Pediatricians caution against homemade baby formula amid shortage

Some desperate parents have been turning to the internet for homemade baby formula recipes amid a nationwide shortage.

But pediatricians and nutritionists have a word of advice for anyone who is considering making formula at home: Don’t.

The US Food and Drug Administration has strict regulations to ensure baby formula meets nutritional and safety requirements, and advises against making it at home. That’s because it’s “extremely difficult” for parents and guardians to mimic the nutrition levels, said Dr. Amy Hair, the program director of neonatal nutrition at Texas Children’s Hospital.

“You can’t accurately measure what you’re adding to it,” Hair said. “Yes, you can add half a cup of this and half a cup of that. But there [are] very strict specifications for what babies need, nutrition-wise. ”

There could be issues if the balance isn’t right in a homemade formula, said Dr. Victoria Regan, a pediatrician with Children’s Memorial Hermann Pediatrics. Babies who are not getting the nutrition they need are at risk of malnutrition, as well as issues with growth and brain development.

The wrong balance could also cause issues such as dehydration, seizures or rickets, a condition that causes weak or soft bones in children. Last year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that three infants who were fed with a homemade formula developed severe hypocalcemia and vitamin D-deficient rickets.

It’s also not a good idea to dilute baby formula with water in an attempt to make the supply last longer, said Dr. Melanie Mouzoon, a fellow at the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and doctor for the Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. That will alter the nutrition a baby is getting with each feeding.

Aside from the nutritional implications, homemade concoctions also run the risk of becoming contaminated by bacteria, experts said. Babies have weak immune systems, so eating something that’s contaminated could make them very sick. That could lead to a hospitalization.

Experts also don’t recommend trying alternatives such as toddler formula, which is designed to meet the nutritional needs of children in that age group. It’s safest to talk to a pediatrician or health care provider for advice before making any changes to a baby’s diet, Regan said.

“My best advice is to talk to your baby’s doctor to get good advice,” she said. “Don’t rely too much on Facebook information.”

Hair does not recommend sharing breast milk, although she acknowledged the choice is a personal decision. It’s difficult to be sure how breast milk has been stored, especially if it’s being shipped, she said.

Families who can’t find formula have been inquiring with the Mother’s Milk Bank at Austin, a nonprofit that supplies breast milk from approved donors, executive director Kim Updegrove said.

“Some of those families are reaching out because they just can’t find not only the formula their baby was eating, but they can’t find any other type of formula, either,” she said. “Those are the ones who just need something to feed their baby.”

The milk bank has received 30 more inquiries than usual this week, Updegrove said. The nonprofit is working to help as many of those families as it can, but first needs to provide milk to vulnerable infants who were born prematurely or with a medical condition.

Babies at least 9 months old may be able to start drinking whole cow’s milk, Mouzoon said. There is a risk the baby will become iron-deficient if they’re not getting enough iron in their diet, though, so it’s best to consult a pediatrician to determine whether the baby will need iron supplements.

Hair said she understands the anxiety many parents and guardians are feeling when they cannot find their preferred brand of baby formula at the store. The good news is that most babies can switch to a different brand if they don’t have an allergy or medical condition that would require a specific type.

Baby formula is so tightly regulated that store brands use the same ingredients as the leading manufacturers, so switching to another brand shouldn’t be an issue, Regan said.

“Call and confirm with your pediatrician or your baby’s doctor’s office to make sure it is OK for your baby, but in general, you can switch [brands]”Regan said.

Regan urged parents not to buy more formula than they need so that other will be able to buy it for their children. The FDA said Tuesday that it is aware of the nationwide baby formula shortage and working to address the problemso Regan said she’s optimistic that supply will improve soon.

Until then, it may be frustrating to spend an afternoon driving around the Houston area looking for baby formula. But it’s far better than the risk you’ll be taking if you try making formula at home, Hair said.

“I get it. Who wants to go to three grocery stores to get the formula you want?” she said. “But at the same time, no parent wants to harm their baby.”

Becca Carballo contributed to this report.

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