Please don’t feed your baby homemade formula

There are few topics in parenting where I will put on my stern mom voice and tell you what to do. Many of our choices as parents are more of a matter of opinion and preference than safety. What we do is (largely) based in love and a desire to do the best for our children. How we feed them, however we feed them, is no different, but I’m not going to mince words: Please don’t feed your baby homemade formula.

I’ll expand upon that thought slightly: Please don’t feed your baby homemade infant formula without understanding that it is very difficult to make it a safer option than human milk or safely prepared commercial formula, and the people giving you recipes for homemade formula are not telling you this. Some people who share these recipes don’t realize the risks. Some have financial interest in you following their advice. The safety—or lack thereof—is the biggest reason to avoid it, and there are other things to consider as well.

Consuming raw milk carries real risks.

While the existence of regulations alone doesn’t prove that consumption is harmful, it is worth noting that most states restrict raw milk sales in some form. The CDC released a report in January 2015 detailing outbreaks of food-borne illnesses related to raw milk consumption, and the statistics show that children were at the highest risk for serious illness. According to this report, “From 2007-2012, 26 states reported 81 outbreaks caused by raw milk to CDC. These outbreaks caused 979 illnesses and 73 hospitalizations.” 59% of outbreaks involved at least one child younger than 5. Keep in mind that these are only reported outbreaks. Raw milk may not be investigated as a culprit because in less raw-milk-friendly areas people may avoid mentioning it to avoid potential repercussions, and not everyone goes to the doctor or hospital when they have an illness. Actual numbers are likely higher.

Adults should be able to make the decision to purchase raw and consume milk after weighing the risks and benefits for themselves. Unfortunately, children aren’t able, or given the opportunity, to do this risk-benefit analysis themselves, and the risks are highest for them.

The correct balance of nutrients is essential, and difficult to achieve.

One of the primary considerations of breastmilk versus breastmilk substitutes is renal solute load. The higher the renal solute load of a food, the more water is needed for the kidneys to properly excrete the byproducts of digestion and metabolism of the food. Protein, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and potassium contribute to potential renal solute load, and when an infant’s immature kidneys are overtaxed, this can lead to dehydration and worse. Infants who are fed cow’s milk are also at risk for anemia due to the low iron content of cow’s milk, intestinal blood loss that occurs in infants who consume cow’s milk, and the high levels of calcium and casein in cow’s milk (which impact iron absorption).

As you can see from the table below, human milk has much less protein, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and potassium than cow’s milk and goat’s milk. Goat’s milk is at times called the closest animal-milk substitute for human milk but, as you can see, it has an even higher potential renal solute load than cow’s milk.

Comparison of protein, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and potassium of human, cow, and goat milk. Compiled from http://and
Comparison of protein, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and potassium of human, cow, and goat milk. Compiled from and

Liver-based formula can easily contain too much vitamin A. Three ounces of chicken liver contains 185% of the RDA for vitamin A for an adult woman; the Weston A. Price liver-based formula recipe contains two ounces of liver for an infant per day. Since vitamin A is fat soluble, it is stored in the body and accumulates over time.

Cow’s milk does not provide enough vitamin E, iron, and essential fatty acids that are necessary for infant growth and development. Plus, kind of protein and fat in cow’s milk can be difficult for infants to digest, and that’s not something you can change with the additives people use to alter cow’s milk to create homemade infant formula.

Even if we presume that the many recipes floating around for homemade infant formula are providing the correct balance of macro- and micronutrients (they’re not), what about the other variables?

  • Not all raw milk is created equal, and a cow’s milk can change during the course of lactation, just like human milk can.
  • Are you using the exact brand of supplement suggested by the recipe? Different manufacturers will have different formulations.
  • Has the manufacturer’s formulation of the supplements stayed the same since the recipe was created and published?
  • Is the recipe itself accurate?
  • Is the equipment you’re using to measure your ingredients accurate? Are you measuring them accurately? Here’s the story of a baby who was hospitalized for a vitamin D overdose because her mother added a dropperful of vitamin D rather than a drop to the homemade formula she was making.

Here’s some more reading about the complexities of matching the nutrition and performance of breastmilk when creating substitutes. In a nutshell:

Manufacturers often add new ingredients to infant formulas in an attempt to mimic the composition or performance of human milk. However the addition of these ingredients is not without risks as a result of a range of complex issues, such as bioavailability, the potential for toxicity, and the practice of feeding formula and human milk within the same feeding or on the same day.

1953 Karo Syrup Ad, "Your Little Champ," Boy Playing BaseballCommercial formula manufacturers aren’t making poison.

The people who put the most money and effort into researching breastmilk are those who are trying to replicate it. The more they can make formula like breastmilk, the easier it is to sell it (and the higher prices they can charge). This is not skepticism or conspiracy theory; it is basic economics.

Commercial infant formula keeps getting better and better. Will it ever match the incredible, varied, ever-changing composition of human milk? No. But we do know it will meet certain nutritional guidelines set by the FDA, and there is oversight in regard to the safety of the manufacturing process. Not only do they have a vested interest in creating a product as close to human milk as possible, they have a vested interest in avoiding contamination and product recalls.

Cronobacter infection is one serious illness that has been linked to commercial infant formula, and those cases happen to the tune of 4 to 6 of them reported per year. There are additional potential contaminants of powdered infant formula, such as Salmonella . It’s a risk, particularly if formula is not being prepared correctly, but a much lower risk than that of raw milk, especially considering the number of infants consuming powdered infant formula in the United States every year (i.e., most of them). Using sterile, ready-to-feed formula significantly reduces this risk, but is also more expensive.

It is expensive and time consuming.

Raw, organic cream prices in California, where you can legally buy raw milk in a store, circa 2013. Used for homemade infant formula.
Raw, organic cream prices in California, where you can legally buy raw milk in a store, circa 2013. Photo used with permission.

You can purchase a pre-assembled kit for all of the supplements and additives you need for homemade infant formula from Radiant Life. A 37-day supply will set you back $174 (they throw in free shipping, so it comes out to $4.70 per day just for the additives). A gallon of raw milk costs significantly more than pasteurized, homogenized (aka regular store-bought) milk. This website gives it a range of $6 to $8 per gallon. Then you need whey (homemade), which is the liquid left over from making cultured dairy products such as yogurt, cream cheese, or sour cream (made from raw milk, of course). And don’t forget the raw cream. The photo to the right was taken by a friend of mine in southern California (where retail raw milk sales are legal). There’s quite a price difference between raw and pasteurized cream, and you need two to four tablespoons of it per batch of homemade formula.

Then there’s the time involvement. You have to assemble the ingredients. If you’re not buying a pre-packed kit, you’ll be spending time sourcing individual supplements. You’ll have to find a source of raw milk, and likely drive to the farm to purchase it. You’ll have to make a batch of it each day, which is a process much more involved even than safely preparing commercial infant formula.

Maybe you’ll end up saving time only feeding your baby six times a day, though, as some of the recipes recommend 6- to 8-ounce servings. The reality is that this means a baby is getting too much to eat at meal times that are too infrequent. Infants should be eating 8 times per 24 hours (including nighttime feedings), at a minimum.

Proponents of homemade formula give terrible advice about breastfeeding (and lots of other things).

The Weston A. Price Foundation, the source of several homemade baby formula recipes, is notorious for giving awful advice to breastfeeding mothers. Namely, the organization’s president, Sally Fallon, has stated that women who are not following a Weston A. Price diet would be better off feeding their children homemade formula. This goes against all of the research we have on breastfeeding. Not that the Weston A. Price Foundation seems to take this into account.

Another proponent of homemade infant formula, Sarah Pope (The Healthy Home Economist), says, “There are donor programs available for human breastmilk, but because the diet of the donor mother is unknown (and most likely nutritionally insufficient), and the fact that the breastmilk is pasteurized thereby destroying much of the nutritional benefit, this option is not recommended.” While heat treatment through pasteurization does alter some of the components of breastmilk, its bioactive properties are at least party retained while destroying harmful pathogens. (Here’s one summary/position paper stating the research.)

…and this doesn’t even get into the implausible, pseudoscientific claims these sources and other similar sources make about a wide variety of other health topics.

Here’s the bottom line.

If your baby is not getting your breastmilk, your baby should be getting donor breastmilk or (properly prepared) commercially manufactured formula. We’ve come a long way from the time when a third of all infants who were bottle-fed died and the unregulated formulas of the past. Nothing is 100% risk free, but it seems clear to me that homemade formula’s risks outweigh any perceived benefit, particularly for infants who have not yet started complementary/solid foods.

Every baby deserves to be fed safely. Sometimes parents and caregivers have no choice but to feed breastmilk substitutes, and sometimes inappropriate ones. There are organizations around the world trying their best to improve those situations (here is just one of many, focusing on refugee children: Infant Feeding Support for Refugee Children), and my heart breaks for any family who does not have access to the safest ways of feeding their baby.

Most of the people reading this will have more options. This post is written in the spirit of giving you all of the information you need to make an informed decision. I’ll leave you with one final thought. I’ve said previously, the time, effort, and money put toward sourcing the ingredients and making homemade baby formula could be spent on finding donor human milk instead. Breastmilk, after all, is raw milk specifically meant for human infants.



  1. THANK YOU for this! This is something that I have seen come up several times in the past couple of years especially.

  2. How about the baby being unable to consider the inherent multitude of risks that accompany artificial infant formula? I would rather a mother, myself included, use homemade milk and continuing to breastfeed rather than giving up altogether and moving strictly to formula. I fed my son donor milk to supplement when my insulin resistance didn’t allow me to produce enough but on occasion I had to use formula. When I did, I chose to make it myself more often than not because I could control what went into it. Regardless of your stance and opinion on the safety matter, which doesn’t truly hold much, parents should still be allowed to choose what they feel right and comfortable with for their child.

    1. The risks of commercial formula are largely comparable to those of homemade formula. Many of the problems with commercial formula are related to the non-human-milk base. Adding additives to cow’s milk or goat’s milk does not negate the effect cow’s milk can have on infants.

      Parents are always, absolutely allowed to choose what they feel right and comfortable for their child. I am offering my opinion as a counterpoint to what is often shared about homemade formula, which does not lay out the risks I describe. One’s comfort level with the risks may also change based on an infant’s age and how much of the homemade formula they are consuming.

    2. Why not use donor milk instead? Far safer than homemade formula

      1. Do you know how much donor formula costs? It’s astronomical.

        1. I assume you mean donor human milk. If you purchase pasteurized human milk, yes, it is expensive. If you’re able to find a trusted peer-to-peer source, it is free.

  3. I am a huge proponent of breastfeeding, but if I weren’t able to nurse my baby, pure damn right I would be making this nutrient dense REAL food homemade formula. There are thousands of babies out there following the WAPF recipe and have thriving babies. There are going to be moronic people everywhere making up their own ideas on everything baby related, so don’t discount a well-researched formula that doesn’t rely on artificial ingredients. If those babies can survive on nasty commercial formula, then they will thrive on this homemade formula. Shame on you.

    1. You’re welcome to make your own decisions based on what you feel is right for your family. There are, however, real risks homemade formula, and people deserve to know them.

      1. You’re using outdated studies, and most illnesses from raw milk are both from unregulated sources/farms, and affect those with compromised immune systems .

        1. The CDC recommends against consuming raw milk, and infants’ immune systems are not fully developed.

    2. I am with you, Kierstan. I am a breastfeeding advocate and breastfeeding counselor. When I could not breastfeed my baby after chronic mastitis and breast surgery for an abscess, it was devastating. I got very depressed thinking I had to turn to formula for my baby’s nutrients because donor milk is a fight to find around here. AND I DID NOT, WOULD NOT use commercial formula. It is a processed, dead food made mostly of corn syrup solids and synthetic nutrients. It causes obesity, food allergies, has zero beneficial bacteria for gut health, is highly inflammatory, and full of GMOs and the wrong kinds of fats.

      1. Amen.

    3. Human donor milk via peer-to-peer sharing is far safer than the risks of homemade formula. There are so many horrific risks to homemade formula – as highlighted in the post. It’s not opinion or shaming – it’s science.

  4. […] Homemade formula (“Please don’t feed your baby homemade infant formula without understanding that it is very difficult to make it a safer option than human milk or safely prepared commercial formula, and the people giving you recipes for homemade formula are not telling you this.”) by Tipper Gallagher, IBCLC. This article discusses safety issues relating to homemade infant formula. […]

  5. Thank you for this. Homemade formula is, at best, a flawed imitation of commercial formula, which is a flawed imitation of breastmilk. The potential for contamination or nutrient imbalance is serious.

  6. Having breastfeeding issues myself, I am looking towards supplementing with formula. I will be making it from scratch because when I actually read the back of a commercial formula can I was instantly appalled. A list of over 30 ingredients most of which I could not pronounce and a lot having something to do with crap put in to make the taste tolerable and mask the crap.
    If it’s your only option than I can understand and plenty of babies feed from it but come on. You actually think the FDA gives a care about what we put in our bodies?? With all the bs and poison they shove down our throats daily? That’s living in a made up world. Too many people live there and it’s a shame, trust the wrong people and information. We wouldn’t be a country filled with obesity and unnecessary diabetes if it were otherwise.

  7. Thank you for your article! I’m from France, my husband and I decided today to calculate all the protein, fat, carbs and some vitamins of one of the homemade formula. And the content it’s far from what is supposed to be and far from the actual breastmilk. The protein and fat content were crazy high compare to breastmilk or formula!
    Unfortunately most people don’t even bother to do the calcul and just follow a recipe that they found online.
    I found your article just after and I’m happy that someone talk about that.
    I decided to try to breastfeed and if it doesn’t work I’ll give my baby the organic european brand (which is suppose to be the best one)
    Here is the link in case it interest other mums.

  8. My daughter is just starting to wean her 11 1/2 month son off the Weston A. Price homemade formula (she was only able to breastfeed him for two months). At first it looked complicated, but the ingredients were easy to purchase online- places like Radiant Life. The milk we were able to purchase in Ventura, CA. from Sprouts Market , but mostly bought it from Lassen’s Health Food Store because they had raw milk from Jersey cows which is recommended. He has never been sick and has thrived on this formula. He was born 7 pounds and is now 25 pounds, very lean and strong. He’s been crawling since 5 1/2 months and is now starting to walk. Already has a vocabulary that you can understand, like nanna, ma ma, ganpa, dadie, dog, cat, bird, book, cow, has always been great communicator, super active, loves books, has a very good attention span, has always been good sleeper and napper. We feel like it was the BEST that we could give him if he could not have breast milk.

  9. I am completely understanding of your desire to warn new mothers of the risks of homemade formula.

    Whenever someone without a reasonable education in science and particularly biology tries to tackle diet they can often get the wrong end of the stick badly.

    That said, I think your judgments that take aim particularly harshly at Weston Price Foundation guides is misplaced.

    If the flaccid argument against such diets you offer were to be compared to the detailed work on the site, backed by registered nutritionists, would make you look like psudoscience.

    Your only real example of harm, a bit D overdose, when investigated resulted from an idiotic woman’s failure to follow the guidelines provided.

    That’s not the fault of the provider. If a person is too arrogant about knowing best and thus is too negligent to do the work of studying infant nutrient needs (which if she had done she’d have had the sense not to mess with the ratios given) then the fault lies with the parent, not the recipe provider.

    Your article should be titled *Please study infant nutrition before feeding your child anything*.

    That’s a message I could get behind.

  10. Just linked this again. Sorry if it gets you a new wave of nonsense. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Thanks for having such good resources available!!

  11. Commercial formulas carry risks as well. There have been and will always be recalls for potential contamination, as with any food, drug or supplement. And let’s not forget that processed foods, including formula, are not ideal for optimal gut health.

    I made homemade formula for two of my children when I was unable to breastfeed. One with Cow’s Milk and one with Goat’s Milk. Both of them thrived wonderfully on the formula. Had it not worked, I would have tweaked the formula or considered something different. Parents should certainly be able to choose what they feel is best for their children. However, whole foods nutrition is always better than processed. Therefore, there is no reason we should be anymore scared of homemade formulas than we should be of commercial ones.

  12. Have you even tried commercial formula yourself? It is so dangerously artificial and filled with synthetics and soy which messes with hormones – it tastes artificial and doing research into the components of it, it can’t be good for a newborn (read the ingredients, of even the most premium commercial formula available and look into what it actually is). I can’t agree with this article, I have done intense research over these things and for mothers that cannot sufficiently breastfeed or get access to unpastreurised human donor breastmilk need an alternative – homemade formula sure is expensive but far more expensive than

  13. I am hoping to one day to be able to breastfeed my children, but if I cannot, I will still be paying a higher price for an organic (probably international) baby formula. I am put off by many of the formulas I have seen in the stores-the cheapest ones and all of the American varieties in Walmart have either corn, soy or tons of sugar as the first five ingredients! Most of the international varieties do not have that. I would love to believe that the commercial varieties are healthier, but I also see it as the first bait to getting your baby hooked on sweets! Has anyone ever just walked through the baby aisles and looked at the first meals or snacks for the kids? Sugar and more sugar! LOL It feels like a conspiracy somehow. I have considered the Weston a Price baby formula (although with organic milk from the store as raw milk is too expensive); I liked the idea that there were about 10 ingredients instead of over 30! If you are going to recommend commercial baby formula, would you be willing to share some safer brand names of formula that are not full of additional, unnecessary sugar, corn syrup or soy? I think that might be a better option in the middle of cheap commercial formulas and making homemade. Thank you.

    1. Breastmilk is roughly 7% carbohydrates (i.e., sugar). Babies and their rapidly growing brains need sugar in order to develop properly. Cow’s milk does not have the same amount of lactose as breastmilk so, additional sugar needs to be added.

  14. […] to TheBoobGeek, using homemade formula can be unsafe for the baby, especially if they're under 6 months of age, […]

  15. […] Please don’t make your infant formula at home, unless you’re making it in your own body. Infant nutrition is complex. The recipes you find online are not vetted for nutritional adequacy, are very complex and time consuming to make, are expensive to make, and are potentially harmful, with too little of certain nutrients and potentially too much of others. […]

  16. While I appreciate your concerns with homemade formula, I think what you share is one-sided and only somewhat researched (only well enough to prove your point). Instead of addressing the concerns with homemade formula, you dismiss it altogether. Neither donor milk, commercial formula, nor homemade formula made with commercial products are all bad or all good, but the pros and cons of each can and should be discussed openly without judgement of either group.

    Some solutions to your proposed list of problems:

    – Risks of consuming raw milk (buy pasteurized) – not a perfect one, but a solution nonetheless.

    – Nutritional inconsistency – create an oversight organization and publish a standard recipe that meets FDA criteria (easier said than done, but a solution).

    – Expensive – not completely true, This varies based on location, ingredients, and number of children to feed. Creating a standard recipe will also drive cost down as more suppliers offer their kits to the market (yay capitalism). Either way, it can be thousands cheaper than commercial formula.

    – Time consuming – Ok, this one is true…but, it’s not more time-consuming than breastfeeding or pumping. And what is the price we pay for convenience?

    – Prep concerns (sterilization, measuring, etc) – all this takes is education. Standard measuring tools, with clear instructions on handling and safety would easily solve this problem.

    It always baffles me that we can feed our babies food that we prepare in our own kitchens, but not prepare formula in the same place, mostly due to propaganda from commercial companies that will lose money as people are starting to realize they have access to better options. The risks are almost the same, even when comparing very young infants to older ones.

    I hope my comment inspires a more supportive community around homemade formula, and respect for the parents who feel it’s the best option for their babies. Because of course, not everyone is informed enough to be aware of donor milk, and many are not privileged enough to afford it.

    As for homemade goat milk formula, I recommend the Mt. Capra Farm recipe over Weston A. Price. The owner has a Masters in Human Nutrition and Food Science. Their recipe is expensive, but they offer suggested substitutions, it seems well researched, and they do NOT recommend raw milk. 🙂

    1. You offer some interesting solutions, and it would definitely be preferable if there could be guidance, oversight, and consistency. We do have that, though, in the form of commercial infant formula.

      1. We do, and many people are not satisfied with it. Which is why alternative options have risen in popularity. The commercial formula industry is an oligarchy, and like we are seeing with so many other things happening right now, too much power in one place means too little power in another. The right for healthy parents to choose what is best for their children should be celebrated.

        Anyway, I came back to report our success story. We gave birth to 1 pound preemies in 2018, and when we brought them home, we tried 5 different commercial formulas in addition to nursing one baby (the other was fed my milk by tube). During that time, a friend told me about HGMF, which I was not previously aware of. I was skeptical, and like I always do, started researching (that’s how I found this article).

        We tried homemade formula slowly, and started seeing improvements in our twins’ development, the rashes they would always get finally cleared up, they became more alert and lively, less colicky, and their reflux pretty much disappeared.

        We are just one family, but I homemade goat milk formula gave our babies a healthy foundation once I was unable to continue nursing, and quite literally saved one of their life and cognitive development of our Baby B, who was never able to nurse.

        I’m happy to report that I am a skeptic turned believer based on our experience, and while there are many intricacies that can’t be explained in a blog comment, I’m so grateful that we took a leap of faith and tried it out.

        Just for reference, we did NOT use raw goat milk. As they grew, we introduced egg yolk and liver as WAP recommends. And at 17 months old, we are drinking store bought goat milk, and I still give them one serving of cod liver oil daily. I hope this helps someone, even if it means deciding HGMF isn’t right for your family. <3

        1. Please excuse typos. 🙂 Also wanted to say, I enjoy your blog, and respect your opinion. And I also want to add another perspective. Thank you for allowing this to be a conversation, and not blocking the comments or deleting because my perspective is different.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *