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Despite shortage, doctors urge parents not to make their own infant formula

Pediatricians say it’s not as easy as it looks

Infant formula concept
Photo (c) HUIZENG HU - Getty Images
Due to a shortage of infant formula in the U.S., some parents are making their own formula at home. There are plenty of websites offering advice and recipes. Apparently, it’s not that hard to make.

But pediatricians almost universally advise against it. Dr. Kelsey Klaas, a pediatrician at Mayo Clinic, “absolutely” recommends against the use of homemade infant formula.

“There are several reasons for this,” Klaas told ConsumerAffairs. “The first is the risk of contamination. Some online sites are recommending unpasteurized products, which are never safe for infants or children.”

Babies’ kidneys are more sensitive

It turns out that making infant formula is not as easy as some websites make it seem. Klass said the formula made in factories has the proper electrolyte balance and solute load, which she said is a critical aspect of food for infants.

“Infant kidneys don’t concentrate as well as more mature kidneys,” Klass said. She notes that the physical differences between adults and infants make producing safe formula at home fairly challenging.

“These imbalances can lead to potentially severe electrolyte abnormalities, which carry health risks, and/or dehydration,” Klass said. “In the medium to longer-term, undernutrition is a real risk with homemade formulas.”

Klass’ position is the same one that is championed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The organization said homemade formulas may not meet an infant's unique nutritional needs and may be unsafe in other ways.

Writing on an AAP website, Dr. Steven Abrams, a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Texas at Austin, also says parents should never dilute formula with water to increase the quantity.

“It can cause nutritional imbalances in your baby and lead to serious health problems,” he said. “Always mix formula as directed by the manufacturer.”

Alternatives

So what are parents who can’t find infant formula to do? While toddler formulas are not recommended for infants, Abrams says they can be safely substituted for a few days if the child is close to a year old.

For children who are at least six months old, Abrams says whole cow's milk can also be a temporary substitute.

“This is not ideal and should not become routine, but is a better option than diluting formula or making homemade formula,” he stated.

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