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Homemade Baby Formula: Is It Safe?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on May 11, 2022

Is It Safe to Make Your Own Formula?

If you feed your little one baby formula, you might be wondering if it’s OK to make your own at home. After all, some commercial formulas can be expensive or hard to find.

But homemade baby formula can be dangerous for infants. You should never make it, or feed it to your child, because it could lead to serious or even life-threatening health problems.

Homemade formula could get contaminated and make your baby sick. It could also be missing or be low on key nutrients that your baby needs to grow and stay healthy. For instance, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has gotten reports of infants who were fed homemade formula and needed to go to the hospital to get treatment for low calcium.

If you’re the parent or caregiver of a baby who has symptoms after drinking homemade baby formula, call the doctor right away.

Why Is Commercial Baby Formula Much Safer?

Commercial infant formulas can be your infant’s only source of nutrition if you can’t breastfeed or if you choose not to.

The FDA makes sure these products meet minimum requirements for safety and nutrition. It doesn’t do this for homemade infant formula recipes, like the ones you might make or find online.

The FDA requires commercial formula makers to meet certain requirements for nutrients. It sets minimum amounts for 29 nutrients and maximum amounts for nine of those. Too much or too little of certain nutrients can be bad for your baby’s health.

Falling short on nutrition -- even if it’s for a few days or weeks -- can take a long-term toll, too. It could make a baby less likely to grow up strong and succeed in school.

If a formula maker doesn’t meet the FDA’s nutrition requirements, the agency can take action to pull it from store shelves.

The agency also keeps an eye on how approved formulas get made and stored. It regularly checks on the formulas and the facilities where they’re made. That way they can make sure that manufacturers are following rules to help prevent the formulas from getting contaminated or spoiling.

What Should You Do if You Can’t Find Baby Formula?

If there’s a shortage of baby formula on store shelves near you, try these tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in case you find yourself in an urgent situation:

Talk to your pediatrician. Ask your baby’s doctor if they could get you a can of baby formula from local formula company representatives or from a charity that has some.

Call your local WIC office. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) may be able to suggest places you could look for formula.

Go to smaller grocery or drugstores. They may have formula in stock when bigger stores don’t.

Buy formula online. Try this option if you can afford it. Only buy from well-known distributors and pharmacies. Avoid individually sold cans of formula or auction websites. Don’t buy formula from outside the United States because the FDA doesn’t review imported formula.

Choose any available commercial formula, including store brands. This is OK for most babies, except for those on a specific formula that the doctor recommended (like formulas that say “extensively hydrolyzed,” “predigested,” or “amino acid-based”). If your baby is on a specialty formula that you’re having trouble finding, ask the pediatrician to recommend other options.

Scan social media. Check with a group that’s devoted to infant feeding and formula. Its members may be able to recommend places to find formula. If you get this advice, run it by your pediatrician first.

Don’t water down baby formula. You might think this could make your supply last longer, but it’s not safe to do. It could throw off your baby’s balance of nutrients and cause serious health problems. When you’re preparing baby formula, always follow directions on the label exactly unless your pediatrician tells you otherwise.

Is Milk a Safe Substitute for Baby Formula?

It is not recommended to give cow’s milk to a baby under 12 months old. (The cow’s milk used in commercial formulas gets changed significantly to make it safe for babies.)

What’s more, cow’s milk and milk alternatives (like soy, hemp, or almond) don’t have the right amounts of nutrition that a baby needs, including protein, iron, calcium, and vitamins.

In case of emergency during a formula shortage, though, the AAP says parents of babies over 6 months old can ask their pediatrician if it’s OK to briefly give them cow’s milk. This possible option is only for babies over 6 months who usually feed on regular formula, not a specialty product for any health needs like allergies. Feeding with cow’s milk isn’t ideal, and you shouldn’t make a habit of it. But it’s better than making homemade formula or diluting store-bought formula with water, the AAP says.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

FDA: “FDA Advises Parents and Caregivers to Not Make or Feed Homemade Infant Formula to Infants,” “Infant Formula: Safety Do's and Don'ts,” “Questions & Answers for Consumers Concerning Infant Formula.”

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Is Homemade Baby Formula Safe?” “With the baby formula shortage, what should I do if I can't find any?” “Choosing an Infant Formula.”

CDC: “Cow’s Milk and Milk Alternatives.”

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