Homemade Formula: Recipe for Disaster

09/07/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Barbara Dehn Nurse Barb is a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner, lecturer at Stanford and appears regularly on TV as a health expert.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has done a great job encouraging moms to breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first 6 months of life. As it turns out, very few moms are able to do this. Some estimates are that about 25-30% of moms are still breastfeeding at 6 months and less than 10% are exclusively breastfeeding. This is way short of the goal of 50% of moms breastfeeding at 6 months.

I wrote Your Personal Guide to Breastfeeding and have helped countless moms successfully breastfeed their babies. But I've also been practicing for over 20 years, and have learned a few things about how real women react in real life situations.

The fact is that most babies do drink some infant formula in their first 6-12 months of life. The problem is that moms who are bottle feeding are not getting enough information according to a review of research published in July in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

"Inadequate information and support for mothers who decide to bottle-feed may put the health of their babies at risk," according to the study authors. "While it is important to promote breast-feeding, it is also necessary to ensure that the needs of bottle-feeding mothers are met."

My experience working with moms echoes these findings. Many of the moms who can't breastfeed, for whatever reason, feel tremendous pressure to breastfeed, that they don't quite measure up, which can lead to feelings of guilt, shame and anger, when things don't work out the way they expected. I've treated too many moms with postpartum depression that was triggered by loss of sleep and inability to breastfeed.

Homemade Formula?

I've also heard of too many moms cooking up their own formula recipes at home, because of misinformation, which can have long lasting serious consequences to their child's growth and development.

Despite what you might have read on the internet, home-made formulas can be very dangerous and lack important nutrients or have too much of one ingredient or another which can lead to kidney damage, poor growth, serious anemia and many other complications, which parents may not see until it's too late.

What's concerning is when we insist that every mom breastfeed and set up goals that sound great in the abstract, but may be impossible in many mom's day to day lives, we can set moms and their babies up for failure. The fact is that many moms must return to work, which sorry guys, influences breastfeeding rates.

Healthy Babies Is The Goal

So if most babies are fed formula, then for goodness sakes, let's make sure their parents have enough education on how to properly prepare the formula and the bottles. The authors in the study also found that, "Mothers received little information on bottle-feeding, they did not feel empowered for decision-making, and they often made mistakes when preparing bottles, which could increase the risk for infection, excessive weight gain, or malnourishment."

In my mind, breastfeeding is Plan A, and of course, we're promoting, educating and practically standing on our heads to get more moms to breastfeed. Let's also remember to have Plan B, our just in case, back up plan, in case Plan A doesn't work out the way we want it to, and support and educate all parents about how to prepare formula, so they're not left without the resources they need to provide their babies with the best nutrition possible for healthy growth and development.