05 October 2012

On Formula

You know how it is, right? On Twitter one night, I fell into a conversation about homemade baby formula.

I don't even know how it started - ask Beck - but I was able to get myself out of a warm bed and pad down to the cellar, where I unearthed the baby care instruction book that my mother had gotten from the hospital when she was there after having birthed me. Vintage child-rearing instructions! In my very cellar! Courtesy of New York State! Complete with the instruction that "sun baths are not necessary"!

I was able to answer Beck, sort of. It turns out that the proportions for making homemade formula are based on the size of the baby. But that's not really the point. In 1960, baby formula may well have been homemade, and consisted of nothing but canned evaporated OR fresh whole milk, plus sugar or corn syrup, plus water. I quickly fell down the rabbit hole of baby feeding, and learned any number of interesting things - including that in 1960, "it is estimated that 80% of bottle-fed infants in the US were being fed with an evaporated milk formula" - that is, not a commercial product.

Back in the day, like Colonial America, "if a mother's milk supply was inadequate or she chose not to nurse, the family often employed a wet nurse to nourish infants." When wet nursing fell out of favor, "the practice of feeding human babies milk from animals, called dry nursing, began to flourish".  Isn't that fascinating? Wet for human milk, dry for goat/cow/mare/donkey milk, even though at the beginning, the animal milk would have been fresh and therefore a wet liquid. This bit about wet vs. dry came from a fascinating article in Contemporary Pediatrics, called "A Concise History of Infant Formula".

According to the Food Timeline, ready-to-serve formula was introduced in 1964, already sterilized in a glass bottle, able to be kept unopened without refrigeration. "All you have to do is replace the bottle's cap with a sterilized-sized collar." Commercial formula, a liquid or powder to be mixed with water, had made inroads by 1964: "only one mother in five now fixes the baby formula using the traditional evaporated milk mixed with carbohydrate modifiers...half of today's mothers now use a prepared infant formula, either a powder or liquid which is mixed with water...one baby in five gets whole cow's milk...only one in 10 is breast fed, still the safest, most convenient and least expensive method of nourishing an infant."

I do find it fascinating that in my lifetime, baby formula has gone from a simple concoction of evaporated milk, water and sugar, to a highly-processed exactingly-contrived product with many variants.

Mind you, none of this is meant as commentary on breastfeeding or formula feeding. I did both, I'm happy I did both, she needed formula both for convenience and because I did not have a robust milk supply. But I'm damned glad I didn't have to boil and sterilize and weigh and measure. That powdered stuff out of a can, mixed with tap water? That's a good modern convenience.


De said...

Fascinating. Lots of new-to-me info here.

And here is Beck with condensed milk again. I'm starting to imagine her living in a bunker.

Quiana said...

I find information like this immensely fascinating! This story too on the Fultz Quads fascinated me as I looked at formula's growth in the black community: http://www.blacktating.com/2010/10/little-known-black-history-fact-fultz.html

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I wonder if anyone has researched whether the use of forumla might have any connection to the rise in obesity rates. Pre-1964 and after. I'm sure I could find something.

You are right, that would have been a lot of work.

alejna said...

So interesting!

Back when was in college, I learned about making puppy formula. A housemate and I had adopted a dog, who turned out to be pregnant, and the turned out to get sick shortly after whelping. She had surgery and recovered, but we still had to bottle feed the puppies. All 6 of them. I don't remember the proportions, but we used whole milk, corn syrup and egg yolks. (Dog milk is fattier than cow milk. Or human milk, so it would seem.)

Awesome Mom said...

I was horrified when I found out that I only got the commercial formula for the first six months of my life and after that I was switched to home made. I had no idea that even in my lifetime powered formula was not the main alternative to breastfeeding. I am so glad that we have the powdered because I would have hated to have to do all that mixing and figuring how much of what to add. I actually prefer something made in a controlled environment. I like things to be precise.

Jeanne said...

My mother was a lone advocate of breastfeeding when I was born and persevered for six months. Then the doctor advised her to put me on 2% milk.

Beck said...

Condensed milk is God's Milk, my friends. (no, I just like it BUT NOT FOR FEEDING BABIES.)

My mom breastfed me, being the back-to-nature sort that she is. I think I was just transitioned onto whole milk at 6 months or so - I know a lot of local people who still do that, which horrifies me.

Wrath Of Mom said...

I was born in 1973 and was formula fed until 3 months old. At which point I started on solids. Ah. Remember the good old days when "fat" was a sign of robust health, not early death? Good times.

Like many, I've breast and bottle fed my babies. I don't judge people for doing either or question their motives. There are pluses and drawbacks to both methods. What I don't understand is why people are making formula TODAY, instead of using the pre-made alternatives designed by nutritionists and food chemists and made in hygienic facilities. I've seen recipes that include combinations of Goats Milk, rice milk, cod liver oil, Black Strap Molasses, Liquid Acidophilus, whey powder, yeast flakes, Flax Seed Oil, Liquid Vitamin C, liquid calcium & magnesium, gelatin and/or wheat germ. Before I made formula, I'd have my kid mainlining condensed milk. I think they are putting their child's health at risk, because of their anti-Nestle, anti-any-type-of-formula-anywhere-in-the-world dogmatic, political stance.

shrink on the couch said...

My baby sister was the nouveau generation of canned formula and pampers. Because? I remember fooling with the cloth diapers and yuck. No thanks. What a difference modern manufacturing can make.

niobe said...


I was bottle-fed (probably with evaporated milk, given the timeline), but my mother got sick of all the preparation involved and breastfed my not-quite-two-years-younger brother.

Frogs in my formula said...

This fascinates me too. My grandmother adopted my aunt and didn't have access to formula (like you noted, it wasn't available yet), so she lived on homemade formula and corn syrup. My grandmother said it was a Godsend when my aunt was finally able to eat table food. And now, the doctors say wait until the kids are 6 mos before introducing solids. It's amazing how we went from making decisions based on necessity to this "I have to check with the Dr. first" mentality.