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What’s Lurking In That Baby Formula?


Before we get to the meat (or rather, the milk) of today's post, let's start off with some facts: Everybody knows that breast is best, but not everybody is able (or wants) to breastfeed. From our earliest cave-human days to now, there have been babies who need to be fed and mothers who are unable, for one reason or another, to breastfeed them.

We have always needed, and will always continue to need, a just-in-case alternative. That's a no-brainer. And of course the last thing on Earth I would ever want to do is shame anybody for not being able to (or choosing not to) breastfeed. But I also don't want anybody falling prey to the horrendous healthwashing advertising of companies like Nestle and Gerber. These companies want us to think that a chemical cocktail formula is better than what nature can provide, whether in the form of breastmilk or in the form of more whole, unprocessed formula options.

Nestle in particular has been the target of a number of lawsuits in response to its formula health claims, and its marketing tactics have been linked to the deaths of millions of children in impoverished countries.

We've got a bit of a problem here, and it has nothing to do with the parents who are just trying to do their very best for their babies. It has to do with the enormous pile of crappola that goes into every ounce of conventional formula (not to mention the often BPA-lined containers it comes in.)

Here are the ingredients in infant formula from Similac:


Yes, you are reading that correctly. This infant formula contains 42.6% corn syrup solids, followed by genetically modified protein. You wouldn't eat that. If you can choose another option, choose another option!

Let's take a gander at the ingredients in Nestlé Good Start® formula:

partially hydrolyzed reduced minerals whey protein concentrate (from cow's milk), lactose, corn maltodextrin, palm olein, soybean oil, coconut oil, minerals (potassium citrate, potassium phosphate, calcium chloride, tricalcium phosphate, sodium citrate, magnesium chloride, ferrous sulphate, zinc sulphate, sodium chloride, copper sulphate, potassium iodide, manganese sulphate), high oleic safflower oil or high oleic sunflower oil, vitamins (sodium ascorbate, choline bitartrate, inositol, alpha-tocopheryl acetate, niacinamide, calcium pantothenate, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, vitamin a acetate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, folic acid, phylloquinone, biotin, vitamin d3, vitamin b12), trypsin, taurine, nucleotides, (cytidine 5'-monophosphate, disodium uridine 5'-monophosphate, adenosine 5'-monophosphate, disodium guanosine 5'-monophosphate), l-carnitine.

Wait... What? Let's Break This Down

  • Partially hydrolized whey protein: Whey protein comes from cow's milk, which is one of the most common food allergies in children. Allergic reactions can include diarrhea, hives and swelling of the lips.
  • Corn maltodextrin: Corn maltodextrin is a food additive often found in snack foods like chips and crackers. Given that 80% of corn grown in Canada is genetically modified, it's safe to assume that this cheap food additive comes from GMO corn and not the organic kind. It's also a sweetener.
  • Soybean oil: Soybean oil is cheap, which means it's found in virtually all processed foods. Like corn, unless otherwise noted, it most likely comes from GMO sources. It's a highly unstable oil, so food manufacturers partially hydrogenate it to raise the melting point and stabilize it so it won't turn rancid. The result? An altered chemical structure and, in many cases, trans fats.
  • Palm olein: Research has shown that babies can't properly digest palm oil -- in fact, it reacts with calcium, causing the formation of "soaps" in the baby's intestines, leading to hard stools and lowered bone mass.
  • High oleic safflower oil or high oleic sunflower oil: Safflower/sunflower oils are extremely common in packaged foods (read: cheap) are very high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. If these oils are harmful for adults, why would we feed them to babies just after birth?

Soy-based formulas are even worse -- an infant who is exclusively fed soy formula is estimated to take in the estrogenic equivalent of five birth control pills per day, thanks to soy's phytoestrogens. Judging from the havoc just one birth control pill per day can wreak on an adult woman, those hormones can have lasting, long-term consequences including early onset puberty, menstrual irregularities and fertility issues.

According to the Infant Feeding Action Coalition, formula-fed babies have a higher risk of:

  • Lung infections
  • Ear infections
  • Chronic diseases
  • Lower intelligence
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Diarrhea
  • Diabetes

But we know this already, right? You can't throw a stick without hitting yet another article about the benefits of breastfeeding over formula feeding -- but that doesn't change the fact that if you can't breastfeed, you can't breastfeed (although of course, get yourself hooked up with an amazing lactation consultant to be triple sure the problem can't be fixed.)

So what can you do instead?

  • Reach out to friends and relatives. Know any awesome breastfeeding mamas who would be willing to share milk with you? For every woman with low supply issues, there's another woman experiencing the exact opposite.
  • Connect with a milk bank or milk-share group. Even if you don't have anyone in your immediate network who is willing to donate breastmilk, there are lots of organized groups designed to solve just that problem. If your baby is premature or hospitalized due to illness, you may be able to get pasteurized donor milk by prescription through a milk bank like the Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank. But even if your baby is healthy, there are a variety of other networking groups available to help you find a donor, such as Human Milk 4 Human Babies. Just remember that in most cases, safety screenings will be up to you to arrange.
  • Consider making your own formula. There are recipes out there for homemade baby formula, which may be right for you, depending on your comfort level. One such recipe was created by the Weston A. Price Foundation. I recommend discussing this option with your paediatrician or naturopath.
  • Find the best organic, non-gmo commercial formula you can -- and read the label! If it comes down to it, you may need to use formula. But you have the power to decide which formula you feed your baby. Avoid ingredients like refined sugars (corn syrup solids, maltodextrin), palm oil, soy and carageenan. But keep in mind that in most cases, organic formulas contain almost the exact same ingredients as the conventional brands -- just organic. Better? A little. But still not great. Buy the best quality organic, non-GMO formula you can find, and investigate donor options so you can possibly supplement with breast milk. And don't beat yourself up -- remember that what you feed your kid later is just as important.

Did you struggle with breastfeeding? How did you decide on an alternative? Or do you know of an amazing ready-made option?

46 Responses to “What’s Lurking In That Baby Formula?”

  1. Charlene said…
    Hello Meghan, I am totally accepting of breast feeding and understand the benefits of it. Besides being highly nutritious and well balanced in nutrients, natural antibodies for immune system building, reduced allergies, cost effective, creates positive mental and emotional as well as physical development etc. The list goes on. However, supplemental formula feeds for mothers who cannot breast feed is not ideal. As a nurse, midwife, mother and holistic nutritionist (student) I have observed the ill effects on babies with formula feeds. Mothers can prepare their own milk at home which will be free from all unnatural and unhealthy additives and preservatives. Organic oats and even almond nuts can be soaked over night even allowed to sprout (almonds) and then blended in cool boiled water and the milk strained and used for feeding. This can be refrigerated and even frozen for later use. After working in the Caribbean and in the UK this has proven successful and beneficial to babies where breast feeding was not an option. Natural and simple always best.
  2. Louise said…
    If you are looking to get your formula quick and at a great price, I recommended . They also sell Hipp & Lebenswert. As well as cereals, teas and biscuits. They are the original Holle sellers in the USA. You receive your products within 1 to 3 days and amazing customer service.
  3. Nina said…
    After being terrified at being forced to give my son formula when he was 5 months old due to my extreme drop in milk production I searched and found Natural Baby Organics, they are located in CA I believe and my formula always arrives within a few days and the owner is super friendly and responds to all my questions super fast. Any moms in the U.S. should def check them out
  4. Suzanne said…
    Hello I completely disagree with the fact formula fed babies are more open to Lung infections Ear infections Chronic diseases Lower intelligence Allergies Asthma Heart disease Obesity Diarrhea Diabetes I have a 12 year breastfed only for 1 month then he was on formula. He has never had an ear infection nor has he ever gotten really sick, no asthma no allergies. And he is on the honor roll and highly intellectual. Even though he is in grade 6 he studies at a grade 9 level. And now I have a 7 month old and only breastfed for 3 days and been on formula ever since. Abd not once has he gotten sick/infections. My problem with breast milk is that it's only as good as the stuff the mom eats. And realistically everything we eat has preservatives, and be truthfull how many moms can actually say they only eat organic veggies and fruits? No pop no coffee? I chose to put my kids on formula because and I have never had an issue. I admit my eating habits are not that great.. I love my coffee. Therefore after I give them the colostrum in the beginning I put them on formula :)
  5. Marilene said…
    Much to my sadness, I have not been able to provide enough milk for my daughter since Day 3. I was able to get donor milk from a dear network of fact she's had 5 women's milk, one of whom I've never met! But a baby's milk needs are high so we had to give her formula. I prioritized it being organic because it is so hard to find a formula that is available easily/affordable in Canada that is totally clean. We've settled on Earth's Best which is good but not great. I have a box of Hipp at home to try as well. I give the formula via a tube at the breast so that she can get any drops of milk I do have and for the bonding...the best of both worlds. To any moms struggling with breastfeeding, I hope you can get help and then shake off any guilt you feel. You know your baby best!
  6. Audrey said… November 20, 2018
    Similarly to Marilena and Andrea, I am at a loss as to where to find the better of the formula alternatives in Canada. I am due any day and have the Earth’s Best organic formula as a back up (in case I cannot feed in the hospital and am forced to give formula - I do not want to have to use what they provide), but have had such difficulty trying to find/access any of the cleaner formulas.
  7. Peggy B. said… February 10, 2019
    Hello :) I experienced the same shock when I read the baby formula ingredients and I knew that my baby should not eat it. After a lot of research and recommendations, the choice fell on Hipp, Holle, and Lebenswert. It has been developed according to strict regulations, respecting quality standards and fully adapted to baby needs. Our baby is satisfied, and we are happy. I can not describe how satisfied I am and I'm happy to recommend to everyone.
  8. Miranda Wulf said… March 12, 2019
    Hi Meghan, thank you for this article! Were you aware that the formula you break down here (Nestle Good Start) they are claiming their ingredients are from non GMO sources? With no 3rd party claim on the label. Just good ol' Nestle's word. Ahem. I have no idea how to research if this is true or you think you have it in you to investigate? Do a follow-up article? With my twins I breastfed until 5 months and then had to supplement, so made Weston A. Price's MEAT formula. LOL. As well as imported Holle as a stop-gap (aaaand friggin pumped at 8pm evvvery night to keep my own supply up)...and now I'm trying to convince my friend to invest in a similar strategy. She's using the formula you outline here! So the GMO argument is not going to work on her because it's "on the label". Love your work. Thanks for all you do! <3
  9. Miranda Wulf said… March 12, 2019
    Also - for moms out there looking for those European formula, we bought ours in a case-lot from Europe from You can invest in trying the formulas first from a Canadian importer, just to see how baby does, and then import your own for much less. We landed on Holle Goat Milk (first ingredient was WHOLE milk from pastured goats, already a vast improvement on what we have here), it worked out to be half the price to import a case than buy in Canada. We just had to fork out $900 up-front. But. Worth it in my eyes. That's what credit cards were made for. Amiright? Love to all you mamas out there struggling with boobs and bottles!

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