Why Homemade Baby Formula Isn’t Safe, According to a Pediatrician

Recipes for homemade baby formula have gone viral on social media. Here, a pediatrician explains why making formula at home isn’t a good idea.
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By Wyndi Kappes, Associate Editor
Published May 24, 2022
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Image: Hananeko_Studio/Shutterstock

As the US formula shortage continues, posts promoting homemade formula recipes are quickly going viral on social media. Suggested as an alternative for families who can’t find formula in stores, this seemingly helpful idea can, in fact, be quite dangerous; reports of babies hospitalized after ingesting homemade formula have sprung up across the country. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently shared a statement on Twitter strongly advising parents against homemade formula because of the health risks it poses.

To learn more about why homemade formula isn’t a safe alternative, we spoke with Natalya Vernovsky, MD, a board-certified pediatrician with JustAnswer. Below, she offers five must-know truths about homemade baby formula.

1. Homemade Formula Isn’t a Safe Substitute for Store-Bought

“Infants have very specific nutritional needs. Commercially prepared baby formula has precise amounts of major nutritional components—proteins, fats, carbohydrates, as well as a strictly regulated quantity of minerals, vitamins and other nutritional substances. This particular proportion of ingredients assures adequate and safe nutrition, effective metabolism and elimination,” Vernovsky says. “Formula recipes found online often don’t have the nutritional components necessary for proper digestion. Even if you use similar ingredients to make your own formula, there is no way you can ensure the proportions are correct. Newborns are rapidly developing and maturing, so the nutrition they receive in their first few months is critical. Lack of nutrients or too high of a concentration of minerals can have a major long-term impact on their organs and overall growth.”

2. Homemade Formula Can Prove Fatally Dangerous

“There are numerous serious and possibly life-threatening risks related to homemade baby formula,” Vernovsky warns. “Consumption of homemade formula can lead to an electrolyte and fluid imbalance, causing dehydration, seizures and even brain swelling that can be fatal. Likewise, a disproportionate amount of nutrients or minerals can cause kidney damage. Because homemade formula is prone to contamination, infants can develop a fever, vomiting, bloody diarrhea or gut inflammation in response to an infection.”

3. Just Because It Was Used in the Past Doesn’t Make it Safe Now

“Old homemade formula recipes were never completely safe. Many infants got sick and were admitted to the hospital due to health problems triggered by homemade recipes,” Vernovsky says. “We did not understand the detrimental effects poor nutrition could have on a baby’s health in the past. Now that we know how to regulate and create balanced formulas in factories, we can reliably provide infants with the nutrition they need to stay healthy.”

4. There Are No Safe Formula Substitutes

“There are no safe homemade formulas,” Vernovsky says. “Whether it’s a centuries-old recipe concocted by your friend’s grandmother, cow’s milk, goat milk, soy milk, etc., none of these substitutes provide babies the nutrition they need and can introduce harmful infections.” The AAP has stated that if your baby is approaching one year old, toddler formula can be used for a few days while you search for baby formula.

5. Don’t Water Down Baby Formula

“Formula shouldn’t be diluted with additional water to make it last longer,” Vernovsky says. “Watering down formula can cause a fluid and sodium imbalance, leading to potentially significant health risks.”

Turning to recipes for homemade formula may not be safe, but there are other things you can do during this stressful time. Switch up your formula brand or type of formula, ask your pediatrician for a sample, or check out retailers you don’t usually buy from. These 16 resources can help you in your search.

About the expert: JustAnswer physician Natalya Vernovsky, MD, has been a board-certified pediatrician for over 23 years. Vernovsky earned her medical degree from Rush University Medical Center, where she also completed her residency. Throughout her career, she has helped thousands of kids affected by common acute and chronic illnesses, rare diseases, genetic syndromes, developmental disorders, emotional and psychological problems.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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