Are Homemade Baby Formula Recipes Safe?

A teen milking her goat.
Goat milk based homemade formulas are not a good idea for babies. Photo by Monty Rakusen/Getty Images

Once upon a time, before we had commercial baby formula, didn't everyone make their own homemade baby formula if they couldn't breastfeed or were separated from their baby?

Not necessarily.

Some parents hired a wet nurse and others simply fed their baby wheat containing porridge or milk from camels, cows, goats, or even pigs. Of course, wet nursing was the safest option by far.

History of Homemade Baby Formula

There were recipes for "baby formula" though, which often "consisted of a liquid ingredient (milk, beer, wine, vegetable or meat stock, water), a cereal (rice, wheat or corn flour, bread) and additives (sugar, honey, herbs or spices, eggs, meat)." These recipes were missing foods with vitamin C and were later missing vitamin D, iron, and protein, as they were mixed with more water and less meat and eggs.

Fortunately, there were several major breakthroughs in the mid-nineteenth century that offered hope to babies who couldn't breastfeed, including the invention of the rubber nipple and other feeding devices, improved methods of hygiene and later pasteurization, and the first commercial baby formula.

Many of the first baby formulas basically looked like homemade recipes, such as the Leibig formula - a powder made up of wheat flour, malt, and potassium bicarbonate that was added to diluted cow's milk. Later, there were recipes to make baby formula from condensed and then evaporated milk (mixed with corn syrup).

And eventually, in the 1950s, we got the commercial baby formulas that we still use today.

What's in Baby Formula

Like breastmilk, baby formula has three main components that provide the calories:

  • a sugar
  • fats
  • proteins

Different combinations of these proteins (cow's milk vs. soy), sugar (lactose vs. corn syrup), and fats (vegetable oils), etc., help produce cow's milk based, soy based, and elemental baby formulas.

And then, to make it more like breastmilk, lots of other stuff can be added to baby formula, including DHA, probiotics, and nucleotides, etc. Enspire, the newest formula from Mead Johnson, also adds lactoferrin, Milk Fat Globule Membrane (MFGM), and prebiotics, to make their "closest formula ever to breast milk."

What's Not in Baby Formula

Are you confused about what's in your baby's formula?

It's possible that you are just confused about what you think is in your baby's formula?

Kristin Cavallari has written that she made her own homemade baby formula because “I would rather feed my baby these real, organic ingredients than a heavily processed store-bought formula that contains ‘glucose syrup solids,’ which is another name for corn syrup solids, maltodextrin, carrageenan, and palm oil.”

So what are glucose syrup solids and why are they in your baby's formula?

While cow's milk-based baby formulas use lactose (glucose plus galactose) as their source of sugar, non-milk based formulas usually use sucrose (cane sugar) and corn syrup solids (glucose).

Should you worry about cane sugar in some organic formulas?

What about the corn syrup in formula? Isn't that bad for them?

No. These are just different types of sugar. Even maltodextrin is simply glucose polymers made from corn starch that is used as a thickening agent in baby formula and other foods.

And no, corn syrup solids have nothing to do with high fructose corn syrup.

Goat Milk Formula

In addition to warning about making homemade formula, pediatricians have long warned about feeding baby's goat milk and goat milk-based baby formula.

Goat milk is very high in sodium and protein, giving almost three times the amounts present in breast milk. And cross-reactivity that occurs between proteins means that babies who are sensitive or allergic to cow's milk will likely have problems with goat milk too.

Of course, that doesn't keep folks from pushing "false and potentially dangerous information" about what some think are benefits of goat milk for infants.

In her latest book, Kristin Cavallari, known for dangerous stance against vaccines, even offers a recipe for a goat's milk baby formula that is made with:

  • filtered water
  • goat milk powder (we like CapraMilk)
  • pure organic maple syrup - provides calories from sugar
  • extra virgin olive oil - provides calories and monounsaturated fats
  • unflavored cod-liver oil - for extra vitamin D and vitamin A
  • unsulfured blackstrap molasses - for extra iron and calcium
  • coconut oil - for omega-6-fatty acids
  • probiotics

In this homemade formula, much of the sugar, protein, and fat and half of the calories comes from goat milk.

The majority of the sugar comes from the maple syrup though, which is just sucrose. Just like the sucrose from cane sugar that folks complain about in some organic formulas.

Extra fat comes from the olive oil.

What about the other ingredients? They provide extra vitamins and minerals, including some vitamin D, vitamin A, and iron.

What's missing?

This homemade formula recipe is missing folate. In addition to iron, vitamin D, and vitamin B12, goat milk is deficient in folate and can lead to megaloblastic anemia This is one of the main reasons babies should avoid unfortified goat milk.

This recipe is also missing enough vitamin D to avoid vitamin D deficiency.

Cavallari's recipe adds just 100IU of vitamin D to the whole 32 ounce batch (from the cod liver oil). That's just 10IU per 100ml, about 6 times less than baby formula and well below the recommended levels of 400IU of vitamin D that infants should get each day.

Remember that formula is fortified with vitamin D and breastfeeding babies are supposed to take a vitamin D supplement.

Most importantly though, stick to breastmilk or an iron-fortified baby formula until your baby is at least 12 months old. There are no benefits to feeding your baby a homemade baby formula, even if you use fortified goat milk, and there are certainly some risks. Those risks go up even more if you use raw goat milk, leave out other key nutrients, or mix in too much of an ingredient. A baby in Nebraska was recently hospitalized after receiving toxic levels of vitamin D in her homemade baby formula. Her mother added one dropperful of vitamin D instead of the recommended drop.


BASNET et al. Fresh Goat's Milk for Infants: Myths and Realities—A Review. PEDIATRICS Volume125,Number4, April 2010

Castilho, et al. The history of infant nutrition. J Pediatr.2010;86(3):179-188

Specialty Oils and Fats in Food and Nutrition, 2015, Chapter 12 - Infant formula. Pages 285-315

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