The use of baby formula as the primary method of infant feeding has exploded in popularity over the past few decades. Formula has become increasingly healthier in recent years with the addition of chemicals like DHA and lutein, both of which are naturally found in human milk. In spite of these advancements, there is some information that the manufacturers aren’t advertising. Take a look at these ten little-known facts about infant formula.
1. The linings of formula cans contain bisphenol-A, or BPA, a plastics chemical which mimics the female hormone estrogen. Exposure to BPA can potentially cause reproductive problems and early puberty. Experts are concerned that the chemical may leach into the formula and be ingested by infants, who are far more vulnerable to adverse effects from contaminants than adults. Liquid and ready-to-feed formulas are more susceptible to this leaching than powdered formulas. The FDA reports that they are currently accepting applications for alternative substances with which to line formula cans; however, they do not recommend changing a child’s feeding habits based solely on this concern.
2. Feeding an infant formula can increase the child’s risk of developing food allergies and inflammatory bowel disease, a disease which encompasses the chronic conditions ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, according to new research performed by nutritionist Sharon Donovan at the University of Illinois. The study also shows an increased risk for asthma in formula-fed infants. These conditions result from the formula’s inability to activate the appropriate immune system genes within the digestive tract. Without the activation of these genes, a child’s digestive system is left vulnerable to a lifetime of adverse effects.
3. It is impossible to produce sterile powdered infant formula. According to the World Health Organization, current technology does not allow for powdered formula to be manufactured in such a way that it is sterile, even when it is produced within current hygienic guidelines.
4. Baby formula may be contaminated with the harmful bacteria enterobacter sakazakii and salmonella enterica. Since powdered formula cannot be manufactured to be sterile, these bacteria can be present and cause severe illness in children. The WHO reports that, although these organisms cannot thrive in dry formula, they can survive in it for up to and possibly exceeding one year. Once the formula is mixed, it provides an ideal habitat for the growth of these illness-causing bacteria. In rare cases, infection with these pathogens can even cause a child’s death.
5. Formula feeding increases a child’s risk of childhood obesity and of developing diabetes. A White House study, released by first lady Michelle Obama in May 2010, explains that babies who are formula-fed are 22 percent more likely to be obese. Formula derived from cow’s milk contains about twice as much protein as human milk. This excess protein results in excess insulin production and prolonged insulin response. Even well into childhood, children who were formula-fed as infants show low levels of the hormon leptin, which is known to “inhibit appetite and control body fatness.”
6. Soy-based formulas contain plant estrogens which can cause a variety of reproductive issues. Soy formulas are an alternative for children with cow’s milk allergies and for vegan families. While studies have shown that obesity and diabetes risks are lower for children who consume soy-based formulas, they are not without their own set of dangers. A study published by The Society for the Study of Reproduction in March 2010 found that newborn mice who were fed a formula containing the soy plant estrogen genistein once daily developed various reproductive problems, as well as abnormalities of the thymus gland. The study mimicked the level of genistein that would be found in a human infant who was regularly fed soy formula. It raises serious questions about the safety and long-term effects of soy-based formulas in infants.
7. The FDA does not test infant formulas prior to their marketing and sale. While the FDA inspects manufacturing facilities and performs quality tests on formulas once a year, they do not test infant formula to ensure that it meets nutritional and quality requirements before it is allowed to be sold. Instead, the FDA relies solely on the manufacturers’ own reports that their products meet federal standards.
8. Infant formulas often contain perchlorate, the base chemical in solid rocket fuels. In March 2009, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a study which found perchlorate in 15 brands of infant formula. The EPA insists that the levels of the chemical found in formula pose no threat to infants. However, according to the CDC, the drinking water in 26 states contains high levels of perchlorate. If tap water and powdered baby formula, both containing the hazardous chemical, are mixed together, the levels may be high enough to cause serious harm to infants.
9. FDA testing has revealed that some baby formulas also contain the chemicals melamine and cyanuric acid. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has stated that these chemicals “can cause renal failure by production of insoluble melamine cyanurate crystals in renal tubules and/or calculi in kidneys, ureter, urethra or the urinary bladder.” In other words, when these chemicals are present in baby formula, they can cause kidneys stones, kidney and urinary blockages and infections, and kidney failure. In extreme cases, complications of these conditions may result in the deaths of infants. The FDA performs tests for melamine and cyanuric acid in baby formulas, which can be viewed on their website.
10. Many brands of formula contain ingredients which are generally acknowledged to contain or produce monosodium glutamate, or MSG. The organization Truth in Labeling provides information from a Canadian study which found MSG, a dangerous neurotoxin, in at least five brands of baby formula. Although testing was performed only on Canadian products, all five companies manufacture and sell products in the United States as well. The organization also names ingredients from four different types of U.S. baby formula which are known to contain MSG or to produce it during processing. These ingredients include enzymatically hydrolyzed reduced minerals, casein hydrolysate, carrageenan, and maltodextrin.
Unfortunately, the companies that manufacture infant formula do not always tell the entire story. Strict guidelines are put in place to help ensure the safety of formula-fed infants, but unfortunately some problems have still arisen with these infant products. It is imperative that parents have all the information possible and that our society continues to demand higher and higher standards in the production of products for our children and babies.