A Short History of Baby Formula in the United States - Alvinology

A Short History of Baby Formula in the United States

Baby formula is a tricky thing. Not only can it look funky when you’re considering it as its own unique product, but for new parents, it can be stressful to approach if you have no knowledge about it. However, if you know the full history behind the rise of baby formula, you can be much more confident when the time comes to make a choice about which formula will first feed your infant. To assist new parents and curious readers alike, here’s a short history of baby formula in the United States: 

How Did Parents Who Couldn’t Breastfeed Manage Before Baby Formula?

Baby formula has been around long enough that few people ever consider this question. After all, there were mothers who were unable to nurse pre-formula as well. With the frustrations that are happening even today due to formula shortages, it’s mind-blowing that the world’s infants were able to be sustained pre-formula. However, the next few sections will give you a solid understanding of how this obstacle was typically handled: 

The Importance of Wet Nurses

Before the invention of formula in the mid-1800s, wet nurses were the primary way infants were fed if their mothers could not produce breast milk (or simply breastfeed). Wet nurses used their own milk to feed infants, including orphans, to keep them healthy during their development. Since they were constantly feeding, these wet nurses were able to keep their milk supply strong and healthy. Talk about an exhausting, but a worthwhile job. 

Wait, What is Dry Nursing?

The words “dry nurse” have an unappetizing sound to them to be sure. But what exactly is a dry nurse? Simply put, they were not nurses at all, but the term simply refers to those who would feed infants using animal milk. While it was not ideal, the need for milk for infants in early development was still massive, especially at orphanages. Goats, donkeys, cows, and other animals’ milk were all used to keep these infants on the right path during their early months of development. 

Bottles, Pasteurization, and Refrigeration Pave the Way for Formula

Finding an actual source of milk to feed infants was only the first step in keeping babies fed, however. Before the invention of refrigeration, pasteurization, and bottles, it became much more complicated to actually get the milk from its source to an infant’s stomach. The scientific advancements that made these three technologies widely available led to decreased infant death rates and made life much easier for many wet nurses, parents, and orphanage workers. Additionally, without these technologies, the invention of baby formula would have been significantly stunted in its ability to progress and become popularized. Speaking of which…

The Invention of Baby Formula

The first documented, commercially-available infant formula was made from cow’s milk and made in Germany in 1865. Chemist Justus von Liebig created a powdered formula that he dubbed Liebig’s Soluble Food for Babies, which mixed cow’s milk, wheat flour, malt flour, and potassium bicarbonate. This type of formula was the standard until the mid-1900s when more ingredients such as Karo syrup and canned milk made the commercial availability of baby formula that much more widespread. Additionally, soy-based formulas began to become popularized during these years, as it became more widely known that not all infants could handle animal milk comfortably. 

The Infant Formula Act

One of the most important pieces of formula’s history is the infamous Infant Formula Act. In the late 1960s, a decision by the American Academy of Pediatricians recommended that vitamins and minerals in formulas should be more specific and scientifically approved. Thankfully, the recommendation led to Congress passing a law that properly regulated formula production in 1980. Nowadays, the FDA is in charge of controlling the standards for baby formula production, keeping children healthy and ready for play time

Important Qualities to Look for in Modern Baby Formula

When shopping for your infant’s formula in today’s market, knowing what type of vitamins and nutrients are essential for their development is key. Talking with your doctor is the most surefire way to find the exact formula that will serve your infant well. However, be sure to avoid any formulas that have had past controversies surrounding them, as even modern-day formulas can have negative health effects if not properly manufactured

Keep Your Baby Healthy and Full with Your New Knowledge

With this new knowledge, you’ll be fully ready to approach the massively important parenting step of choosing a perfect formula for your infant’s needs. Thankfully, we live in a time where feeding your infant is easier and safer than ever, even with the occasional shortage to deal with. 

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