Most mothers know that breast milk is best for baby, but there are some people who, perhaps for health reasons, need to find a safe alternative. In many instances, these moms look for an organic infant formula and are willing to pay top dollar to give their babies the best possible nutrition. Sadly, just because an infant formula is given the "organic" label doesn't necessarily mean that it is healthy.
For example, a recent article in The New York Times revealed that the organic version of Similac infant formula is sweetened with cane sugar (sucrose) and is much sweeter than other infant formulas. While all infant formulas have some added sugars to aid in the digestion of proteins, other organic products use sugars like organic lactose, which is presumably a better match for what's found in breast milk and doesn't have the sweetness of sucrose. Most health-conscious readers are probably shaking their heads and thinking that it is nothing short of insanity to be adding sugar to baby formula when the U.S. is in the middle of an obesity epidemic. Were pediatricians actually consulted about what was put into this formula? Or was the product designed primarily by food chemists like the ones that create fast food strawberry milkshakes?
According to a list of frequently asked questions on the FDA website, the FDA currently does not approve infant formula before it can be marketed. The FDA does require that infant formula contain minimum amounts of certain nutrients, and it does provide upper limits for some nutrients. Certain nutrients that are required to be included in any infant formula are protein, fat, linoleic acid, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin B6, vitamin B12, niacin, folic acid, pantothenic acid, vitamin C, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, manganese, copper, iodine, sodium, potassium and chloride. If cow's milk is not used for the formula, then biotin, choline and inositol must be included.
Any substance that is generally recognized as safe may be used in infant formula in the United States. For now, that means that sugar can be used in baby formula in the U.S., and there is absolutely no upper limit to the amount of sugar that can be dumped into it. Europe, on the other hand, in light of the childhood obesity epidemic, has banned all sucrose from baby formula products beginning in 2009.
According to the The New York Times article, Dr. Benjamin Caballero, director of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, doesn't think sucrose belongs in infant formula, either. Dr. Caballero believes that feeding children sweet things encourages them to eat more. He explains that babies and children generally prefer sweeter foods and will eat more of them than foods that aren't as sweet.
While having babies eat more might be of interest to food corporations, parents need to be concerned with the health of their children. Concerns about obesity aren't the only problem with putting sugar in baby formula. If a baby's teeth are constantly exposed to sugar, this could result in tooth decay.
Clearly, finding a safe infant formula is a daunting task. According to The Breastfeeding Task Force of Greater Los Angeles, there are many risks associated with using infant formula instead of breast milk. For example, formula feeding is responsible for up to 26% of insulin dependent diabetes mellitus in children. Middle-ear infections are three to four times more common in children who are fed infant formula, and children who are fed infant formula are also much more likely to be hospitalized due to bacterial infections. In addition to the health risks, some studies have shown that formula-fed babies don't do as well on intelligence tests as breast-fed babies.
Moreover, sugar isn't the only undesirable thing turning up in infant formula. An NPR report indicates that certain formulas enhanced with omega-3 fatty acids may actually pose a health risk. Other reports warn about Bisphenol-A turning up in infant formulations. What is a new mother to do?
Maybe new moms should take a lesson from the animal kingdom. What other mammals feed their babies the milk of other creatures? Do dogs try to feed their puppies cat milk? Of course not. Even small children know that cat milk is for kittens, just like cow's milk is for baby cows. Perhaps the perfect formula for a baby just isn't something that can be found in a can.
About the author
Joanne Waldron is a computer scientist with a passion for writing and sharing health-related news and information with others. She runs the Naked Wellness: The Gentle Health Revolution forum, which is devoted to achieving radiant health, well-being, and longevity.