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Today, many parents use traditional infant formulas to feed their children. However, there are some instances when this type of formula may not be appropriate. Some infants are allergic, intolerant, or sensitive to commercial formula.
It is crucial to understand which baby formula options are safe and appropriate to use when they should be used, and which ones should be avoided. In this alternatives to formula guide, I’ll cover some of the top mainstream formula alternatives. Please remember to consult with your physician as this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice!
Donor milk is the first and most natural alternative to breast milk. Donor milk is an excellent choice for mothers who wish to give breastmilk to their baby but are unable to make it. Donor milk is breast milk that has been donated by other breastfeeding mothers.
Getting donor breastmilk your baby during hospital stays can reduce his stay and help prevent infection. This breast milk can also help your baby’s immune system fight infections and provide the best nutrition for growth and development. The best part is that babies who are fed breastmilk while in hospital can return home much sooner than those who are fed formula.
Even after being discharged from the hospital, your baby can continue to drink donor milk. In many places, donor milk is scarce and most fragile babies have priority. To receive donor milk, you will need to have a prescription from your doctor.
NOTE: There is also a underground informal marketplace of sorts for breastmilk. This is NOT regulated and generally unsafe, particularly if you are paying for annonymous breastmilk online. The “Donor” breastmilk discussed above is formalized process run by hospitals and medical associations, with strict standards and testing.
Although ingredients can vary from one brand to the next, most baby formula milk contains processed skimmed milk. These milks are often added with emulsifiers or stabilisers to aid in the oil and water mixing when making up the feed.
However, there are many other less known but emerging sources of baby formula worth considering.
The following section covers the most common (and some less common) infant formula alternatives.
There are organic options available, such as the European formula Holle Organic brand.
They use organic ingredients and have made sure to preserve their nutritional integrity. The milk is Demeter certified (biodynamic certification, stricter than Organic). There are far fewer ingredients and questionable fillers or preservatives.
If you are just looking for an alternative to MAINSTREAM formula, give these European originated formulas a shot.
Goat Milk Formula
Breastfeeding can be difficult for some babies, and some mothers have difficulty producing breastmilk. It doesn’t matter if your baby is sensitive to food or can’t digest certain foods in your diet (Often referred to as colic)
If your child is suffering from lactose intolerance or you are worried about breastfeeding (or breastmilk in general), goat’s milk infant formula may be the answer. Infant formula made from goat milk can be beneficial in many situations. It is important to know these situations and which type of baby might benefit from switching.
Goat’s milk can be quite different from that of cow’s milk.
Although most proteins found in both types of milk are the same, you will find some proteins in cow’s milk which you won’t see in goat’s. There is a possibility that your baby could react to goat’s milk protein if they have been diagnosed with an allergy to cow’s protein (found in cow milk formula).
Soy Milk Formula
To ensure your toddler gets all the vitamins and minerals they need, make sure you choose fortified soymilk. Parents are often concerned about the potential dangers of genetically modified ingredients and pesticides. Choosing certified organic soymilk is an excellent way to reduce your child’s exposure.
Soymilk is made from soybeans and has the closest nutritional composition to cow’s milk. It is recommended for children who are looking for non-dairy options. It contains approximately 6-9g of protein per cup depending on which brand.
NOTE: Due to the high concentration of GMO based soy products, we personally avoided soy as a formula option for our kids, but this was a personal preference based on our research.
Coconut Milk Formula
Because it contains the same amount of fat as soy and 2% milk, coconut milk is another good alternative for supplementation. But that’s the end of the similarities. Coconut milk does not contain any protein or micronutrients.
A parent who chooses coconut milk for their child must replace 16-18g of protein lost by drinking 2 cups of soy or cow’s milk per day. They should also ensure that coconut milk has been fortified, shake the carton thoroughly, and that it is fortified. Hemp hearts can be added to coconut milk to provide complete protein. They are rich in omega-3 fatty acid and complete protein, and enhance the creamy, nutty coconut milk flavor.
Rice Milk Formula
Rice milk, which comes from the rice plant and does not contain the necessary nutrients for infant growth and development, is called rice milk. Rice milk does not contain the nutrients your baby needs to develop their brain and physical abilities.
Also, rice milk contains more carbohydrates than formula or breast milk. You should never give newborn rice milk to anyone without a valid medical reason and supervision from a doctor.
NOTE: Rice is also more susceptible to attracting contaminants like arsenic and other heavy metals, due to growing practices. This is another reason it’s not really suitable as a milk formula alternative.
Homemade Baby Formula
When it comes to homemade baby formula, your pediatrician might not always be supportive. You, as parents, have to decide what is best. You may consider making your own baby formula if breastfeeding is impossible or you are unable to use formulas.
You can find many homemade baby formula recipes, but there are some things you need to keep in mind. Make sure your baby gets enough calories, protein, and fat. Formula recipes are designed to give infants the best nutrition. It is best to avoid changing recipes. Choose a recipe you are able to stick with for the long term.
To get the best results and maximum freshness, you will need to make sure that you use all formulas every day.
Baby Formula Ingredients to Avoid
This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list, but in my research, I’ve generally found these formula ingredients to be sub-optimal:
- GMO Ingredients (non-Organic): Organic formula does not necessarily mean that it’s safest or best. However, it is a good step in the right direction. USDA Organic certification means that a US recipe is free from GMOs, antibiotics, growth hormones, and conventional seeds oils, which are often extracted with hexane.
- Corn-Based Products and Fillers: Including Corn Syrup Solids and High Fructose Corn Syrups, Maltodextrin.
- Carrageenan: Carrageenan is often found in formula, as well as in processed foods such as lunch meats and nut milk. Carrageenan is a seaweed-derived thickener that can be used to prevent intestinal inflammation. It has even been linked to colon cancer. Carrageenan is banned in Europe.
- Processed Sweeteners: Sucrose and Maltodextrin; Cane Sugar, Brown Rice Syrup. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Corn Syrup Solids.
- Soy and Soy Derivatives: Non-organic soybeans (including soybean oil, soy lecithin) are almost certainly GMO. Many soy formulas include synthetic l-methionine, which is often made using toxic chemicals. The use of synthetic L-methionine is prohibited by European organic standards, but US formulas contain it. Soy lecithin contains a chemical called Hexane, and all soy-containing foods have natural-occurring phytoestrogens. Although there have not been any definitive studies on the effects of these chemicals, studies showing the presence in infants’ bloodstreams from those who were fed soy-based formulas do. For babies still in development, doctors warn about adverse estrogen effects in male and female infants.
- Added Fatty Acids Extracted via Hexane: This one surprised me as we all know that fatty acids are essential for brain development and good health. These fatty acids are always prominently advertised on formula packaging, so I believed it was a necessity. They are synthetic forms of DHA/ARA, and many are extracted with hexane.
Final Take on Alternatives to Formula
As you can see, there is a wide variety of alternatives to consider.
That said, only a few stand out (to me) as worthy alternatives. While soy formula may do in a pinch, I’m most comfortable with either an organic formula brand (assuming cow milk is ok) OR a goat-milk-based formula (all of our little ones had cow’s milk sensitivity).