3. Don’t try to find a recipe to make formula. “You can’t make it from the ingredients that are currently on the market,” she said. “We recommend whole cow’s milk (that you buy in cartons), but not until at least 11 months of age.”
  4. Don’t give your baby alternative milk products. The AAP said these are not recommended for infants under a year of age. Be especially careful to avoid almond or other plant milks as these are often low in protein and minerals.
  5. Don’t give your baby toddler formula. It’s not recommended for infants. However, if you absolutely have no other choice, toddler formula is safe for a few days for babies close to a year of age.
  6. Note the shelf life of baby formula in the stores. The “use by” date on infant formula is required by FDA regulations to be on each container. Up until that date, the formula will contain no less than the amount of each nutrient on the product label and will otherwise be of acceptable quality.

Don’t rely on social media for medical advice. If you are unsure about what to do, contact your pediatrician or other health professional.

What is your experience with infant formula? Are you finding it available in the Tulsa area?

Eb Baby Formula

Categories: Editor’s Blog