Recently, a friend and I had a discussion about infant formula. Which is the best infant formula? Which is the safest and has no harmful ingredients? I did not have an answer and decided to do some digging.
When my first son was born with complications which you can read about here, my mother, a prior lactation consultant, strongly encouraged me to breastfeed as long as possible. My son was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for his first thirty days, the first seven of which he was fully sedated and hooked up to multiple tubes. Because of that I never nursed him. I was working full-time and managed to pump and bottle feed him breast milk for the first eight months, after which I switched to Enfamil per my pediatrician’s suggestions. (One of the worst with no organic option.) This was before my son developed chronic colds, flu, allergies and asthma. It was before I knew the importance of healthy living to ensure the best possible future for my kids.
With my second, I knew I would breastfeed to avoid the possibility of allergies – my first son has suffered so much. Sometimes, however, breastfeeding just doesn’t work. I know women that couldn’t because of their work schedule. I know women who couldn’t because their baby had terrible reflux which got better with formula. I know women who just couldn’t do it! While I have the strong opinion that breast milk is the absolute best, I also understand that as mothers it is important we do what works for us, as well as our kids. The most important thing is that baby is being fed.
My friend and I discussed how many people our age were formula-fed; not too long ago pediatricians recommended formula over breast milk. We all turned out fine, right? Unfortunately for babies today, a lot has changed in the formula ingredient list. According to this article written by Charlotte Vallaeys, former of Director of Farm and Food Policy at the Cornucopia Institute and now a Senior Analyst within the Consumer Safety and Sustainability Program at Consumers Union, human milk is sweeter than cows milk due to a higher lactose content. Most commercial infant formula is cow milk based, and therefore manufacturers must add sweetener to have it be comparable. While lactose was formerly the sweetener which was added, manufacturers now use corn syrup instead in order to reduce costs. There are several other ingredients which are now added to infant formula which are potentially harmful.
Harmful ingredients in organic infant formula include:
- Sweeteners – As I mentioned above, lactose is no longer used in infant formulas, even though that is what is naturally found in human breast milk. In order to reduce expenses, corn syrup solids, also known as glucose syrup solids, have replaced lactose – and this is just in the last two to three years! Brown Rice Syrup is used in certain brands which do not contain corn syrup and was found to contain arsenic. Arsenic is now filtered out from the brown rice syrup, but it just verifies that consumers never know what they are getting with formula. Malodexterin is another sweetener derived from corn, rice or potatoes which is less sweet than corn syrup and is commonly used in infant formulas, along side sugar or corn syrup. That’s right – sugar. Similac Organic uses sugar in their recipe, for the United States only. Sugar has been banned from infant formulas in the European Union. Manufacturers are adding a lot of sugar – experts suggest this could be contributing to the rise in childhood obesity and diabetes!
- Soy – Soy is an incomplete source of protein meaning it is missing some amino acids for it to be utilized by the body. It also contains phytates which leach minerals from the body. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, soy formulas contain elevated levels of aluminum making it dangerous for baby. Soy also contains phytoestrogens, which have potential negative effects on sexual development and reproduction, neurobehavioral development, immune function, and thyroid function.
- Palm Oil – Human milk is naturally high in fatty acids, including palimic acid. In formula, palm oil is used in place of palimic acid, which is not properly absorbed due to a different molecular structure. Unabsorbed palm oil reacts with calcium in the gut and soaps (foams) in baby’s intestines which can cause digestive problems. Bone density is less in infants fed formula containing palm oil, most likely because the calcium is not absorbed due to the foaming.
- C. Cohnii oil (DHA) and M. Alpina oil (ARA) – DHA and ARA are naturally found in the human body, however the kind being added to infant formula is extracted using toxic chemicals like hexane from factory grown fungus and algae never before included in the human diet. The Cornucopia Institute filed a lawsuit against organic formula manufacturers in 2008 because hexane extracted ingredients are not organic per law. Further, according to former American Academy of Pediatrics Chair Dr. Frank Greer, these ingredients show no real benefit and have caused diarrhea, vomiting and gastrointestinal distress in many infants. (Source.)
- Carrageenan – This food additive is banned from infant formula in Europe. It is commonly used in medical testing on animal subjects to cause inflammation in order to test the effectiveness of new anti-inflammatory drugs. It has also been shown to cause colon cancer in animal test subjects. It adds no nutritional value, it is solely added to stabilize the “ready-to-feed” formulas. Scary!
In addition to the harmful ingredients above, there are also several synthetic ingredients in organic infant formula. All of these ingredients require processing with toxic solvents:
- Lycopene (synthetic)
If you would like additional detail on these ingredients, please refer to this article written by Charlotte Vallaeys.
So what can I say to my friend about infant formula? I definitely recommend purchasing organic formula only to avoid pesticides and GMO ingredients. The above harmful ingredients, however, are included in organic formula. From the information I have gathered, no infant formula is 100% safe or toxin free. The hard truth is that formula does not compare to human breast milk.
If I were in the situation to not be able to breastfeed, I would try a homemade formula. The Weston A. Price Foundation has a recipe which can be found here, however it calls for raw milk which can be difficult to come by. (And a little scary to use for those of us not used to it.) I love this post by Ashlee from The Crunchy Moose. She adopted her son who had allergies, however once she started him on a goat milk based formula (under the supervision of a homeopathic doctor), all allergy symptoms disappeared. Hearing other’s experience and success stories would motivate me to give their methods a try.
Again, I want to express my understanding for all mother’s and families’ situations. I know that we all do the best we can with the situations we are given and I intend no disrespect for anyone’s personal decisions. Raising children is difficult, especially in the early stages. I hope this information is useful to those it pertains to!
Do you have a good experience with formula? Please share, I am sure there are a lot of mothers who would like to know!! ❤