This week a new study was published in Environmental Health Perspectives that found alarming levels of arsenic in baby formulas. The amount of arsenic in one organic formula was 6 times the recommended threshold for adults. This is so distressing to a mom giving her baby formula (like I currently am). You try to do the best for your baby and the industry just seems to totally fail us sometimes!
But this news is hardly exclusive as a reason to avoid formula. There are all kinds of scary things going on in formula (bug parts anyone?) and the evidence that breastfeeding is so far superior from a health perspective is enough to make a mama scream! Formula feeding is not always avoidable and until society puts a premium on milk bank breastmilk so that it is affordable many of us will be using formula. Here are my 7 tips for avoiding the major risks of formula.
1. Don’t use soy formula.
I really feel soy formula should only be given by prescription. It is horrible and only needed in less than 1% of babies (with a true milk allergy) and yet in the US up to 50% of babies are getting soy formula. Unfortunately soy’s reputation as a health food makes conscientious parents think it is better than cow’s milk formula. I avoid soy in all forms and if I must have some it must be organic. Soy is the most genetically modified and heavily pesticide drenched crop in the world. Besides that soy is naturally a phytoestrogen meaning it has a compound that mimics the hormone estrogen in the human body increasing rates of breast and ovarian cancers and causing infertility.
If your baby isn’t tolerating cow’s milk well it is to be expected since cow’s milk is not ideal for human digestion, however, your child is probably not allergic to milk. Try a hydrolyzed formula instead (see #6).
2. Don’t use fluoridated water to make formula
Ever. Reconstituted formula “contains 100 to 200 times more fluoride (1,000 ppb) than is found naturally in breast milk (5-10 ppb). In fact, while breast-fed infants receive the LOWEST body burden (mg/kg/day) in the population, they receive the HIGHEST body burden if they receive fluoridated formula(source).” Fluoride is a toxic substance that can cause tooth deformity (called fluorosis), cancers, and decreased cognitive skills in children. Remember, even if you a pro-fluoride for tooth decay it is only beneficial when applied topically NOT when ingested.
The CDC has a website called My Water’s Fluoride where you can search for your city’s fluoride levels. However, there didn’t seem to be any data for my state at all. I did find Ohio Fluoridation levels with a Google Search. If you have well water have it checked for fluoride levels. The levels could be low or high as it varies from well to well even in the same area. Get a reverse-osmosis or activated alumina water filter. Your average Brita does not remove fluoride. Bottled water has fluoride in most cases. Bottled spring water is best but just because it says “spring” on the label doesn’t mean it is from a spring. Besides, bottled water creates a landfill nightmare.
3. Use organic formula if possible.
This avoids pesticides as well as genetically engineered products like High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). The recent arsenic scare was in organic formula using brown rice syrup so until better regulation I would avoid that ingredient.
4. Give a probiotic supplement.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that help in digestion. Babies get probiotics from their mother through vaginal birth and through breastfeeding. In formula fed babies the introduction of cow’s milk throws off the delicate balance of gut flora. A probiotic introduces the good stuff. I personally like Udo’s Infant Probiotic.
5. Give an omega-3 supplement.
Omega-3’s help the development of eyes, brain, and immune system and can also stabilize mood. I recommend a cod-liver oil and to avoid some of the junk on the market like Flinstones that have HFCS, artificial dyes and flavors, and less bio-available omega-3. I use an adult norwegian cod-liver oil where I break the gel-caps and pour the liquid directly into the formula.
6. Consider hydrolyzed formula.
I don’t use this because there isn’t currently an organic option on the market but if your child is having trouble with regular formula this provides milk proteins that are pre-broken down and easier to digest. There is even some evidence that are showing a long-term benefit of decreased allergies, asthma, and eczema when compared to whole-protein cow’s milk formula.
7. Practice gentle, responsive parenting.
This is good for the immune system and brain development two things that breastfed babies have a leg up on. Practicing gentle and responsive parenting will bathe your baby in oxytocin the love hormone that breastfeeding releases. This will enhance brain development and develop a wonderful attached relationship with your formula-fed baby.