Experts explain why it's not safe to make your own baby formula at home (2023)

Amid a shortage, recipes for baby formula proliferate online. But doctors say it's not safe. Here's why

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published May 17, 2022 5:52PM (EDT)
Updated May 18, 2022 12:10PM (EDT)
Experts explain why it's not safe to make your own baby formula at home (1)

Preparing baby milk formula(Getty Images/HUIZENG HU)



view in app

(Video) 'Not safe' | No, people should not make homemade baby formula, experts say

As supply chain breakdowns have led to baby formula shortages throughout America, some enterprising social media personalities have proposed MacGyvering the situationby making your own baby formula. Indeed, numerousrecipes for homemade formulas are currently circulating online; for example, Darla Shine, author of "Happy Housewives," recentlytweeteda baby formula recipe from the 1950s.

There's certainly something appealing about the idea of making formula at home. After all, most of us cook food at home for adults and children; how much harder can it be to mix something up for infants? Do the big baby formula companies really have to have a monopoly on making the stuff?

Unfortunately, it turns out that homemade baby formula recipes aren't necessarily a good idea. In fact, doctors advise against homemade baby formulas in general.

"I attribute the current shortage to an overall failure to invest in maternal-child health," Felder explained.

What makes it so hard to replicate? It turns out that the problem is simply that, because babies are so vulnerable, it is not easy to create a formula that ideally serves their nutritional and other biological needs. Nutritionists create baby formulas in a very precise way for a good reason. Likewise, it is hard to maintain sterility in a home kitchen to the degree that baby food requires.

RELATED:Republicans' "pro-life" pivot: GOP suddenly outraged by baby formula shortage

"I can understand that parents are overwhelmed and are trying to create a solution to make sure their babies are fed; however, creating homemade formula is not recommended," Dr. Tisha Felder, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina who focuses on women's health research, told Salon by email. "According to the American Academy of Pediatrics [AAP], it is not recommend and can actually be unsafe and harmful to babies because these homemade options do not provide the right balance of nutrients that infants need."

Dr. Jenifer Lightdale, a member of the AAP Committee on Nutrition, told Salon that she is worried about parents creating homemade formulas because there are so many details to making healthy and effective formulas.

Want more health and science stories in your inbox? Subscribe toSalon's weekly newsletter The Vulgar Scientist.

"It's been known for a long time that it is dangerous to take milk off the grocery shelf, whether its cow's milk, soy milk or goat milk, and doctor it so that it has the right ratios of proteins," Lightdale explained. "We also know that the wrong ratio can injure a baby's kidneys or affect their immune systems."

(Video) Experts: Do not make homemade baby formula

Homemade formulas could also hurt babies if they do not have the right amount of electrolytes, sodium, potassium and phosphate, Lightdale added, with errors in those calculations potentially leading to problems like "electrolyte instability, serious dehydration, and even seizures in babies."

Baby formulas also need to be made in a highly sterile environment, as babies have young immune systems that may not always be successful in warding off disease.

"Even if your kitchen is super clean, it is not a sterile environment in the way it should be when making up an infant formula," Lightdale pointed out. "Bacterial and other organisms that don't affect us as adults are naturally everywhere, even when we do our best to use disinfectants, and these can cause serious infections in infants." The recall in the Abbott Laboratories facility that has contributed to the product shortage was reportedly prompted by one such bacteria, Cronobacter sakazakii, Lightdate noted.

Homemade formulas could also hurt babies if they do not have the right amount of electrolytes, sodium, potassium and phosphate, Lightdale added, with errors in those calculations potentially leading to problems like "electrolyte instability, serious dehydration, and even seizures in babies."

Both experts also agree that the underlying problem behind the baby formula shortage is that, quite simply, America's infrastructure has not been developed with the possibility of such a shortage in mind.

"I attribute the current shortage to an overall failure to invest in maternal-child health," Felder explained. "The fact that we have few manufacturers who control the supply of infant formula in this country reflects our lack of forethought that a shortage could likely occur and dramatically impact U.S. families." She noted that federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have failed to come up with programs that increase access to baby formula for women, children and infants until now, even though they could have done so earlier. This"is just another example of how we are not thinking in advance of how we can better support children and families. The U.S. has one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world, and this infant formula shortage is a glaring reminder that we must do more and do better to protect our babies," Felder added.

Lightdale also pinpointed the Abbott recall as the first domino to fall in a system that was already precarious.

"We were aware prior to Abbott's recall in February there were already supply chain shortages, just like we're all seeing with many American items, due to ingredient shortages and transportation woes," Lightdale explained. "Presumably, this was due to the pandemic. I think the recall of essentially all of the powdered formula made by Abbott, which is one of the biggest formula companies in the US, just sent everything over the edge."

For other Salon stories on the baby formula shortage and supply chain issues:

  • Supply chain issues are getting worse — and climate change is a main culprit
  • Climate change is driving supply chain shortages — and your supermarkets are not prepared
  • Climate change is coming for the supermarket

Editor's note: This story was updated on May 18, 2022, to correct the university where Felder works at (University of South Carolina).

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a professional writer whose work has appeared in multiple national media outlets since 2012 and exclusively at Salon since 2016. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012, was a guest on Fox Business in 2019, repeatedly warned of Trump's impending refusal to concede during the 2020 election, spoke at the Commonwealth Club of California in 2021, was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022 and appeared on NPR in 2023. His diverse interests are reflected in his interviews including: President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (1999-2001), animal scientist and autism activist Temple Grandin, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (1997-2001), inventor Ernő Rubik, comedian Bill Burr ("F Is for Family"), novelist James Patterson ("The President's Daughter"), epidemiologist Monica Gandhi, theoretical cosmologist Janna Levin, voice actor Rob Paulsen ("Animaniacs"), mRNA vaccine pioneer Katalin Karikó, philosopher of science Vinciane Despret, actor George Takei ("Star Trek"), climatologist Michael E. Mann, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (2013-present), dog cognition researcher Alexandra Horowitz, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson (2012, 2016), comedian and writer Larry Charles ("Seinfeld"), Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman (2000), Ambassador Michael McFaul (2012-2014), economist Richard Wolff, director Kevin Greutert ("Saw VI"), model Liskula Cohen, actor Rodger Bumpass ("SpongeBob Squarepants"), Senator John Hickenlooper (2021-present), Senator Martin Heinrich (2013-present), Egyptologist Richard Parkinson, Rep. Eric Swalwell (2013-present), Fox News host Tucker Carlson, actor R. J. Mitte ("Breaking Bad"), theoretical physicist Avi Loeb, biologist and genomics entrepreneur William Haseltine, comedian David Cross ("Scary Movie 2"), linguistics consultant Paul Frommer ("Avatar"), Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (2007-2015), computer engineer and Internet co-inventor Leonard Kleinrock and right-wing insurrectionist Roger Stone.

(Video) Medical experts warn against homemade baby formula as shortages continue

MORE FROM Matthew Rozsa

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Baby FormulaHealthInfant HealthProduct ShortagesReportingSupply Chain

Related Articles


(Video) Experts warn against parents making homemade baby formula


Trending Articles from Salon



(Video) No, homemade formula is not safe for babies


1. Baby formula shortage | Experts say don't dilute or DIY
(KARE 11)
2. Health experts caution against homemade, other baby formula substitutes amid shortage
(Renée Cooper)
3. Medical professionals recommend against making your own baby formula
(KRIS 6 News)
4. How to boil your water to sterilize your formula without going insane! - Happy Hour w/ Dr. Young
(Baby Formula Expert)
5. What has caused the baby formula shortage and experts say you can do to feed your baby
6. Why Bill Gates Is Buying Up U.S. Farmland
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Jerrold Considine

Last Updated: 03/31/2023

Views: 6419

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (58 voted)

Reviews: 81% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Jerrold Considine

Birthday: 1993-11-03

Address: Suite 447 3463 Marybelle Circles, New Marlin, AL 20765

Phone: +5816749283868

Job: Sales Executive

Hobby: Air sports, Sand art, Electronics, LARPing, Baseball, Book restoration, Puzzles

Introduction: My name is Jerrold Considine, I am a combative, cheerful, encouraging, happy, enthusiastic, funny, kind person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.