Whom can you trust when it comes to feeding your baby right? Beyond breast milk, making the right choice can be more than a little tricky. Even some organic brands of infant formula have been found to peddle less than ideal products.
Most recently, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) sued The Honest Company, co-founded by popular actress Jessica Alba in 2012, claiming 11 of the listed 40 ingredients in its organic infant formula are synthetic substances that are not permitted in organic products.”1,2,3,4,5
Other unapproved ingredients are ascorbyl palmitate, choline bitartrate, synthetic beta-carotene, biotin, dl-alpha tocopherol, inositol and phytonadione.
Honest Company Not So Honest?
According to the OCA’s lawsuit, these 11 ingredients are not included in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) National List of Allowed Substances for organics,6 and violate the California Organic Products Act of 2003.
The organization also notes that while several of these ingredients have never been assessed for safety in human foods or infant formula, some are even “federally regulated as hazardous compounds.”
According to The Honest Company, the allegations are “without merit,” noting its formula has been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), meets all safety and nutritional standards, and has been certified USDA Organic by an independent third party in accordance with the National Organic Program.
It’s worth noting though that while infant formulas must meet federal nutrient requirements, the FDA does not actually approve infant formulas before they’re marketed.7 In fact, no agency is tasked with this responsibility. The assurance of safety comes from the manufacturer alone.
The FDA does conduct yearly inspections of infant formula manufacturers, and conducts sample testing, but only if the FDA decides a formula poses a risk to health will they step in to demand a product recall. So the whole “FDA approved” notion doesn’t really amount to much.
Two Other Lawsuits Pending Against The Honest Company
The Honest Company has become a $1.7 billion success, selling a variety of “green” products. Alas, this is not the first time the company’s all natural and organic wares have come under fire for being less than honest.
Two other lawsuits have been filed over the past year, accusing the company of using synthetic and toxic ingredients in its all natural cleaning products, soaps, and diapers, and selling a 30 SPF sunscreen that doesn’t work.8,9
Other Organic Formulas That Aren’t
The OCA has also filed suit against Hain Celestial Group over false labeling and violating the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act. The products specified in the lawsuit include Earth’s Best organic infant formulas and organic toddler formula.
In addition to sodium selenite, many of Earth’s Best organic products also contain nucleotides, taurine, l-carnitine, ascorbyl palmitate, synthetic beta-carotene, and lutein.
According to the complaint, all of these ingredients were rejected for use in organic infant formula by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). In an OCA press release, international director Ronnie Cummins states:
“As consumers, these mothers must rely on truthful labeling in order to make the best choices for feeding their infants and toddlers.
Our job as a consumer advocacy group is to call out and hold accountable companies like The Honest Co. and Hain Celestial when they knowingly and intentionally mislead consumers.
OCA has long been a defender of organic standards, which means also defending the organic label. Our goal with this lawsuit is to force these companies to either comply with USDA organic standards or stop calling their products ‘organic.'”
Infant Formulas Are Poor Substitutes for Breast Milk
Make no mistake: the best baby food is breast milk from a healthy mother. However, there are babies in situations where a good substitute is called for: adopted and orphaned babies, babies born to mothers with serious health problems, and babies whose mothers do not produce enough milk (a rare but real problem).
Contrary to popular belief (which has been created through decades of advertising), commercial infant formulas leave a lot to be desired, and is by no means an ideal substitute to breast milk. As noted by the Weston A. Price Foundation, infant formula:11
•Lacks many key substances for healthy growth and development, such as cholesterol and lipase (enzymes that break down and digest fats).
As noted in the article: “Breast milk is not just food but ‘represents a most sophisticated signaling system of mammalian evolution promoting a regulatory network for species-specific, postnatal growth and metabolic programming.’
Scientists studying the ‘message’ in mother’s milk see it as nothing less than a program for life.”
•Primarily consists of sugar (typically corn syrup) or lactose, dried skim milk, and refined vegetable oils (which may be genetically engineered unless labeled 100 percent USDA organic). According to GMOinside.org, Similac, Enfamil, and Nestle all use GMO ingredients in their infant formulas.12
•Is very calorie-dense, and contains twice as much protein as breast milk, which may promote insulin resistance and obesity. In fact, many infant formulas have as much sugar as a can of soda.
This fructose has none of the benefits of the natural sugars found in breast milk (see below). Rather it comes with a long list of adverse metabolic effects, raising your child’s risk for obesity, diabetes,13 and related health problems, both in the short and long term.14
•Has been found to be contaminated with a number of hazardous components, including but not limited to perchlorate (a component of rocket fuel), phthalates, bisphenol-A (BPA, a known endocrine disrupter), melamine, dioxin, heavy metals, and arsenic. One 2012 study15 found that 2 of 17 infant formulas tested that listed organic brown rice syrup on the label contained elevated levels of arsenic.
One had an arsenic concentration six times higher than the U.S. federal limit of 10 parts per billion for drinking water. Over 20 infant formula recalls have occurred since 1980 involving unsafe ingredients, pathogenic contaminations, foreign substances such as glass, insufficient nutrient content, and more.
•Can contain a number of problematic additives, including iron, synthetic omega-3/omega-6 oils DHA/ARA, carrageenan, and synthetic folic acid.
Other Drawbacks of Infant Formula
When using infant formula you also have to be especially concerned about the quality of the water you use to mix with the formula. Many if not most areas across the U.S. has some level of water contamination, and the contaminants can range from pesticides and flame retardants to drugs and heavy metals, just to name a few. Installing a high quality water filter is a prudent investment, especially if you have young children.
Also be sure to avoid using fluoridated water in the formula. And NEVER feed your baby soy based formula, as it can contain dangerously high concentrations of manganese and estrogenic compounds. As noted by Weston A. Price:16
“‘Formula-fed babies are sicker, sick more often, and are more likely to die in infancy or childhood… [B]ottle-fed infants were fourteen times more likely to be hospitalized than breast-fed infants. Compared to breastfed babies, formula-fed babies have a doubled overall infant death risk, and four-fold risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Bottle-fed infants and children have more frequent and more severe upper respiratory infections…They have more diarrhea, more gastrointestinal infections and constipation. Formula-fed babies suffer more jaw misalignment and are more likely to need orthodontic work as they get older.
Speech problems are more likely to develop because of weak facial muscles and tongue thrust problems which develop among bottle-fed babies. Formula-fed babies tend to become mouth breathers who snore and develop sleep apnea. Formula-fed infants also tend to have more dental decay — so-called “baby bottle caries” when habitually put to bed with a bottle — along with periodontal disease and TMJ problems.”
The article goes into great depth on the many problems associated with commercial infant formula, and the broad gulf of difference between formula and breast milk. So what’s the answer if you cannot breastfeed? While some may be anxious about the prospect of making homemade infant formula, it may actually be your safest option, as you’ll know exactly what you put in there. Here’s one recipe for homemade formula created by the Weston Price Foundation, which I believe is sound.
Breast Milk Is a Complete Food
Breast milk from a healthy mother contains hundreds of substances, some that cannot be imitated, and over 100 different types of fats alone. A woman’s breast milk also goes through a number of changes over time, providing the child with highly personalized nutrition. Colostrum, a highly nutritious special milk which is expressed for the first couple of days after giving birth, is quickly and easily digestible, whereas more mature breast milk contains a long list of vitamins and minerals, and higher amounts of fat.
And, while breast milk does contain sugars, they bear no resemblance to processed corn syrup! For example, breast milk contains about 150 different oligosaccharides; complex chains of sugars that are completely unique to human milk.
These sugars are not actually digested; rather, they feed healthy microbes in the baby’s digestive system. We now know that gut health plays an enormous role in overall health, and breast milk really “primes” your baby’s gut and promotes the colonization of a healthy microbiome.
Breast milk also contains a variety of nutrient growth factors17 and antibodies (immune molecules), which provide the baby with natural immunity to illnesses to which the mother is immune. This is why breastfed babies tend to have far fewer colds than formula fed babies.
Moreover, when a newborn is exposed to a pathogen, he or she will transfer it back to the mother while nursing. The mother will then make antibodies to that particular germ and transfer them back to the baby at the next feeding, thereby speeding up the recovery process and promoting future immunity toward the organism, should it be encountered again.
Breastfeeding Benefits Mom Too
In the short-term, nursing helps a woman shed that extra “baby weight” she put on during pregnancy. That alone is reason enough to breastfeed for many women, but the benefits go far beyond that. For example, recent research18,19 suggests breastfeeding may reduce a woman’s risk of cardiovascular disease later in life.
Of the women who lactated for one month or less, 17 percent had atherosclerotic plaques two decades later. Among those who breastfed for 10 months or longer, less than 11 percent were found to have such plaques 20 years later. One reason for this is because pregnancy takes a toll on a woman’s cardiovascular system, raising the risk for cardiovascular disease, but lactation helps restore a mother’s biological systems to a pre-pregnancy state. Other studies20 have also shown breastfeeding benefits the mother by:
|Enhancing maternal behavior through increased release of oxytocin, a hormone referred to as the “love hormone,” or “bonding hormone”||Acting as a natural birth control, as it suppresses ovulation, making pregnancy less likely||Reducing diabetic mothers’ need for insulin, as lactation lowers glucose levels naturally|
|Reducing the risk of women with gestational diabetes from becoming lifelong diabetics.
In one recent study,21 a woman’s risk of progressing from gestational diabetes to type-2 diabetes was inversely associated with length and intensity of breastfeeding
|Reducing your risk of endometrial-, ovarian- and breast cancers, including hormone receptor negative tumors,22which are a very aggressive form of breast cancer||Reducing your risk of metabolic syndrome|
Infant Nutrition Sets the Stage for Long-Term Health
The food you feed your baby during those first years can have a tremendous impact on your child’s development and long-term health, and I strongly encourage all mothers to breastfeed exclusively for at least six months or longer. The shaming of breastfeeding mothers is an absolute travesty, as we’re talking about crucial nutrition here. It’s a bizarre and unnatural mindset, and I hope women everywhere will stand up for their rights to breastfeed.
Begin nursing as soon after birth as possible, as your baby’s sucking instinct will be very strong at that time, giving you the best chance of success. Nursing moms also need to drink plenty of water and seek optimal nutrition while nursing. Newborns need to nurse at least once every two hours, for about 15 minutes or so on each side, but most do not adhere to any kind of strict schedule and feedings can vary in length.
It is this frequent nursing that stimulates your breasts to produce increasing amounts of milk to keep up with demand. (This is also why supplementing with formula can be detrimental to your milk supply.)
It can be a good idea to begin planning for successful breastfeeding before your baby is even born. La Leche League23 is a fantastic resource to contact for help whether you want to prepare beforehand or find you’re having trouble breastfeeding once your baby is born. Also find out whether your hospital of choice offers breastfeeding classes and lactation consultants who can help you. If it doesn’t, you may want to select a hospital that offers greater support.
If for whatever reason you’re unable to breastfeed, or you have adopted your newborn, you may want to consider using donated breast milk. Like the Weston A. Price Foundation, I do not recommend using human milk banks though, as the milk has to undergo pasteurization. An alternative may be to work with a physician or pediatrician who is willing to help you find a safe milk donor, and who will be involved in a screening process to ensure the milk is safe.
If you’re unable to breastfeed or find a safe source of breast milk, your next best bet is to make your own infant formula. I recommend avoiding commercial infant formulas as much as possible, including organic brands. Most are simply too high in refined sugar for optimal health, and lack many vital immune-boosting nutrients.