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Experts warn against parents making their own baby formula

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — Baby formula shortages are forcing parents to get creative to feed their children, but experts warn that trying to make a homemade version of the scarce powder can be dangerous.

“Do not feed your baby homemade formula,” Kansas pediatrician Natasha Burgert tweeted Thursday. “Talk to your pediatrician for advice and options.”

Medical experts are calling for caution amid a baby formula shortage affecting parents across the nation. The shortage was partly caused by supply chain issues, labor shortages and recalls before being compounded by manufacturer Abbott Nutrition being forced to shut down a Michigan plant in the wake of two infant deaths. Abbott has said that there is no link between the two deaths and their formulas.

On Tuesday, Abbott said that they could resume manufacturing formula “within two weeks” if the FDA approves.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden spoke with executives from formula manufacturers Reckitt and Gerber to find ways for his administration to combat the shortage, as well as with representatives from Walmart and Target, according to the Associated Press. Until manufacturing meets demand, however, parents will likely continue to use social media to sell and trade formula, something that has doctors urging parents to be careful.

Dr. Catherine Mims at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital said a lack of formula is a problem many frustrated parents have brought to her recently.

“It’s not as much about not being able to find formula as it is (they’re) frustrated that they’re having to change their formula,” Mims said.

One post in an Oklahoma-based Facebook group shared a recipe from the 1960s — suggesting ingredients like evaporated milk and Karo syrup.

“If you were a pediatrician 40 to 50 years ago, the recipe that is going around with condensed milk was the recipe that we used because there weren’t that many available formulas,” said Mims.  

But now, Mims says, formulas have advanced — and are as close to breast milk as possible.

“Condensed milk doesn’t have the same amount of protein and sugar that comes in breast milk or in formula (and) it has none of the micronutrients,” Mims said.

Most importantly, Mims says, making formula at home is something that could easily become dangerous.

“The problem with condensed milk and with the recipe is the electrolyte balance and the water balance,” Mims said. “Unfortunately, babies under 6 months old, they have pretty immature kidneys and don’t handle water that well. Which is why you should not give any babies free water. As you’re making this recipe, if you get it wrong, you could be causing a lot of problems with that electrolyte balance in your baby.” 

Some of these home solutions also discuss vitamins and orange juice— which Mims says are no longer recommended.

In the past, the American Academy of Pediatrics has warned parents against trying to make homemade formula based on a recipe found online:

Homemade formula can harm infants. It might contain too many or not enough nutrients, according to AAP nutrition expert Steven Abrams, M.D., FAAP. Infant formulas are tested by the Food and Drug Administration for quality. They provide the right amount of protein, iron and vitamins that infants need.

Feeding babies homemade formula even for a few days or weeks can have lasting effects and put them at risk of getting sick, according to the AAP.

According to the AAP, these foods should never be given to infants:

  • Homemade formula with ingredients like powdered cow’s milk, raw milk or sugar; plain cow’s milk; or milk substitutes like almond or soy milk. They do not have a balance of ingredients.
  • Imported infant formula. It might have too much or not enough of some ingredients. If it was not stored or shipped correctly, it could be unsafe to use.
  • Watered-down formula. It provides an unbalanced diet and can cause serious growth problems.

If you are having a hard time finding a specific brand, talk to your child’s pediatrician about the options available.


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