02 July 2010

homemade baby formula

I wrote this last night to someone who had asked about our foray into making our own baby formula. Thought it might be useful to share, so I cut and pasted.

This is what we did. This is not endorsed by Sally Fallon or the Weston A. Price Foundation. This is not gospel. Some of you might not think this is practical, some may even consider it to be 'risky'. This is just a little chronicle of the choices we made around Selah's food for the first year of her life. I do think it's important just to be aware of options. Here's the option we selected.

I'm a healthy eater who does things my own way. When I realized that I wasn't making enough milk after Selah was born, I tried going to the lactation groups and taking more fenungreek supplements than anyone really ever should (I reeked of maple syrup, which is what happens when you are taking your weight in fenungreek every day). My milk just wasn't happening, turns out it was my genetics (not enough glandular tissue in my itty bitties). In the hospital I met a midwife who gave me a supplementing kit and I (very sadly, very reluctantly) supplemented with some formula. I felt like a holistic failure, but I cut myself some slack as I had a c-section so I was doing my best. She was still getting whatever breast milk I had along with enough organic Similac to keep her full. I knew I would have preferred to make my own formula but at the time it was a triumph even to stand up, so I was happy with my small victories.

When Selah hit 3 weeks old, she went through a little growth spurt and we started to give her bottles in addition to me nursing her with the supplement. Right away she started having diarrhea for several days. This concerned me so I brought her to the pediatrician who was filling in for her regular pediatrician. This was at the Marino Center in Cambridge, a place that is supposedly open to holistic and complementary therapies. Well, this woman was fairly young, not a mother, and had no idea who Weston A. Price or Sally Fallon were and she was terrified of giving me the go ahead to feed the baby the formula. I knew the baby had diarrhea because the Similac was cow dairy-based and she couldn't tolerate the protein. I was a new mom, but I knew that much. So I said, "thank you very much, doctor" and started to give Selah some goat milk (got the Myenberg at Trader Joe's and then transitioned to the Old Hill or Old Mill or something like that at Whole Foods) that was watered down by half along with infant vitamins. I did that for a few days, just as a way to transition, and immediately her diarrhea cleared up (shocker). It wasn't just coincidental. Cow dairy still gives her the runs. Their recommendation was to put her on alimentum. I gave her one bottle of alimentum and was like, "This is stupid, I'm giving my baby real food not some processed junk."

Let me just say that this whole process was not without some serious "oh my god am I going to kill my baby" thoughts. It is SO SO hard to buck the trend, and SO hard to go against what even your pediatrician is saying. Once I brought all of the materials to my pediatrician - the Weston A. Price foundation website is really great - and she read through them, she literally sent me an email that read, "I DO NOT recommend you give your child this formula as the sodium content is too high. DO NOT..." And again I wrote her back and said, "I respect your opinion as you are the doctor, and I'm still going to make my own decisions as her mother. I am not convicned that commercial formula is a better choice for her, nor do I necessarily believe that simply because there are nutrients listed on the side of the bottle/box that they actually make their way into the baby's body in the proportions that they exist in the formula. Food always absorbs better than chemicals, and I refuse to give her soy." Some mothers treat their pediatricians like a third parent. That is just not my style. I think doctors are intelligent and have their place, but when it comes to many things I am now confident enough to trust my instinct.

The final sticking point that made me start to make the formula and give it to the baby with much less fear was when my grandmother came to visit. Now, grandma gave birth to and raised all 11 of my aunts and uncles. Yes. Eleven. I was talking to her about my challenges, about considering making the formula for Selah, and grandma said, "Oh yeah, I never made enough milk [now she tells me] and we always made formula to supplement for the babies." So of course I am thrilled and say, "Really, Gram?! What was in it!?" She says, "Well, evaporated milk, water, and karo syrup. They were fine, they liked it and they grew fine." Holy shit I guess they grew fine on karo syrup and evaporated milk. I reflected for a moment on eleven of my aunts and uncles consuming this formula as infants and immediately decided that I could give my child goat milk without much qualm.

I don't own a goat. I don't know anyone who owns a goat. Raw goat milk as recommended by Sally Fallon was not in the cards. I took a look at the recipes in her Nourishing Traditions book and decided what would be do-able and sustainable for me. I went onto this website to see what this whole endeavor was going to cost me: http://www.radiantlifecatalog.com/product/HOMEMADE-BABY-FORMULA-INGREDIENTS/raw-milk-infant-formula

So here's basically what we came up with as an adaptation of the formula (as Selah grew and started eating more, we doubled the recipe):

2 cups goat milk
2 cups purified water (we just boiled the water first and left it warm)
4 tablespoons lactose
2 tsp nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp infant probiotics
1/4 tsp acerola powder
1/2 tsp cod liver oil
1 tsp sunflower oil
1 tsp olive oil
2 tsp coconut oil

I did not use cream - I tried once and the child projectile vomited all over me. I chalk that one up to the cow dairy (there is no such thing as goat cream), but I also couldn't find any raw-ish or not ultrapasteurized cream. So I left it out.

Because I bought that package on the Radiant Life website (I'll write more about shopping in the next chapter), it came with a big thing of gelatin. I never used it. My understanding is that the gelatin pairs with the raw cow milk to aid in digestion, but I wasn't using raw milk or cow milk so I left it out.

I tried to use goat whey for a few batches. I literally took some goat milk yogurt and strained it overnight so the whey came out and added it to the formula. This yielded a lot of goat milk cream cheese (that we never used) and not much whey, and it was expensive. Ix-nay on the hey-way.

I put it in a blender and mixed it up well, and then stored it in a Kleen Kanteen. We'd whip it up every other day and then portion it out per bottle. Once you get comfortable with it, you'll memorize the recipe and it takes no more than 10 minutes to make. To me this is worth it. Our new pediatrician (who had heard of this and who had no qualms about it) was surprised we were willing to ante up to that much labor. But of course if you're interested in it, you're willing to put in the effort.

It smells like earthy fishy milk when you're done with it. I would not be inclined to drink it myself, but it does smell better to me than commercial formula. I'd drink the sweet earthy fishy milk over Similac or Enfamil any day. And honestly the baby loved it, she never had any issue with the taste.


The $150.00 sticker shock of that Radiant Life package made me pause for a second to make sure I wasn't going completely mad. It ended up being a good way to get all of the ingredients into my house by mail and then figuring out where I could actually get them retail. Here's what I've come up with:

goat milk - Old Mill at Whole Foods, comes in the half gallon. I chose this one because it's more local than the Myenberg and it also does not have vitamin D added like the Myenberg does. Too much vitamin D is not really a big issue, but there's quite a bit of it in the cod liver oil so I chose the milk without any added. That half gallon will run you about $7.69.
purified water (we just boiled tap water first and left it warm)
lactose - we still ordered this from the catalog as I haven't found anywhere that carries lactose and you use a lot of it
nutritional yeast - they recommend Frontier brand because it contains folic acid. We use Red Star, available also at Whole Foods in the baking section.
infant probiotics - we use Udo's infant's probiotics. I think they also have these at Whole Foods, or we get them at our neighborhood natural food store Cambridge Naturals. Otherwise the ones that come from the catalog are good. Keep these in the fridge.
acerola powder - catalog, but really i think we only ever ended up having to get two of these over the course of a year because you use so little of it
cod liver oil - this is most definitely a catalog purchase. Ayano (Selah's dad) very firmly attributes Selah's mental aptitude with having had cod liver oil every day. It is very important that fish oil is sourced well to be sure you're avoiding mercury and have the proper complement of essential fatty acids, and I was pleased with the information I gathered about the brand of cod liver oil they sell through Radiant Life. Keep this in the fridge.
sunflower oil, olive oil, coconut oil - these are all Whole Foods items. Please be sure to get them organic, extra virgin, unrefined, and cold pressed and keep them in the fridge. There are many oils in the grocery store so try to be vigilant (especially the first few times so you get used to what the labels look like) with having all of those qualities to your oils. They're pretty delicate so you want to keep them cool so they don't go rancid. Warming them before you give her the bottle is fine.

Benefits, Issues, Etc.

So it's one year later (Selah is 15 months old) and I feel very confident in my choice to give Selah the formula. She is ridiculously healthy, never been sick (knock wood). She's had a few stuffy noses, a little cough, and two nights of a fever that I chalk up to teething, but we've never taken her to the doctor because she's been sick. This I'm sure also has to do with the fact that she's been home with Ayano all year and hasn't been in day care, but they see their fair share of kids at the library, the playground, around town, etc. The cod liver oil, probiotics, and vitamin C (acerola powder) are really excellent for immunity. Sometimes we take them if we're feeling a little under the weather and they help to knock germs out right away.

She is on the small side for her age. This concerned me until she started walking. She is smart and fine and happy and a peanut. It might have something to do with the formula. It might not. She eats food now and we still give her a bottle a day of goat milk with some cod liver oil and nutritional yeast (because she doesn't eat meat... we don't eat meat but I've tried to give it to her and she spits it out). The nutritional yeast has the B vitamins that she needs along with that folic acid I mentioned.

It is expensive. We are not rolling in the dough by ANY stretch of the imagination. Not even close. But in my life I spend the most amount of money on food anyway, and this is important to me so it's my choice. It's not for everyone. Traveling is sometimes challenging because you have to make a bunch of formula in advance, or pack up your materials, or make the concentrated formula and find a place to buy goat milk once you arrive (all of these things we've done), but honestly it is never a big deal when you know that you're giving your child real food. I don't trust the FDA at all, and I am proud of myself for choosing to use my own brain on this one.

I would be happy to come to you and help you through the first round of formula and/or the shopping part if you'd like. I know that it can feel overwhelming or daunting, but once you get the hang of it, it's easy.

Hang in there, mama!! Let me know your questions!!


  1. Well done, Mama! I can't imagine doing this in the early days, but they way you've written it out it does seem possible.

    Fortunately, E does not seem to be lactose intolerant, but Victor was as a baby. After trying many different things, his mom found that goat's milk was the only thing that worked.

  2. I feel like this should be shared on Offbeat Baby! I bet a ton of their readers would love this info!

  3. i don't even know what that is!

  4. hi AMelia. this is a great post. You are very generous to have written it up with such honesty and detail. She is one healthy girl.

  5. my favorite thing about this post is that you remind people, mamas, that we are The Mama, they are a doctor. i admire so much about you amelia, especially your courage and conviction to think.

  6. Hooray for healthy Selah, and for the stick-to-it-iveness of Amelia!

    And as for the sticker shock, organic formula isn't cheap either. I did a quick calculation:

    Radiant Life's kit was $414 for ~6 months (36 oz per day) of formula= $69 per month (plus the goat milk)

    Bright Beginnings Organic (what Lucy likes best) bought also in bulk (6 cans is about a month) = $124

    Maybe your DIY whole food option is, in fact, less expensive?

  7. Hooray for healthy Selah, and for the stick-to-it-iveness of Amelia!

    And as for the sticker shock, organic formula isn't cheap either. I did a quick calculation:

    Radiant Life's kit was $414 for ~6 months (36 oz per day) of formula= $69 per month (plus the goat milk)

    Bright Beginnings Organic (what Lucy likes best) bought also in bulk (6 cans is about a month) = $124

    Maybe your DIY whole food option is, in fact, less expensive?

  8. That's why our baby is so blessed smart and resilient; her wisdom genes done fed her right

  9. Any word on your transition? Methods, amounts, etc? Sounds like you did a great thing and I'm hoping ot transfer my daughter to this starting next week.

  10. Hi Joe - not sure of your circumstances (age of your daughter, etc.) but we were able to make the change over a couple of days. It's now been 5 years so the particulars are no longer crystal clear in my memory, but like I wrote she likes the taste and didn't have a problem with eating it up. For the amounts, she started having a few (3-5) ounces per bottle and then increased as she grew to full-sized bottles. The recipe I list lasted us 2 days until she was about 6 months, then we doubled it... Not so different in quantity from breast milk or formula, their little bellies can only hold so much. She's still a healthy kid, thank heavens.