In Pursuit of a Better Milk Formula: a Brief History of Infant Feeding

Before there were infant formulas and breast pumps, there was only breastfeeding. An infant’s survival depends largely on the mother’s milk. If breast milk didn’t work out, the baby would likely suffer.

Apparently, ancient people find infant mortality inevitable. But thanks to milk formulas, we have come a long way since then. Milk formulas serve as a safe alternative for mother’s milk.

Today, mothers who want to formula feed their babies are often overwhelmed by all the milk options available. Even bibs, milk bottles, and infant pacifiers come in different shapes and sizes. Taking a stroll down the baby aisle will make any parent’s eyes glaze over the baby products and milk boxes. While having multiple milk options sounds great, picking the best one for your baby is time-consuming and confusing.

As manufacturers continue to improve infant formulas, they also exert effort to replicate a mother’s breast milk while also offering formula options for babies with special health needs.

Infant nutrition has a fascinating history that began long before the creation of evaporated milk formula. This article will take a look at how baby formulas started and how they developed over time.

Wet nursing

Years ago, mothers didn’t always have plenty of options when feeding babies. Even before, mothers encounter the same problems that mothers today usually experience.

Mothers have a hard time breastfeeding because some of them had little or no milk at all. Meanwhile, some had to work or died during childbirth. Without mother’s milk, the best alternative is dry nursing, where families feed their babies with livestock milk.

But since babies require nutrients for their health and growth, women have to find a direct source of breast milk. That is when they decided to hire wet nurses to breastfeed their children.

Few records discuss infant feeding in the Middle Ages. But during the 1500 and 1700s, Western women from upper-class families have a different opinion towards breastfeeding. Some refuse to breastfeed, thinking that it is an inappropriate activity done only by the lower class.

The trend continued until the 1800s, despite expert advice that babies should drink mother’s milk. Often, families hired a wet nurse and fed babies with animal milk or pap.

Around the 1800s, people recognized that glass was an ideal material for milk bottles. Since glass is transparent, it is easier for mothers to clean it. By 1841, the first nursing bottle made of glass was introduced.

The earliest known patented formula began in Germany after Justus Von Liebig introduced Soup for Infants to the market. The formula consists of cow’s milk, malt flour, wheat, and potassium bicarbonate. At that time, families considered it as the perfect infant food.

By 1883, John B. Myenber developed a method of producing unsweetened milk, popularly known as evaporated milk. The use of evaporated milk allowed people to store and transport food without spoiling it. The development of evaporated milk became a huge breakthrough for food sterilization, allowing more baby formula brands to emerge.

Milk formula regulations

The formula industry began to develop its regulations in 1929. The American Medical Association (AMA) established the Committee on Foods to approve the formula composition’s quality and safety. The regulation forced infant food manufacturers to obtain AMA approval and the organization’s “Seal of Acceptance.”

In that same year, the first non-milk formula made of soy flour became available to the public. By 1933, European baby formula Holle introduced the first organic baby food.

Breastfeeding movement

breastfeeding

With all the new formula brands emerging, the act of feeding baby formulas received widespread acceptance. But its soaring popularity led the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and non-governmental groups to start a movement to promote breastfeeding.

To encourage more women to breastfeed, movements resorted to marketing campaigns, such as “Breast is best” and “Fed is best.” The program seeks to identify gaps in breastfeeding education, guidelines, and protocols. As a result, health professionals and families received up-to-date information and resources to practice safe infant feeding. This time, mothers are given the option to try breast milk, formula feeding, or a combination of both.

In 1980, the government enacted the Infant Formula Act. The regulation set the standards for formula nutrients, manufacturing standards, and mandated formula testing. But despite the continuous production of commercial baby formulas, mothers are looking for organic alternatives.

Realizing the need to provide organic feeding products, Nature One introduced the first organic baby formula in the U.S. The company soon released other organic alternatives by adding whey, soy, and dairy in their formulas. Since then, parents were able to choose other natural formulas for their growing babies.

The evolution of feeding infants has come a long way from wet nursing, bottle feeding to formula. Each component has contributed to infant-feeding trends, leading to important discoveries related to child health. While we continue to promote breastfeeding, babies who need formula will continue to receive the best nutrition science has to offer.

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