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‘Please ... do not make baby formula at home,’ warns Duke doctor. What to do instead.

The baby formula shortage is worsening, especially impacting low-income parents and parents who can’t breastfeed.

As baby formula is getting more and more difficult to find, many desperate parents are asking: Is homemade infant formula safe for babies?

The News & Observer talked to Dr. Elizabeth S. Erickson, a pediatrician with Duke Health, who shared why you should not make and feed homemade infant formula to your babies.

Is homemade baby formula safe?

The short answer is no.

“Please, and I can’t stress this enough, do not make baby formula at home.” Erickson said.

Infant formula is highly regulated and has very specific formulations that make it safe for infant consumption, she said. With homemade formula recipes, there’s no quality control to ensure the formula is safe or that it has the appropriate nutritional balance for the baby.

For babies under six months old, the kidneys are not good at maintaining an electrolyte balance, and it can be dangerous to ask their bodies to process a concoction that’s not nutritionally sound, she said.

This is also why you shouldn’t dilute your formula to stretch out the amount you have, Erickson said. The nutritional balance needs to be maintained so your baby’s body can process it correctly.

When feeding babies homemade formulas or diluting the recipe, you’re putting your baby at risk of hyponatremia, or low sodium in the blood, which can lead to seizures, Erickson said.

Can I make baby formula with goat milk and honey?

No, you should not do this.

Goat milk and honey are popular ingredients in homemade baby formula recipes on the internet, Erickson said, but these are unsafe for children.

Goat milk can lead to vitamin deficiencies, and honey (when given to babies under one year old) can lead to botulism.

Steer clear of any recipe, baby formula or not, that calls for unpasteurized dairy products, which can cause bacterial infections.

“There are lots of people who say that before there was a formula manufacturing industry, people did make their own formulas, and yes that is true — and they were also still unsafe,” she said.

“There’s a message that ‘we used to do it back in the day,’ but that doesn’t mean it was a safe choice then either.”

What can I feed my baby instead of formula?

Introduce complementary foods, if possible.

Formula and breastmilk, if possible, provide complete nutrition for children under six months old. But for children between six months and a year, you can begin adding complementary foods.

This can be for children as young as four months old, Erickson said, but you should check in with your pediatrician about that.

Is generic brand baby formula OK?

If you can’t find your preferred brand, use another brand, if possible.

“The branding of formula is really just marketing, so using generic infant formula or switching between brands is not harmful to kids,” Erickson said.

“It’s like Pepsi versus Coke. Some people do have very strong opinions about soda, so some babies may or may not like the slight difference, but it’s perfectly safe to switch off between brands.”

Erickson recommends reaching out to friends and neighbors who might have formulas to share, though it may be a different brand than you’re used to.

If your child has allergies or sensitivities, your pediatrician’s office might have formula for you.

Can you use formula that is expired?

You should not.

Expired baby formula is not good for your baby, Kelley Massengale (director of research and evaluation for the Diaper Bank of North Carolina), told The N&O in a previous report. The Diaper Bank does not give out expired formula, she said.

Beyond the “use by” date on formula, the nutrients in the formula will begin to degrade, Benjamin Chapman, a professor and food safety extension specialist at NC State University, told The Bump, a website for parents.

Why is there a baby formula shortage?

The N&O previously reported that the baby formula shortage was a result of pandemic-related supply chain issues, inflation, weather delivery disruptions and recent recalls, according to WREG Memphis.

Abbott Nutrition, which produces popular baby formulas like Similac and Elecare, recently recalled specific kinds of powdered formulas following infant hospitalizations and two linked deaths.

Food banks, diaper banks and other family organizations needed to toss a large quantity of formula from their shelves, local leaders told The N&O.

“These infant formula shortages are exacerbating an already critical need for the families we serve at the Diaper Bank of North Carolina. The need for formula is not new, but our ability to meet the need is now more challenging with the shortages,” said the Diaper Bank’s Massengale.

“We average about 400 requests a month for infant formula. Right now, we are only able to fill about 10% of those requests.”

For more about the recall and how local organizations are helping families during the formula shortage, visit newsobserver.com/news.

Can I buy baby formula online? Or in a store?

This week, major U.S. retailers (like CVS, Walgreens and Target) began limiting infant formula purchases due to the supply shortage, according to Reuters.

Some popular stores (like Wagreens and Target) have already put purchasing caps in place for in-store and/or online purchases.

With out of stock levels rising (43% this week, versus 30% to 40% last month, per the Washington Post), parents are wondering how to feed their babies.

This story was originally published May 13, 2022 11:12 AM.

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