The Current Infant Formula Shortage: Why It's A Good Thing


When Henri Nestlé came out with his original baby formula recipe in 1867, it was full of nutrients and provided a reasonable alternative to breast milk.  But infant formula usage really increased significantly after World War II, with popular thinking that it was more civilized and modern.  At the same time, there was a rise in the belief that bottle feeding with infant formula was best because it was backed by science.

Things took a significant shift in the 1970s with the introduction of the Women, Infant, and Child (WIC) federally subsidized food program. Here, infant formula companies all bid on the contract for the WIC program, with the least expensive bid winning.  This drove manufacturers to compose formula recipes based on the cheapest ingredients versus nutritional quality.

The 1970s Nestlé Boycott

The 1970s also saw the largest, most successful boycott ever – and it was pre-internet! In my public health program at Johns Hopkins, we learned about how Nestlé, in a desire to expand to new markets to increase profit, introduced baby formula into countries in Africa. 

They used local medical personnel to market their formula by giving them free formula to distribute to mothers and incentivizing them with free air conditioners for their clinics. 

The issue was that when mothers tried out the formula, their milk production dried up and most could not afford to buy more.  Mothers were watering down formula to make it “stretch” so that amounts that were meant to last three days were lasting two weeks. 

UNICEF estimated that 1.5 million babies died per year from malnutrition brought on by a lack of protein consumption due to this formula stretching from mothers who were convinced not to breastfeed.   And Nestlé, despite being aware of this kept aggressively marketing the formula to African countries to increase their profits. 

2022 Formula Shortage

Fast forward to the news lately where there is an infant formula shortage due to the FDA recalling Abbott Labs infant formula in February 2022 after Salmonella and Cronobacter were found in formula and caused sicknesses in at least three babies.

The issue with conventional infant formula is that it’s cheap.  The companies that make infant formula take out the fat from the milk (perhaps the most important part of the milk) in order to save to put into things like ice cream, which have a higher profit margin.  They use skim milk instead and replace the animal fat with vegetable oil like GMO corn, soy, and canola.

Natural mother’s milk is known to have over 100 different fats in it.  Infant formula has almost double the amount of protein that breast milk does, which promotes insulin resistance and obesity. 

And the small percentage of babies who do not do well on dairy are given soy-based infant formula, which causes many significant health issues. 

Natural, Nutritional Alternatives

So, commercial infant formula is not something a health-conscious mother should give to her baby.  I say in the title, that this current shortage is good, because it is bringing awareness to the underbelly of infant formula as a cheap product made by companies that are incentivized to do what it takes to make a profit for their shareholders.  

So, what does one do?  It’s well established now across medicine that breastfeeding is best.  But the mother’s diet often dictates the quality of her breast milk. 

So, if you’re looking for a natural, nutritional alternative for breast milk, the authors that wrote Nourishing Traditions have a tried-and-true raw milk-based formula recipe which you can see being made here that has been given to over 10,000 babies.  You can source all the ingredients you add to the raw milk through Radiant Life.  If you don’t know where to buy raw milk, go to and type in your city.  I recommend 100% grass-fed Jersey cows that produce A2 milk. 

Update: 5/19/22

For those who have infants allergic to dairy, Nourishing Traditions has a broth and liver-based formula with a similar nutritional profile as mother's milk which can be found here

Update: 5/20/22

I've had comments on the unapproachable nature of the Nourishing Traditions formula recipe.  Given this and the present emergency, I'm including a Homemade Emergency Baby Formula recipe using evaporated milk, which can be purchased through WIC as a short-term, stop-gap option if no formula can be sourced.  This recipe lacks key nutrients like iron that the infants need, so should not be used for long periods.  

Goat's milk can also be purchased from WIC in some states. Cow's milk, which is pasteurized, homogenized, has the fats removed and is often spray-dried in huge silos like in this video

Goat's milk is only pasteurized and homogenized, so its fats and proteins aren't adulterated by extraction or drying.  Its nutritional profile is low in carbohydrates, so, some sugar needs to be added.  

8 Comment

Hi Kelly. You make a great point about supporting parents. My hope is that actively bringing education to this issue is a way of actively improving formula. Thank you for adding to the discussion on this important topic.

The hard reality is that government programs that have initial good intentions get corrupted with the eventual morphing into revenue streams for the Big Pharma Companies like Abbot, or even big corporate food companies. Educational programs that would encourage getting back to natural solutions like breast feeding, then support from local hospitals and the many non-profit agencies to help with the initiative. A great example is the SNAP program. Why would Soda be on a SNAP program? It is the worst thing for you but cheaper than healthy alternatives.
We just have to get the bad choices out of there and this is one way! I believe you are missing the point Antonia. In addition have we gotten so sensitive that we can’t have an open discussion? The word heartless is strong and not accurate. Looking for a healthier solution is the point.

Antonia – Thank you for thoughtfully adding to this discussion. To be clear, I do not think an infant dying from poor nutrition is a good thing. That is the main reason why I wrote this article. Having a background in Public Health, I am trained to look at the health of a society and the health of populations. And the health of infants in the population that drink conventional baby formula is nothing short of appalling. This is because these infant formulas are missing many key nutrients needed for development, and instead contain harmful ingredients like GMOs, heavy metals, and, on occasions deadly bacteria. It is for these infants that I wrote this article and started this conversation. Exposing the underbelly of these scandalous companies through the negative press they are receiving is a good thing. And providing education to people about alternatives to the conventional baby formula is a good thing. My heart goes out to those babies in the articles you posted. My heart also goes out to the millions of babies who are permanently damaged by poor nutrition during early development. I appreciate the seriousness that you have brought to this extremely sensitive topic. I hope this has helped you understand more of my perspective.

That’s some rough formula history that I’m glad I know now. But it’s awfully glib to say “just make your own from Nourishing Traditions” when parents are being told to NOT make formula for their babies, raw milk is not readily available tor most people and is roundly discouraged in the mainstream (for other interesting historical reasons), and also, who, when they’re facing an immediate food shortage for their baby, is going to go out on a limb and use their time, energy, and money to find high quality liver? It would be way more compassionate and helpful to support parents in this terrible situation and start talking about and actively improving formula at the same time.

Two babies in Tennessee hospitalized due to the formula shortage.

“A few” children hospitalized in Atlanta due to the formula shortage.

Despite that Abbott Labs will begin production again of its formulas in two weeks, it will reportedly take two months to distribute these products. Most infant formula is distributed to the needy through the WIC program. These folks cannot afford to be regular followers of your blog because they can’t afford supplements and other costly health-building measures. Their children still deserve to live and to not have to ingest formulas to which they are allergic because they can’t find the hypoallergenic formulas anywhere. (Some hospitals are even running out of it.) The infants with allergies cannot use the RawMilk solution proposed here. They could quite literally die, and your title is saying the shortage is “good”.

I understand what you’re trying to express, but your words are too soon to be at all appropriate to the present situation. This blog should be unpublished till people emerge from it with their children being OK and alive. I just cannot believe what I’m seeing here. It is so far removed from the terror in the hearts of the parents.

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