The Evolution of Baby Formula: History of Infant Nutrition

Breastfeeding was and always be considered the best and most nutritious food for feeding babies. But also, at all times, there are situations when a mother can not breastfeed her baby. Nowadays, parents can easily solve this issue with the help of a pediatrician and the right baby formula. But how did mothers get out of this situation before, and when was the first baby formula introduced?

The Evolution of Baby Formula: History of Infant Nutrition 1


What was the first substitution for breast milk? 

If the breast milk was insufficient or the mother could not breastfeed for some reason, the family hired a nurse and left her in their home or gave the baby to a nurse’s family for the entire breastfeeding period. Such approaches were common in Europe and America.

The nurse was chosen particularly carefully since there was a firm belief that the quality of breast milk was decisive for the health and behavior of the child.

Later, in the 19th century, breastfeeders lost popularity, and attention shifted to the search for an adequate substitute for breast milk. The practice of feeding with cow’s milk proved to be the most common because of its availability. And then, there was convincing evidence of increased mortality in infants fed whole cow’s milk and that it almost always resulted in digestive disorders and dehydration.

In 1838, a German researcher made the first chemical comparison of breast and cow’s milk. He found that cow’s milk has a higher percentage of protein but fewer carbohydrates than breast milk.

In this regard, physicians began to recommend adding water, sugar, and cream to cow’s milk to adjust its composition and bring it closer to breast milk. Manufacturers have used this data to develop the first recipes for formula milk for several decades.

The first baby formula recipe

The baby food market is relatively young – it began a little over a hundred years ago. The first specialized products for children were baby formulas.

The first powdered formula for bottle feeding consisted of wheat flour, whole milk powder, malt powder, and potassium bicarbonate. Very quickly, “baby powder” became available and popular in Europe – it was added in a certain proportion to warmed milk just before feeding. In the United States, such powder became known at the end of the 19th century. 

How the baby food industry evolved in the 20th century

At the beginning of the 20th century, the composition of milk formula changed, replacing milk fat with a blend of vegetable and animal fats. Later, baby food manufacturers began to produce formulas for children with various digestive disorders.

In 1942, the first infant formula with milk protein hydrolysate was introduced, which later served as the basis for the development of the HA formula. In 1959 the first iron-enriched milk formula came to the market. It was met with caution since many pediatricians were convinced that excess iron was bad for digestion.

Two years later, pediatricians approved iron fortification of infant formulas, and the incidence of iron deficiency anemia in children decreased significantly.

What is a modern infant formula: Does it meet all the nutritional needs of babies?

Any formula is inferior to breast milk in its composition. Speaking of modern milk formulas, they contain all the necessary ingredients for the growth and development of the baby. The basis of baby formula is high-quality cow’s milk and, more rarely, goat’s milk.

And all the components – proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins – in their composition are strictly regulated by specialists in nutrition and baby development.

For example, many baby food products include prebiotics and probiotics in their composition. Modern technology makes it possible to ensure the preservation of microorganisms in products throughout their shelf life, and their effectiveness and ability to reach the colon in a living form have been proven in clinical studies.

The search for new biologically active ingredients that improve the quality of formulas is ongoing. For example, some infant formulas include carotenoid lutein, which is found in breast milk. It protects the retina from the damaging effects of blue light and free radicals produced by it.

Currently, the leading players in the infant formula industry, multinational companies, conduct serious research themselves or fund this work in independent research institutions. Thus, in the future, we should expect to see new compositions of infant formulas that more accurately reproduce the composition of breast milk.

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