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What to feed baby when breast milk isn’t an option: healthier infant formula and beyond.

Women who breastfed their babies talk about it as one of most wonderful, intimate things they have ever experienced. This may be because years of harmonious snuggling stand between them and those early weeks of figuring out how to do something considered so natural that it should be simple. But I have seen more tears shed over early breastfeeding struggles than any other single parenting issue.

Over the years, I have met mothers who lactated for their adopted babies, mothers who pursued infant formula companies to discover what’s really in commercial formulas, and mothers who made their own infant formula, all to give their babies the best possible first nourishment.

Almost 90 percent of mothers in North America want to or try to initiate breast- feeding. If it were possible to just get all of those women successfully nursing for the first six months, the human health, economic, and environmental benefits would be profound. But what about those woman who want to but can’t breastfeed or for those 10 percent who don’t even want to… what is the healthiest next best thing?

1. Breast milk sharing.

Breast milk is a magic combination of fat, protein, lactose, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, probiotics designed especially for the baby gut, DHA (omega-3 fatty acids), and antibodies. Colostrum, your first milk, is so well geared for the needs of developing your baby’s gut and immune system that the WHO calls it a baby’s “first immunization.” Breast milk sharing can happen in a lot of forms. For instance, the most high-need babies, such as Premies, can get  breast milk from a breast milk bank associated with the hospital. This is in very limited supply, though, and pasteurized. Breast milk sharing can be as simple as asking for a friend to pump for you. Women breast milk share by wet nursing their friends’ babies, by donating to breast milk banks, or by finding breast milk donors on Facebook.

There are four pillars of safely sharing breast milk, says Shell Walker from Eats on Feets. These include: 1 — informed choice; 2 — donor screening; 3 — safe handling; and 4 — options for home pasteurization.  Look on the web for Eats on Feets or Human Milk for Human Babies.

2. Make your own.

If your own or donor breast milk is not an option for your baby, and you must provide formula, I highly recommend that you make your own. You can get excellent time-tested advice and research about this from the Weston A. Price Foundation and from the book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. Their basic recipe includes whole milk, whey, lactose, Bificobacgerium infantis, cream, cod liver oil, unrefined sunflower oil, extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, nutritional yeast, gelatin, and acerola powder. They also have a goat milk recipe and a meat-based formula for babies who have sensitivities to dairy or a rare metabolic disorder causing lactose intolerance. You can also supplement your organic commercial infant formula to make it easier to digest and healthier. (See the related article on how to make your own dairy-free infant formula.)

3. If you must buy commercial infant formula, buy it powdered and organic.

In North America, Babys Only Organic Dairy Formula made by Nature’s One seems to be the better of the options. It has a BPA-free can and was the only formula company to eliminate arsenic from rice in response to the crisis around the presence of high levels of the element. I also like that they follow the WHO guidelines for infant formula marketing (that’s the reason it’s labelled as a Toddler formula even though it is formulated for babies.) I recommend avoiding liquid formulations because the lining of infant formula cans almost always contain BPA (or other bisphenol) which leaches more readily into liquid than powder. A lot of money is spent marketing infant formula to women all over the world. It’s important that you realize that there are significant health issues with using commercial infant formula even in the first world. Learn more at Kelly Mom, Formula Feeding Doubles Infant Deaths in America, and Cornucopia Institute.


4. Do not buy soy formula.

Mounting research indicates soy formula can harm a child’s developing endocrine system and may be linked to ADHD, early onset of menses, and early formation of breast tissue. It also may contain dangerous levels of aluminum and manganese. Most major health organizations in both Canada and the United States recommend against using soy formula except in the rare situation of medical necessity. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns of the “potential harmful effects of soy protein-based formulas and the phytoestrogens they contain,” but says despite their cautions against soy formula,  it still makes up more than 20% of formula sales in the U.S. Not to mention that most dairy-based formulas contain soy as well.  (REMEMBER: your baby isn’t lactose intolerant without you knowing, because breastmilk is very high in lactose so a truly lactose-intolerant baby would have never survived its first few weeks of life until very recently).

5. Avoid the most dangerous food additives.

Food additives such as hydrolyzed proteins, carrageenan, and refined sugars are prevalent in commercially available infant formulas. Even organic formula can be an issue with some companies even using sucrose (as in table sugar) instead of the more nourishing lactose (seemingly just because it is cheaper and sweeter). The Cornucopia Institute released a study that found that the DHA and ARA used in many commercial infant baby formula’s is not providing the supposed health benefits manufacturers claim and may make baby’s very ill.


5. Use safe baby bottles.

Glass and stainless steel are easy to maintain and free of toxins. The vast majority of plastics can leach some estrogen mimickers, especially when heated, so avoid all plastic bottles, even those labeled BPA-free. Babies can be taught to drink out of a cup from a very young age and the bottle stage can be skipped altogether when transitioning from the breast, as humans have done for most of their history.


6. Always use clean, filtered water.

Tap water and bottled water, even in North America, can be sources of parasites and bacteria as well as other contaminants such as chlorine by-products, weed killers, pesticides, solvents, heavy metals, and nitrates from fertilizers. Always use the highest quality filtered water (from your own secondary filter, preferably one that removes chlorine and its byproducts, flouride, and other chemicals). If filtered water isn’t an option, use cold water from the tap. Let the water run for ten seconds first, to reduce exposure to things like lead from the pipes, and then boil. Exclusively breastfed babies do not need additional water supplementation.

Breastfeeding resources that I love include: Human Milk for Human Babies, Eats on Feats, Kelly Mom, Best for Babes, and La Leche League. (See the Green Mama: Giving Your Child a Healthy Start and a Greener Future for more resources and for inspiring interviews with many of the women that founded these awesome organizations).
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