Some parents might be interested in making their own infant formula. But commercially prepared formula is the best and safest choice for babies who aren’t breastfed.
Online formula recipes may look healthy and promise to be nutritionally complete, but getting too little — or too much — of important nutrients can cause serious problems for infants.
Commercially prepared formula must meet high nutrition and safety standards. It is hard — if not impossible — to meet these standards at home.
What is baby formula?
When it comes to choosing a baby formula, you might have a few questions, like “Should I choose cow’s milk or soy-based formula?” or “What is protein hydrolysate?”
These three types are all FDA-approved to give your child the right balance of nutrients that are critical to their development.
Cow’s milk formulas use cow’s milk that has been altered to resemble breast milk, and soy-based formulas offer an alternative if you want or need to keep animal proteins out of your baby’s diet. Protein hydrolysate formulas are a great option for babies who can’t tolerate cow- or plant-based formulas or who have a protein allergy.
“Most baby formula is made from cow’s milk,” says Dr. Kathleen Noss, a pediatrician at Geisinger. “But no matter which type of formula you need, they’re available in three different forms: powder, concentrated liquid or ready-to-use formula.”
You can work with your doctor to choose the right formula for your infant. But what if you get to the grocery store and find that the formula your doctor recommended, or the one you’ve been using, isn’t in stock?
Baby formula alternatives
If you’re having a hard time finding formula or don’t have enough time to run out to the store to buy more, you’ll want to avoid making your own or watering down formula to make it last longer.
“Baby formulas have a very careful balance of electrolytes and nutrients, so it’s not safe to make your own,” says Dr. Noss. “It could cause anything from seizures to brain damage.”
Diluting the formula is also a bad idea. It can cause an imbalance of electrolytes, particularly sodium, which could also lead to things like seizures or swelling of the brain.
When to take your child off formula
Formula should be used at least until your child is one year old. After that, in certain cases, you may be able to give them whole milk until they turn two.
You should ask your pediatrician before switching to cow’s milk. It’s low in protein and iron, which are crucial for newborns, so that decision should only be made with your pediatrician’s approval.
“Also avoid giving them skim or reduced fat milk until after they turn two,” says Dr. Noss. “The calories and fat in formula and whole milk are very important for their brain development in their first two years.”
Talk to your pediatrician
So, what should you do if you can’t find your formula? You can start by looking in stores you don’t usually visit, and you can call your pediatrician for help. Their office may have samples to give you, or they can help you find other resources.
If you try these without luck, you can also switch to a similar name brand or generic brand.
“You might find a little intolerance here and there, but generally that gets better with time,” Noss said. “Ask your pediatrician for suggested alternatives to your child’s regular formula.”
If you want to do research before you head to the store, you can also visit hhs.gov/formula or your formula manufacturer’s website to find places where formula can be found.
Whatever you choose, make sure the formula you use is balanced and has the proper nutrients, and be careful when buying online to make sure you’re buying from a trusted source.