Given the current shortage of commercial baby formula, I would like to share my experience making my own (spoiler alert: my child is thriving), as well as what I feed my infants what I would do if I was in a position of feeding a very young child without adequate breast milk or formula. I know how nerve wracking feeding a baby can be, especially your first one, so for the worried mamas out there I hope this helps you feel confident finding substitutions if you cannot get formula.
Please note, that my qualifications consist of being a mother of three healthy children, I do not have any kind of medical degree nor do I suggest you do exactly what I did, because each child and situation is different.
This past year I made a version of formula for my 9-month-old son because my milk supply became inadequate. I considered giving him formula but I prefer to give my kids whole foods whenever possible and I felt confident I could find in nature what he needed.
I went with a cow milk formula created by the Weston A. Price Foundation. I’ve long been a fan of the traditional cooking principles found in their various cookbooks, which increase digestibility and nutrition and I have a good local supply of raw milk—which I find is easier to digest than pasturized and homogenized milks.
Because my son was already eating solids, I didn’t put all the formula ingredients into the bottle but would mix some into his food. For the bottle I simply mixed grass-fed gelatin (bloomed first) with warm milk. The gelatin has the effect of making the milk more digestible. I observed him closely after the first few bottles for things like red cheeks, diaper rash, rash anywhere else on the body, and irritability, which can be signs of food sensitivity. I also introduced new foods at breakfast or lunch instead of dinner or bedtime, so as not to be up all night with an irritable baby. My son had did have a few red spots, but I’m not altogether sure they were connected with the milk and were not uncomfortable so I continued with the formula.
If I didn’t have raw milk available, I would try with un-homogenized milk, which can be found in many grocery stores, and in the past in a pinch I’ve used powdered goat milk as a cow-milk substitute. But if I were to use goat-milk long term, I would do more research to understand the pros and cons. The “Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Child Care,” from which I got the milk formula recipe also has a recipes for formulas made with goat milk, whey (a byproduct of yogurt making), and raw liver with bone broth. These formulas are based more in science than in tradition because they try to mimic the chemical composition of breast milk. As I said earlier I use and love their cooking principles, many of which come from traditional cultures around the world, however, I do need to add a caveat that because of certain spiritual understandings I have, I would never eat or give my children raw liver (cooked is fine). So as with anything, do your research and do what you think is best, which will sometimes mean listening to your gut instincts.
The other supplements I added to my son’s food, as per the Weston A. Price formula were nutritional yeast, acerola cherry powder (for vitamin C), and high quality sunflower, coconut, and olive oils.
These are not all the ingredients in their formula, which you can see below, but I went with my intuition as to what my son needed. I was also feeding him an egg yolk daily, fruits, green and orange vegetables, yogurt (which is more digestible than milk), and very well cooked rice, which the foundation does not recommend but which I have found works for my children.
I did not get iron-fortified rice but I did add a piece of kombu seaweed most of the time as well as adding iron with a product called the Lucky Iron Fish, which is a small cast-iron piece that infuses liquids with iron when you cook it with a couple drops of acid. This seemed to work for iron supplementation because at his one-year well-child visit his iron levels were good. I should also add that I did no iron supplementation except lots of spinach with my first son and his iron levels were also fine.
In addition to some iron, kombu also adds vitamins and trace minerals as well as calcium. The child does not eat the seaweed so there is no issue of digestion.
For his grains, I cooked the rice twice as long and with twice as much water as usual to aid digestion. This method of cooking—known as congee—is a staple in Asian countries and is often one of baby’s first foods as well as being a staple for anyone with weakened digestion such as newly postpartum mothers and the elderly. If ease of digestion is a top concern, white rice is easier than brown rice and is not completely devoid of nutrition.
I also introduce oatmeal after vegetables and fruit but I soak it overnight with warm water and some acid (such as yogurt, whey, or lemon juice) to make it more digestible.
Bone broths were another staple for my son because they also aid digestion and are a great way to consume all manner of soft meats and vegetables. I make my own bone broth in an electric pressure cooker (Instant Pot) because it’s faster than a slow cooker, there is very little smell, and it’s a great way to use bones from other meals.
I roast the bones in the over first to give the broth a nice golden color, but you can simply put them in the pot with enough water to cover and some acid such as vinegar. I pressure cook for 2.5 hours for chicken and 3 or 3.5 for larger bones. I do vegetables separately be cause I find they overcook before the bones are ready.
Instead of water or juice I sometimes give my children herbal teas, which can also be a good source of nutrition and are enjoyable to drink.
Another thing to consider is that in some cultures and in times past, it was considered normal to start solids at 4-months, so some children of this age might be ready for first foods. (My tip is to thin first foods to the consistency of breast milk to make it easier for the child to eliminate). Before four months, you may find that your child has an ejection reflex—meaning they spit out anything besides a nipple, and I take this to mean it’s too early for solids at this point.
So I hope this encourages you to find foods your little one can eat.
Raw Milk Baby Formula
From the Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care
This and other recipes mentioned can also be found online here.
Reprinted with permission.
Makes 36 ounces.
Our milk-based formula takes account of the fact that human milk is richer in whey, lactose, vitamin C, niacin, and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids compared to cow’s milk but leaner in casein (milk protein). The addition of gelatin to cow’s milk formula will make it more digestible for the infant. Use only truly expeller-expressed oils in the formula recipes, otherwise they may lack vitamin E.
The ideal milk for baby, if he cannot be breastfed, is clean, whole raw milk from old-fashioned cows, certified free of disease, that feed on green pasture. For sources of good quality milk, see www.realmilk.com or contact a local chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation.
If the only choice available to you is commercial milk, choose whole milk, preferably organic and unhomogenized, and culture it with a piima or kefir culture to restore enzymes (available from G.E.M. Cultures 253-588-2922.
- 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 1
- 1/4 teaspoon bifidobacterium infantis 2
- 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 or high-vitamin fermented cod liver oil or 1 teaspoon regular cod liver oil 3
- 1/4 teaspoon high-vitamin butter oil (optional) 1
- 1 teaspoon expeller-expressed sunflower oil 1
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil 1
- 2 teaspoons coconut oil 1
- 2 teaspoons Frontier brand nutritional yeast flakes1
- 2 teaspoons gelatin 1,4
- 1-7/8 cups filtered water
- 1/4 teaspoon acerola powder 1, 2
1. Available from Radiant Life 888-593-8333, www.radiantlifecatalog.com.
2. Earlier versions of this web page called for 1 tsp of bifidobacterium infantis and 1 tsp of acerola powder–these were typos.
3. Use only recommended brands of cod liver oil. See our recommendations here.
4. We do not recommend collagen hydrolysate, but only recommended brands of gelatin listed in our Shopping Guide.
- Put 2 cups filtered water into a pyrex 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 flame.
- 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. NEVER warm bottles in a microwave oven.