When it comes to feeding baby, we know that breastmilk is ideal. But what if you can’t breastfeed? Or what if baby has an anatomical issue like a tongue tie or lip tie, which makes breastfeeding nearly impossible?

If this is you, a lactation consultant can really help you get back on track and help you make arrangements for any procedures. Breastfeeding is hard in the beginning for almost everyone, but it does get easier so hang in there!

But, try as they might, breastfeeding simply isn’t an option for some moms and babies. Some moms don’t have enough glandular tissue, have low milk supply, are on a medication that is not breastfeeding friendly, or have another health issue. Some moms may have work conflicts and can’t find the time to pump their breast milk. And finally, some moms don’t want to breastfeed for personal or emotional reasons. But, all moms want to give their babies the very best nourishment.

So what’s a natural mama to do? Is conventional formula the only option?

No!

In this post, we’ll explore all of the options so you can decide which is the best baby formula for you and baby.

Best baby formula: Donor milk

If mom can’t provide breastmilk for baby, the next best baby formula may be milk from another human mama.

One of the biggest benefits to breastmilk is that it is a living food. (In contrast, most formulas are shelf stable and don’t “go bad” after a few weeks.) Breastmilk is brimming with live beneficial bacteria, antibodies and enzymes so it’s always best to use unpasteurized.

You can get live (unpasteurized) donor milk from organizations like:

Is donor breastmilk safe?

There are always risks involved with feeding baby anything but his own mom’s breastmilk via direct breastfeeding. Parents have to weigh the benefits of optimal nutrition (which can have lifelong health benefits) with the possibility of disease or pathogen transmission.

That said, any form of feeding besides direct breastfeeding (even feeding mom’s breastmilk via a bottle) has the potential to introduce pathogens, since contamination can happen at any point in the pump, store, bottle feeding cycle.

Pasteurized breastmilk may be even more problematic because it doesn’t have as much good bacteria left (it was destroyed by the pasteurization process) to fight off possible contamination. In other words, bad bacteria can proliferate faster in pasteurization versus unpasteurized milk, because it doesn’t have as much beneficial bacteria to crowd out the bad bacteria.

This study shows that babies fed unpasteurized donor milk were frequently exposed to a lot of bacteria but had no adverse outcomes because of the protective qualities of live milk.

Best baby formula: Make your own

If donor milk doesn’t sound appealing or isn’t an option, you can make your own “live” formula. This can be a superior option to conventional pasteurized formula because the milk is raw and alive, just like breast milk. Making your own formula is also less expensive than traditional store-bought options.

Cow’s milk formula

This cow’s milk formula was carefully created by Weston A. Price founder Sally Fallon Morell and Dr. Mary G. Enig, to mimic the same nutrients found in breast milk.

A trusted and well-vetted recipe, this formula makes 36 ounces and can last in the fridge for 2 days.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole raw cow’s milk, preferably from pasture-fed cows
  • 1/4 cup homemade liquid whey (See recipe for whey, below.) Note: Do NOT use powdered whey or whey from making cheese (which will cause the formula to curdle). Use only homemade whey made from yoghurt, kefir or separated raw milk.
  • 4 tablespoons lactose (where to buy)
  • 1/4 teaspoon bifidobacterium infantis (where to buy)
  • 2 or more tablespoons good quality cream (preferably not ultrapasteurized), more if you are using milk from Holstein cows
  • 1/2 teaspoon unflavored high-vitamin cod liver oil or 1 teaspoon regular cod liver oil (where to buy)
  • 1/4 teaspoon high-vitamin butter oil (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon expeller-expressed sunflower oil (where to buy)
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil
  • 2 teaspoons Frontier brand nutritional yeast flakes (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons gelatin (where to buy)
  • 1-7/8 cups filtered water
  • 1/4 teaspoon acerola powder (where to buy)

Radiant Life Catalog created these awesome Homemade Baby Formula Kits! This gives you all of your ingredients (except your raw dairy) and makes it easy, peasy to make.

Radient life homemade baby formula kit Mama Natural

Directions

  • Put 2 cups filtered water into a glass measuring pitcher and remove 2 tablespoons (that will give you 1-7/8 cups water).
  • Pour about half of the water into a pan and place on a medium heat.
  • Add the gelatin and lactose to the pan and let dissolve, stirring occasionally. When the gelatin and lactose are dissolved, remove from heat and add the remaining water to cool the mixture.
  • Stir in the coconut oil and optional high-vitamin butter oil and stir until melted.
  • Meanwhile, place remaining ingredients into a blender. Add the water mixture and blend about three seconds.
  • Place in glass bottles or a glass jar and refrigerate.
  • Before giving to baby, warm bottles by placing in hot water or a bottle warmer. Do not warm in microwave.

Recipe Source: Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, PhD.

How to make real, raw whey

Homemade whey is easy to make from organic plain yogurt or raw milk.

From Yogurt: Place 2 quarts of organic yogurt in a strainer lined with a tea towel set over a large bowl. Cover with a plate and leave at room temperature overnight. The whey will drip out into the bowl. Place whey in clean glass Mason jars and store in the refrigerator.

From Raw Milk: Place 2 quarts of the milk in a glass container and leave at room temperature for 2-4 days until the milk separates into curds and whey.

Pour into the strainer lined with a tea towel set over a bowl and cover with a plate. Leave at room temperature overnight. The whey will drip out into the bowl. Store in clean glass Mason jars in the refrigerator.

This recipe makes approximately 5 cups of whey, which will last several months in the fridge.

Recipe Source: Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, PhD.

Tweaking the formula

You want to be very careful with this since it was specifically designed to replicate what is in a mother’s breast milk. The only thing you can really omit is the nutritional yeast flakes and/or the butter oil from the cow’s milk formula.

Testimonial on raw milk baby formula

Babies have not only survived on homemade baby formula but thrived!

“The results were spectacular, bordering on unbelievable. She was never sick, slept through the night starting at about eight weeks, ate well and had a happy disposition. We were warned about typical childhood problems; these problems never materialized. For example, we bought things to help with teething before she had teeth but we never used it because her teeth came in with no pain or disruption to her sleep patterns.” -Patrick and Michelle, Toronto, Canada

“So maybe breast milk is best, but when it is not possible cow’s milk can be for babies if you apply it to the homemade formula using raw milk. This formula did boost my baby’s immune system and so far he has no allergies to any food we have given Zachary. I recommend this formula to anyone and for any baby. It is amazing!” -Bernadette Gewondjan, Livermore, California

“We had her on the formula for one full year, and she never had one ear infection, flu, fever, allergic reaction or colic. She had three minor colds the whole year, less than most babies from my observations. She has been in the 95th percentile for length and weight and has rosy cheeks and sparkly eyes. Her pediatrician has commented on how strong and healthy she is.” -The Ellingtons, Wilson, North Carolina

I remember listening to an interview with Sally Fallon and she said that she nursed her first 3 children but had to use formula with her 4th (I think it was because she was older and wasn’t producing enough milk.) She said that her 4th child was the healthiest… never needed glasses or braces (unlike her others who were breastfed).

I had to give homemade formula to Paloma for a while when I was bit by a tick and had to go on antibiotics. Paloma loved it and is bigger and stronger for her age than her brother, who was nursed until he was 2 1/2, so go figure! For me and my family, this was the best baby formula.

Pro Tip: Make double batches at one time so you only have to make every other day. Once you get the hang of it, the process is fast and easy. And like I said, my daughter thrived on it!

Raw Goat Milk Formula

Weston A. Price also has a goat milk formula. This may be the best baby formula for those who are sensitive to cow’s milk protein. Goat milk also has smaller fat molecules which can make it easier for some children to digest. However, goat’s milk is not adequate in vitamin B12 or folate so it should be prepared very carefully. This recipe makes 36 ounces of formula and lasts 2 days in fridge.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole raw goat’s milk, preferably from pasture-fed goats
  • 1/4 cup homemade liquid whey (See recipe for whey, below.) Note: Do NOT use powdered whey or whey from making cheese (which will cause the formula to curdle). Use only homemade whey made from goat yoghurt, kefir or separated raw milk.
  • 4 tablespoons lactose (where to buy)
  • 1/4 teaspoon bifidobacterium infantis (where to buy)
  • 2 or more tablespoons good quality goat cream (if available)
  • 1/2 teaspoon unflavored high-vitamin cod liver oil or 1 teaspoon regular cod liver oil (where to buy)
  • 1/4 teaspoon high-vitamin butter oil (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon expeller-expressed sunflower oil (where to buy)
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil
  • 2 teaspoons Frontier brand nutritional yeast flakes (mandatory)
  • 2 teaspoons gelatin (where to buy)
  • 1-7/8 cups filtered water
  • 1/4 teaspoon acerola powder (where to buy)
  • 2 teaspoons organic raw chicken liver (frozen for 14 days), finely grated

Chicken liver? Yes, you will also need to include 2 teaspoons organic raw chicken liver (frozen for 14 days and finely grated), which will add necessary folate as well as vitamin A. This formula also has to include the nutritional yeast flakes for B12.

Recipe Source: Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, PhD.

A mom created her own version of the goat milk formula but you must vet this formulation with your pediatrician first.

Liver-Based Formula

Some babies cannot handle any form of milk. So for their best baby formula, you can try Weston A. Price’s liver-based formula. Just like the above recipes, it also mimics the nutrient profile of breast milk. It is critical to include coconut oil in this formula, as it is the only ingredient that provides the important medium-chain saturated fats found in breast milk. This formula recipe makes 36 ounces and lasts 2 days in fridge.

Ingredients:

  • 3-3/4 cups homemade beef or chicken broth
  • 2 ounces organic liver, cut into small pieces
  • 5 tablespoons (where to buy)
  • 1/4 teaspoon bifidobacterium infantis (where to buy)
  • 1/4 cup homemade liquid whey
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon unflavored high-vitamin cod liver oil or 1 teaspoon regular cod liver oil (where to buy)
  • 1 teaspoon unrefined sunflower oil (where to buy)
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon acerola powder (where to buy)

Instructions:

  • Simmer liver gently in broth until the meat is cooked through.
  • Liquefy using a handheld blender or in a food processor.
  • When the liver broth has cooled, stir in remaining ingredients.
  • Store in a very clean glass or stainless steel container.
  • To serve, stir formula well and pour 6 to 8 ounces in a very clean glass bottle.
  • Attach a clean nipple and set in a pan of simmering water until formula is warm but not hot to the touch, shake well and feed to baby.

Recipe Source: Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, PhD.

Breastmilk and Homemade Formula Nutrient Comparison

You may be wondering how these homemade formulas match up with breastmilk. Here’s a great chart that compares nutrients of all the Weston A. Price formulas.

These nutrient comparison tables were derived from standard food nutrient tables and do not take into account the wide variation in nutrient levels that can occur in both human and animal milk, depending on diet and environment.

Breast MilkCow’s Milk
Formula
Goat Milk
Formula
Liver-Based
Formula
Calories766856890682
Protein11.3g18g18g15g
Carbohydrates76g79g77g69g
Total Fat48g52g54g36g
Saturated Fat22g28g30g16g
Mono Fat18g16g16g12g
Poly Fat5.5g5.6g5.7g5.6g
Omega-3 FA.58g1.3g1.2g1.0g
Omega-6 FA4.4g4.2g4.4g4.5g
Cholesterol153mg137mg166mg227mg
Vitamin A*946IU5000IU5000IU20,000IU
Thiamin-B1.15mg1.05mg1.1mg.19mg
Riboflavin-B2.4mg1.2mg1.2mg1.9mg
Niacin-B31.9mg2.5mg4.4mg14.2mg
Vitamin B6.12mg.51mg.60mg.65mg
Vitamin B12.5mcg1.9mcg2.8mcg39mcg
Folate57mcg236mcg284mcg159mcg
Vitamin C55mg57mg59mg62mg
Vitamin D480IU450IU525IU460IU
Vitamin E***9.9mg6.2mg4.7mg4.9mg
Calcium355mg532mg548mgNA**
Copper.57mg.38mg.58mg1.9mg
Iron.33mg1.4mg2.2mg5.4mg
Magnesium37.4mg91.3mg96.1mg34.5mg
Manganese.29mg.034mg.12mg.24mg
Phosphorus151mg616mg729mg344mg
Potassium560mg949mg1228mg750mg
Selenium18.8mcg15.4mcg18.7mcg31.1mcg
Sodium186mg308mg320mgNA**
Zinc1.9mg2.8mg2.7mg2.5mg

* Vitamin A levels in human milk will depend on the diet of the mother. Nursing mothers eating vitamin A-rich foods such as cod liver oil will have much higher levels of vitamin A in their milk. Commercial formulas contain about 2400 IU vitamin A per 800 calories.

** Calcium and sodium values for homemade broth are not available.

*** Vitamin E values are derived from commercial vegetable oils. The vitamin E levels for homemade formulas will be higher if good quality, expeller-expressed oils are used.

What about the dangers of homemade formula?

Just like with everything we do from drinking raw milk to kombucha, there are risks.

There are definitely dangerous DIY or homemade formulas out there. You do not want to experiment or try to devise your own as this can be very harmful for baby. Homemade formulas have led to nutritional deficiencies, dehydration and even death. A popular homemade formula in the 60-70’s included evaporated milk and karo syrup?!

However, the three Weston A. Price Foundation formulas mentioned above were specifically and carefully designed to recreate (as close as possible) what’s in breastmilk. One of the formulators of the recipes was Dr. Mary Enig, who had a Ph. D in Nutritional Sciences. Over the 20 years these formulas have been in print, it is estimated that 10,000-20,000 babies have drunk these formulas safely.

Store-bought formula

If you don’t feel comfortable making your own formula (or don’t want to bother with it!), let’s talk about the store-bought options. Unfortunately, the FDA mandates certain nutrients, even in organic ones, which can only be created synthetically. (Interesting to note: None of these ingredients are legal in the European Union. More on this later.)

Here are some of the problematic ingredients:

  • Lutein, which is hexane-extracted from marigolds,
  • Lycopene, which is produced with toluene, a neurotoxic benzene derivative,
  • Nucleotides, which is produced from chemically treated yeast,
  • Taurine, which is processed with carcinogenic sulfuric acid,
  • and L-Carnitine, which was banned by the National Organic Standards Board because of concerns over carcinogenic properties.

If you’d like the convenience of store bought formulas, here are a few options that are more ideal than others on the market.

Nature’s One

They have several formulations for special needs and their products are organic. They don’t use carrageenan and palm oil, which is harmful and disruptive to baby’s delicate digestive system. This company also uses a non-hexane method of extracting their DHA and ARA, which is FDA-approved unlike other brands of organic formula. However, they do use brown rice syrup as a sweetener, which can be high in arsenic.

In 2012, Dartmouth researchers found that Nature’s One and Earth’s Best formulas, made with organic brown rice syrup, contained 20x the recommended levels of arsenic. Nature’s One responded with this statement: (We depend upon a) “qualified, world renowned, third-party, independent lab to test arsenic levels in their organic brown rice syrup. Their testing results report undetectable amounts of arsenic at laboratory testing limits.” 

Earth’s Best

They got rid of their brown rice syrup sweetener but their dairy formula includes soybean oil. They do also use hexane to create their DHA and ARA ingredients.

Ingredients: Organic Nonfat Milk, Organic Lactose, Organic Oils (Organic Palm Or Palm Olein, Organic Soy, Organic Coconut, Organic High Oleic Safflower Or Sunflower Oil), Organic Glucose Syrup Solids, Organic Whey Protein Concentrate, Less Than 1%: Mortierella Alpina Oil*, Crypthecodinium Cohnii Oil**, Lutein, Vitamin A Palmitate, Beta-Carotene, Vitamin D (Cholecalciferol), Vitamin E (Dl-Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate), Mixed Tocopherol Concentrate, Vitamin K (Phytonadione), Ascorbyl Palmitate, Thiamine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Cyanocobalamin, Niacinamide, Folic Acid, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Ascorbic Acid, Choline Bitartrate, Inositol, Calcium Carbonate, Calcium Chloride, Calcium Hydroxide, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate, Manganese Sulfate, Cupric Sulfate, Magnesium Phosphate, Potassium Bicarbonate, Potassium Chloride, Potassium Iodide, Potassium Hydroxide, Potassium Phosphate, Sodium Selenite, Sodium Citrate, Taurine, Organic Soy Lecithin, Nucleotides (Cytidine-5′-Monophosphate, Adenosine-5′-Monophosphate, Disodium Uridine-5′-Monophosphate, Disodium Guanosine-5′-Monophosphate, Disodium Inosine-5′-Monophosphate). Contains Soy And Milk. * A Source Of Arachidonic Acid (ARA) ** A Source Of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)

Healthy Alternative: Online European formulas

If I went with a powdered formula, I’d look into the following two European formulations, which don’t have to include various synthetic ingredients per the FDA but are still safe and qualified as baby formula.

They don’t contain funky ingredients or as many artificial nutrients. They don’t contain brown rice syrup either. I prefer HiPP formula because it includes prebiotic fibers, galacto-oligosaccharides, from lactose (milk sugar) which mimic those found in breastmilk.

HiPP Formula

HiPP Organic Infant Milk (where to buy) contains important prebiotics and omegas, but doesn’t contain any of the questionable additives of other brands. HiPP uses organic milk, which means no pesticides or GMOs. It contains added vitamins, minerals, and Omega 3 and 6 for healthy brain development and a healthy immune system.

The HiPP formula ingredients include:

Organic skimmed milk, organic whey powder (partially demineralized), organic vegetable oils (palm oil from sustainable organic production, rapeseed oil, sunflower oil), prebiotic fibers (galacto-oligosaccharides from lactose), organic lactose, whey protein, potassium citrate, calcium chloride, LCP oils (fish, vegetable), L-phenylalanine, sodium citrate, calcium carbonate, mangnesium sulphate, calcium orthophosphate, vitamin mix (vitamin C, vitamin A, thiamin (vitamin B1), vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, niacin, vitamin E, folic acid, vitamin K, vitamin D, riboflavin (vitamin B2), biotin, vitamin B12), L-tryptophan, iron sulphate, zinc sulphate, stabiliser (lactic acid), inositol, copper sulfate, potassium iodate, manganese sulphate, sodium selenate.

Holle Formula

Holle Organic Infant Formula (where to buy) is made from 99% organically grown ingredients. The milk comes from cows raised on biodynamic farms and strictly adhere to EU organic regulations and the more stringent international Demeter regulations.

Other important ingredients include organic vegetable oils which provide essential fatty acids for your baby. Organic starch and maltodextrin derived from corn (maltodextrin) make the formula creamy and filling. The remaining 1% of ingredients are vitamins and minerals which are necessary for your baby’s development and are required by EU regulations.

The Holle Formula ingredients include:

Skimmed milk** (Germany), whey powder* partly demineralised, vegetable oils* (palm oil*, rapeseed oil*, sunflower oil*), maltodextrin*, calcium carbonate, potassium chloride, sodium chloride, vitamin C, vitamin E, ferrous lactate, zinc sulphate, niacin, Calcium-D-pantothenate, copper sulphate, vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, manganese sulphate, potassium iodate, folic acid, vitamin K, sodium selenate, vitamin D

If you go with the Holle Formula, be sure to add an infant probiotic.

Steer Clear of Soy Formula

Regardless of which formula you chose for baby, just say no to soy-based formula. These formulas consist of soy protein isolates and include significant amounts of phytoestrogens of the isoflavone class (source).

Total isoflavone concentrations of soy-based formulas ranges from 32 to 47 mg/L, versus only 5.6 +/- 4.4 microg/L in human breastmilk. Infants fed soy-based formulas are exposed to 22-45 mg of isoflavones compared with barely any in breast milk. So, this makes me pause, if breast milk doesn’t have it, why are we including it?

Soy is problematic for so many reasons but the top few include:

  • Over 90% of the soy produced in the U.S. contains GMO’s
  • Soy is extremely high in anti-nutrients like saponins, phytates, protease inhibitors, oxalates, and goitrogens. Some of these can interfere with enzymes that help baby breakdown protein.
  • Soy is also high in phytoestrogens which mimic the hormone estrogen in our bodies. There haven’t been enough studies to show how this can affect a baby’s developing reproductive health.

Even the American Academy of Pediatrics states “In term infants, although isolated soy protein-based formulas may be used to provide nutrition for normal growth and development, there are few indications for their use in place of cow milk-based formula.”

If your child is sensitive to dairy, you can try the homemade Liver Based formula mentioned above or a lactose-free formula.

Weaning off formula

You can start slowly weaning your baby off of formula starting at around 6 months. For each child, it will be slightly different. If you make the homemade formulas, after 6 months, you can be more flexible about adding all of the ingredients (like acerola), as long as baby is eating solids and getting a nutrient-dense diet from other sources.

Here are some great ideas for baby’s first foods.

Wait until baby is 6 months old before adding in solids, especially egg yolks which can set up allergies. If you’re doing baby led weaning, you will want to add in some smoothies, shakes, and soups to be sure they’re getting extra nutrition if you’re cutting way back on formula. Most doctors agree that once baby reaches one year old, he can go onto plain milk. Once my daughter Paloma was one year old, she just drank plain, raw cow’s milk. Some children do better on goat’s milk. And some, just get their nutritional needs from food. You can experiment to see which is best for your child.

Best baby formula: bottom line

Though your breastmilk and colostrum is a perfect food for your baby, sometimes it’s not possible to exclusively breastfeed. That’s when donor milk, homemade formula, and as a last resort, certain organic formulas, can help you keep baby thriving.

How about you?

If you had to supplement, what was the best baby formula for you? Share with us in the comments below!

References

  • http://www.realmilk.com/safety/campaign-pasteurize-breast-milk/
  • The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. 6th Revised Edition. La Leche League International. 1997. 340 – 341
  • http://www.drfranklipman.com/infant-formula-buying-guide/