Monday, January 14, 2013

What's the formula?

My wife and I are big believers in the benefits of breastfeeding, and by God's grace and mommy's perseverance our boys age four and two never had a drop of formula. Speaking of which -- I've always wondered what is formula? Does formula have a formula?

According to an article by a Pat Thomas at The Ecologist website -- Breastmilk v. 'formula' food -- it doesn't. I quote. . .

'If anybody were to ask ‘which formula should I use?’ or ‘which is nearest to mother’s milk?’, the answer would be ‘nobody knows’ because there is not one single objective source of that kind of information provided by anybody,’ says Mary Smale, a breastfeeding counsellor with the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) for 28 years. ‘Only the manufacturers know what’s in their stuff, and they aren’t telling. They may advertise special ‘healthy’ ingredients like oligosaccharides, long-chain fatty acids or, a while ago, beta-carotene, but they never actually tell you what the basic product is made from or where the ingredients come from.’
The known constituents of breastmilk were and are used as a general reference for scientists devising infant formulas. But, to this day, there is no actual ‘formula’ for formula. In fact, the process of producing infant formulas has, since its earliest days, been one of trial and error.
Within reason, manufacturers can put anything they like into formula. In fact, the recipe for one product can vary from batch to batch, according to the price and availability of ingredients. While we assume that formula is heavily regulated, no transparency is required of manufacturers: they do not, for example, have to log the specific constituents of any batch or brand with any authority.
Most commercial formulas are based on cow’s milk. But before a baby can drink cow’s milk in the form of infant formula, it needs to be severely modified. The protein and mineral content must be reduced and the carbohydrate content increased, usually by adding sugar. Milk fat, which is not easily absorbed by the human body, particularly one with an immature digestive system, is removed and substituted with vegetable, animal or mineral fats.
Vitamins and trace elements are added, but not always in their most easily digestible form. (This means that the claims that formula is ‘nutritionally complete’ are true, but only in the crudest sense of having had added the full complement of vitamins and mineral to a nutritionally inferior product.)

Clearly The Ecologist and the folks quoted in this article have an agenda, but I'm willing to bet their claims are solid. I'd be interested to see any counter-evidence.

Later on the article details the millions of dollars spent on marketing infant formula. Not surprisingly this coincides with the steep decline in breastfeeding across the industrialized world and the easy acceptance of "infant convenience food" as a like for like substitute to what nature designed. As in most cases. . . follow the money.

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