Guest Author - Nicki Heskin
There are many factors that make artificial baby milk, commonly known as formula, greatly inferior to breastmilk. Many of these comparisons deal with the differences between the live, dynamic nature of breast milk versus the synthetic, static composition of formula. But one serious and surprisingly common hazard of formula involves the manufacture of the product itself – formula recalls.
In September 2010, Similac initiated a recall of up to 5 million containers of formula due to the possibility that they may be contaminated with insect parts during manufacture. Because of the particularly gross nature of the sound of this recall it has received wide media coverage, but in truth the “minor gastrointestinal discomfort” the bits of beetle in the baby formula could cause is a fairly minor issue compared to some former formula recalls.
In 2008, Chinese-manufactured infant formula contributed to the illness of hundreds of infants when formula and milk products were deliberately adulturated with melamine (yes, the stuff countertops are made from) in order to create the appearance of increased protein content in watered-down product.
A well-distributed internet article by attachment parenting author, Katie Allison Granju entitled “What Every Parent Should Know About Infant Formula” states that “between 1982 and 1994 alone, there were twenty-two signifigant recalls of infant formula in the United States due to health and safety problems. At least seven of these recalls were classified by the FDA as "Class I", meaning the problem could be life threatening.”
Searching the FDAs enforcement database, I was able to find six instances between 2004 and 2009. I am absolutely confident this does not represent all the recalls, as this database is disturbingly difficult to search. There is no simple way to reliably isolate all formula recalls in the search options.
The reasons for formula recalls are varied and extremely troubling.
Causes include contamination with metal or glass particles as well as PVC plastic or black plastic packaging pieces. Bacterial contamination, including salmonella were listed. Mistakes in manufacture that caused formula to be deficient in such listed nutrients as vitamin C or iron were represented. Other notable flaws included peeling inner can liners and breach of airtightness. Perhaps the most simply idiotic was the case of concentrated liquid formula being mislabeled with the instruction “do not add water” on the lid.
All major brands of formula were represented, as well as specialty formulas, for lactose intolerant babies and premature infants!. Powdered, concentrated and ready to feed varieties were all fair game for recalls. And in one instance, hospital discharge samples were listed as one of the means of distribution.
The best way to avoid problems associated with formula recalls is simple – breastfeed! Breast milk never contains beetle parts, metal pieces or glass. Breast milk is always properly mixed, perfect in composition (amazingly, even from mothers will less than perfect nutrition) and dynamic to meet a baby’s changing needs. Breast milk contains no bacterial infections and in fact, contains antibodies to germs to which the mother and baby have been exposed.
Those supplementing with formula often CAN with the assistance of a lactation professional or other knowlegeable health professional or veteran breastfeeder return to exclusive breastfeeding. In this case, formula use should not be abruptly stopped, especially with young babies, but breast milk supply can be increased and formula use can then be conversely deceased until exclusive breastfeeding is established. See my article on Increasing Milk Supply, linked below.