In the past week I’ve been reading a lot about the controversy over the Weston A. Price Foundation’s claim that their homemade formula recipe is of better nutritional quality than the breast milk of a mother who doesn’t follow their dietary guidelines. I think the best response I have read is from Best for Babes, and I’m not going to try to replicate that. Just go ahead and read it.
Me, helping a calf learn to drink milk from a pail back in 2008
They have a few recipes for homemade formula including one based on cow’s milk and one on goat’s milk. My initial reaction was this: WHO is guaranteeing the diet of the COW or the GOAT? They recommend milk from pastured animals, and in a perfect world that would be available without a problem. However, the reality is that the vast majority of dairy produced in the US is fed a diet that they did not evolve (or were not designed, your choice) to eat. In the best case scenario, the cows eat a lot of grain. In the worst case, well… I’ve heard tales of cows being fed chicken carcasses, stale bread, gum still in wrappers, not to mention growth hormones, antibiotics and concerns about how the cows are treated.
My friend’s son visits their cows while out for a stroll
Let me back up here a moment, because sometimes I assume that people understand farm animals better than they really do. Both of my parents grew up on working diary farms here in Connecticut, but I didn’t because the dairy barn on the farm where I grew up burned down in the 1970′s and many of the cows were lost, and my dad’s family reinvented the farm as an orchard (that’s a story for another day). So although I didn’t grow up milking cows twice a day (thank goodness!), my parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles did. I’ve heard quite a few stories around the dinner table about milking cows, so what seems to be common knowledge to me is most likely not common knowledge to most people. Although my parents grew up on traditional, small family dairies in New England that were a far cry from today’s industrial dairies, I have always found dairy farming to be an interesting topic. (I even briefly dated a guy who raised “Show Cows” when I was in college, and to be honest I probably liked the cows more than I liked him. Moving on…)
A neighbor’s cows momentarily escaped into our apple orchard
So, let’s assume that the good folks at WAPF did their research and discovered that milk from raw, pasture-fed cows isn’t available (or even legal) for most people. One alternative they offer is their homemade formula recipe using goat’s milk. And this is where I get really offended. Because I thought it was common knowledge that GOATS EAT EVERYTHING. Didn’t you have a children’s book with a picture of a billy goat chewing on a tin can? Oh, you didn’t? Well, let me tell you a story. We’ve had goats in the petting zoo at our farm off and on since I was a little kid, mostly pygmy goats. It’s true, they do eat everything. They had an adorable little house, they could climb up onto the balcony and guess what they ate? They ate the SHINGLES OFF THE ROOF. Yup, the goats ate the shingles. So the idea that the people at WAPF think a homemade forumula made with goat’s milk is HEALTHIER for my child than my own breast milk is completely offensive. My diet may not be WAPF perfect, and I don’t take daily doses of fermented cod liver oil, and I may sneak some treats here and there, but I DO NOT EAT ROOF SHINGLES.
The goat house with Annabelle the Shire (also a lactivist!) standing next to it.
So, while my family’s farm has five baby goats this year (two sets of twins!) and therefore three lactating goats, you won’t find me milking them to make formula for my baby. I stand by my previous statement that homemade formula is the ultimate in inconvenience anyway. I’ll just breastfeed my children and know that I’m giving them the best I can.
This year’s baby goats! How sweet!
Cow milk is best for calves, goat milk is best for kids, horse milk is best for foals, and human milk is for human babies. This is my gut reaction as a farmer’s daughter. But of course, that’s not the only facet of who I am. I’m also a scientist; I have a BS and MS in Biology and I’m certified by the state of Connecticut to teach Biology and Physics. So, as a scientifically minded person, my reaction to the claim that homemade formula is better for babies than breast milk is this: PROVE IT. Where is your peer-reviewed research? If there were multiple studies (or even a single study) comparing the nutrients in thousands of samples WAPF’s homemade formula recipes versus the breast milk of thousands of mothers on a variety of diets, then I could understand your conclusion. But if the study doesn’t exist, and I haven’t found one, then your claim is nothing more than conjecture based on your own preconceived notions that the WAPF diet is required for an individual to be healthy and produce healthy breast milk. It’s opinion, not scientific fact, and should be presented as such.
As a biologist, I am aware that we do not understand the workings of the human body in its entirety. We don’t understand exactly how all nutrients work in our cells, and new discoveries are constantly made. We don’t know what component of breast milk could be discovered tomorrow that we simply did not know existed. Take a look at this chart comparing the contents of breast milk and commercial formula. There are so many components of breast milk not found in commercial formula, and we can assume that a similar chart of breast milk vs. homemade formula would be equally revealing, though not an exact duplicate.
Now, I’m not arguing that homemade formula is a bad thing. I understand that many women struggle with breastfeeding, as I myself have struggled the second time around. I understand that many women cannot fully breastfeed or choose to supplement with formula or exclusively formula feed. That’s fine; that’s their choice. My problem is that it is being touted as better than breast milk, and I see no evidence of that claim. I think, however, a better way for WAPF to spread the word about their recipes for homemade formula would be with posts such as this one from Food Renegade. This anecdote of a mother who struggled to breastfeed after reduction surgery and turned to donor milk, a supplemental nursing system and homemade formula is a relatable, interesting story that demonstrate’s one mother’s journey to feed her child in the most nutritious way possible, yet makes no claims that homemade formula is more nutritious than breast milk.
In summation, I disagree with WAPF’s claim that their homemade formula is healthier than my breast milk.