From Karo Syrup to Goat Milk – The Formulas Change, but the Booby Traps Remain the Same

From Karo Syrup to Goat Milk - The Formulas Change, but the Booby Traps Remain the Same

Scaring mothers into see themselves as risks to their babies is nothing new. It starts from the moment you are pregnant, with everyone from your Great Aunt Tilda to the gentleman sitting across the restaurant from you preaching about how everything you ingest, breathe, or do has the potential to end in disastrous consequences. Once your baby is born it continues . . .

Are you really taking the baby out when it is this hot/cold?
And in THAT?!?!
Where exactly is your baby sleeping?
You know that can lead to SIDS (regardless of your sleep arrangements)!

And of course it heads our way when we consider infant feeding practices.

In the current environment where we are regularly told “Breast is Best!” (without the support and information to put that into practice), many new mothers are surprised to encounter a new theme: maybe *your* breast milk isn’t so great. Maybe you don’t eat the right foods, or you eat the wrong foods, or our environmental pollutants have entirely spoiled your body and everything that comes from it. Welcome to the “your milk isn’t good enough” booby trap.

Some representatives of the Weston A. Price Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting a specific type of whole foods diet, appear to believe that unless you follow their specific practices, your breastmilk is inadequate and your baby will be much better off if you feed them a mother’s milk substitute recipe espoused by the Foundation.[1. See, e.g.,

  • Successful Breastfeeding . . . And Successful Alternatives – Weston A Price Foundation – “Our interpretation is the following: the diet of modern American women is so appalling, and their preparation for successful breastfeeding so lacking, that their breast milk provides no better nourishment for their infants than factory-made formula.”
  • Is Breast Really Always Best – The Healthy Home Economist – “Breastfeeding is critical for baby’s health, but only if the
    mother is eating a nutrient-dense diet. Learn how to eat for your baby’s optimal health, and what to do if you can’t breastfeed.”
  • Video: Homemade Baby Formula – “There are donor programs available for human breastmilk, but because the diet of the donor mother is unknown (and most likely nutritionally insufficient), and the fact that the breastmilk is pasteurized thereby destroying much of the nutritional benefit, this option is not recommended.”
  • A Breastfeeding Saga – “When I hear the statement that ‘the vast majority of women can breastfeed successfully,’ I wonder. . . But I suspect that there are many women like myself who simply do not have adequate milk. . . Breastfeeding is the best way to accomplish this goal, if the mother has a healthy diet and if her milk supply is adequate. To pretend that all women can breastfeed without difficulty, and that all breast-milk is completely nourishing, does women and their children a great disservice.”
  • Baby Breastfed By Vegan Mother Dies – “It also sends a clear message that what a breastfeeding Mother eats definitely DOES affect the quality of her breastmilk. Many breastfeeding advocates insist that breastmilk will include all a baby needs despite what the Mother eats, but clearly this is not the case.”
  • Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers – It is important to follow our diet for pregnant mothers in its entirety, not just selected parts of it.”

] There are so many fallacies and risks involved with this idea it is difficult to know where to start.

Breastmilk is unequalled nutrition for babies.

  1. Supplementation interrupts the breastfeeding relationship. WAPF does acknowledge that breastmilk contains some unique and unreproducible nutrients and will often suggest mothers do some breastfeeding along with their breastmilk substitute. However, they warn that “[l]ack of adequate milk supply is relatively common, especially as baby grows and his appetite increases.”[2. Fallon, S. Nourishing traditions: the cookbook that challenges politically correct nutrition and the diet dictocrats at 606 (1999).] However, it has been well documented that supplementation leads to premature weaning.[3. See Care, P. (2000). Promoting and supporting breast-feeding. Am Fam Physician, 61(7), 2093-2100; Martines, J. C., Rea, M., & De Zoysa, I. (1992). Breast feeding in the first six months. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 304(6834), 1068; Hörnell, A., Hofvander, Y., & Kylberg, E. (2001). Solids and formula: association with pattern and duration of breastfeeding. Pediatrics, 107(3), e38-e38.] Breastmilk production is a supply and demand process; the less baby demands (because s/he is getting a substitute), the less supply mother will have.

    Let us then assume that mom has stopped breastfeeding both sooner than she had originally hoped and sooner than her and her baby’s biology expected . . . what risks are they incurring? I’ll even ignore the long list of known risks to infants who do not receive breastmilk in order to avoid the argument about how “this substitute is different.” Keep reading for a few of those risks.

  2. Mothers who do not breastfeed are at higher risk of multiple types of cancer of the reproductive system, Type II Diabetes, and heart disease, among other concerns.[4. See Stuebe, A. (2009). The risks of not breastfeeding for mothers and infants. Reviews in obstetrics and gynecology, 2(4), 222; Tørris, C., Thune, I., Emaus, A., Finstad, S. E., Bye, A., Furberg, A. S., & Hjartåker, A. (2012). Duration of Lactation, Maternal Metabolic Profile, and Body Composition in the Norwegian EBBA I-Study. Breastfeeding Medicine; and Sugawara, Y., Kakizaki, M., Nagai, M., Tomata, Y., Hoshi, R., Watanabe, I., & Tsuji, I. (2013). Lactation pattern and the risk for hormone-related female cancer in Japan: the Ohsaki Cohort Study. European Journal of Cancer Prevention, 22(2), 187-192.] Additionally, mothers who are not breastfeeding report feeling less well rested and less healthy overall compared to breastfeeding mothers.[5. Survey of Mothers’ Sleep and Fatigue]
  3. Regardless of the “healthiness” of the breastmilk substitute, there is one thing it can never do: replicate the immune properties that mom passes on to her child through her milk.[6. Chirico, G., Marzollo, R., Cortinovis, S., Fonte, C., & Gasparoni, A. (2008). Antiinfective properties of human milk. The Journal of nutrition, 138(9), 1801S-1806S.] Not only are these an integral part to the infant’s developing immune system, the immunities are environment specific, created to fight those bugs to which mom and baby have been exposed.[7. Brandtzaeg, P. (2003). Mucosal immunity: integration between mother and the breast-fed infant. Vaccine, 21(24), 3382-3388.]
  4. The WAPF substitute is expensive to make with difficult to find ingredients.[8. Homemade Baby Formula] When this is the infant’s sole source of nourishment, these ingredients must be purchased and available for a minimum of the infant’s first year. If there is a snow storm? Your car gets a flat tire? Your airplane is stuck on the tarmac for 4 hours? I’m sorry but your breastmilk wasn’t good enough so it isn’t there anymore . . . hope you have the 10-14 separate ingredients needed to make the recommended substitute.

    Additionally, it is estimated the 30-60+% of infants getting a standard infant formula are being fed incorrectly because their caregivers are either over or under diluting the powder.[9. Egemen, A., Kusin, N., Aksit, S., Emek, M., & Kurugol, Z. (2002). A generally neglected threat in infant nutrition: incorrect preparation of infant formulae. Turkish Journal of Pediatrics, 44(4), 298-303; Renfrew, M. J., Ansell, P., & Macleod, K. L. (2003). Formula feed preparation: helping reduce the risks; a systematic review. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 88(10), 855-858.] This is with two ingredients and included, simple measuring utensils. As new mothers, very few of us are in the position to undergo a complicated measuring and mixing procedure day in and day out. Most of the time I was happy if my shoes were on the right feet.

  5. From Karo Syrup to Goat Milk - The Formulas Change, but the Booby Traps Remain the Same

  6. It doesn’t matter which version of the homemade substitute is used, the fat/protein/carbohydrate ratios are different than those found in human milk. Human milk is designed for slow body growth and fast brain growth. We are the only mammal species with these specific needs; most mammals need fast body growth and little brain growth.[10. Robson, S. (2004). Breast milk, diet, and large human brains. Current anthropology, 45(3), 419-425; Newton, E. R. (2004). Breastmilk: the gold standard. Clinical obstetrics and gynecology, 47(3), 632-642.]

    Even with all of the additives, the substitute cannot duplicate mother’s own milk, for the simple fact that there is no “human milk” formula. Our milk changes by the day and by the hour.[11. Kent, J. C., Mitoulas, L. R., Cregan, M. D., Ramsay, D. T., Doherty, D. A., & Hartmann, P. E. (2006). Volume and frequency of breastfeedings and fat content of breast milk throughout the day. Pediatrics, 117(3), e387-e395; Hartmann, P. E. (2007). The lactating breast: An overview from down under. Breastfeeding Medicine, 2(1), 3-9.] Are these recipes to replace the transitional milk of a three day old baby? The high fat milk of an infant in a growth spurt? The low volume milk of a 6pm snacker? NO.

  7. Mother’s milk changes in taste as well, acclimating her baby to a variety of flavors and smells. A breastmilk substitute cannot replicate this. Baby gets the same meal, every day, all day, until the gradual introduction of solids.[12. Savage, J. S., Fisher, J. O., & Birch, L. L. (2007). Parental influence on eating behavior: conception to adolescence. The Journal of law, medicine & ethics, 35(1), 22-34.]
  8. Finally, yes, we all know our diets could likely be better. For some of us it is simply about survival, getting food on the table as quickly and cheaply as possible. For others, we may put a little more energy into the process, but there are those things we just don’t like or we just can’t give up even if we know we should. Depending on our diet and lifestyle, it is quite possible that we could use a bit more Vitamin A, D, B12, or essential fatty acids. It is immensely easier and more cost effective to supplement a mother’s (our own) diet with whatever we might be lacking than to completely toss the breastmilk out with the Ding Dongs.[13. Kent, J. C. (2007). How breastfeeding works. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 52(6), 564-570.] There are multiple studies looking at using supplements in the breastfeeding mother, and it can make a difference in the composition of her milk.[14. Basu, S., Sengupta, B., & Paladhi, P. R. (2003). Single megadose vitamin A supplementation of Indian mothers and morbidity in breastfed young infants. Postgraduate medical journal, 79(933), 397-402; Bergmann, R. L., Haschke-becher, E., Klassen-wigger, P., Bergmann, K. E., Richter, R., Dudenhausen, J. W., Haschke, F. (2008). Supplementation with 200 mg/Day docosahexaenoic acid from mid-pregnancy through lactation improves the docosahexaenoic acid status of mothers with a habitually low fish intake and of their infants. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism, 52(2), 157-66.]

    This does not mean that her milk was inadequate before, just that we can target specific micronutrients that might be of interest for those trying to optimize nutrition or in situations where a mother may be at risk of food insecurity. If a mother’s diet is particularly lacking in nutrients or calories she may feel more run down, but biology is amazing and our bodies will take the nutrients it needs in order to make milk.[15. Bener, A., Galadari, S., Gillett, M., Osman, N., Al-Taneiji, H., Al-Kuwaiti, M. H. H., & Al-Sabosy, M. M. A. (2001). Fasting during the holy month of Ramadan does not change the composition of breast milk. Nutrition research, 21(6), 859-864; Robson, S. (2004). Breast milk, diet, and large human brains. Current anthropology, 45(3), 419-425.]

    Claiming access to the latest and greatest breastmilk substitute is an old song and dance. The “Nestle Nurses” roaming the hospital mid 20th Century could have given the Weston A. Price Foundation a run for its money, discussing the inadequacies of mother’s milk and the scientifically proven advantages of their formula (karo syrup and sweetened condensed milk). The words may change, but the refrain remains the same.

    See more great resources on why breastfeeding is unequaled nutrition.


    jess nursing
    Jessica Mattingly, M.Ed., IBCLC has been a hospital based lactation consultant for the last 3.5 years following a decade of community work with La Leche League. She has had the privilege of working with numerous families through the childbearing year, not only in breastfeeding support but as a childbirth educator and doula. She is the mother of five breastfed children. Jessica is also the proud owner of a well worn copy of Nourishing Traditions. She regularly, though not always, soaks her grains and nuts, as well as stocks her fridge with homemade fermented kimchi, salsa, and pickles.

    Photo Credit 1: Embrita Blogging
    Photo Credit 2: Hobo Mama

20 thoughts on “From Karo Syrup to Goat Milk – The Formulas Change, but the Booby Traps Remain the Same

  1. I love this article and think it is very important! I ascribe to many WAPF ideals, but this one aspect that they seem to push really troubles me. One question about the post, though: I have reread this sentence a few times and it seems that something is missing? Maybe a mistype? “However, they warn that “lack of adequate milk supply is relatively common, especially as baby grows and his appetite increases.”2 can go wrong and given the high levels of thyroid and endocrine problems in western women, it’s a wonder that so many nurse successfully at all. Insufficient milk supply is a problem more common than the medical profession wants to admit . . .”]”


  2. Not to mention, breastfeeding promotes special jaw and facial development that bottle feeding doesn’t, something Dr. Price himself considered crucial. I think he would strongly oppose these recommendations.


    1. Exactly! What would Dr. Weston Price say about the organization that uses his name!! I love a lot of their recommendations – but a lot of them aren’t feasible for our society and our budgets. Dr. Price spoke of many different cultures and their very different diets. The issue was the grains and corn introduction, not that they didn’t have the BEST cod liver oil, 1/2 tsp a day!


  3. Thank you for this much-needed post. As more and more people are realizing that the USDA guidelines and conventional thinking on nutrition is fundamentally flawed, and are beginning to seek truthful information about real food nutrition, the WAPF is gaining more influence. It is vitally important that newborn humans receive real, traditional food (human milk) and it is extremely hard to comprehend why the WAPF has continued to disperse harmful and erroneous information about breastfeeding and infant nutrition. I am so glad that moms are speaking out and sharing their stories and factual information that will reach all the new mothers who could unknowingly be convinced by the discouragement of the WAPF and its affiliated blogs. There are far too many “booby traps” and misinformation coming from agribusiness, pharmaceutical businesses, and mainstream corporate marketing, and it seems to me that real food organizations should be working together to empower mothers with real support and accurate information, not to set us up for failure.


  4. Have you contacted the WAPF with your concerns? I do think that you have some very valid points here (I wouldn’t argue with any of them) but if they’re not aware of your criticism, they can’t and won’t reconsider/change their position on this. I simply do not understand why they would recommend switching to a formula when it’s easier and healthier for the whole family for the mother to make the necessary dietary changes.


    1. While I have not had conversations with the WAPF personally, many others have contacted those who speak for the organization and they are holding steady to their position. Check out some of the other blog posts in the Carnival – I believe at least one or two talk about personal interactions with group representatives. There has been some additional information on Facebook as well. Breastfeeding can be a very emotional issue, particularly if a mother does not meet her own breastfeeding goals. It seems that there are some in the organization who did not have the breastfeeding experience they had hoped and are now universalizing their experience to claim that many/most mothers can not breastfeed successfully (see examples above). This is actually a common reaction and may be one of the main reasons it can be difficult for some female health care providers (and grandmothers and friends) to effectively support breastfeeding.


  5. I’d like to add to the chorus of “supplement and improve mom’s diet–not baby’s” with the fact that our children learn from a VERY young age how to eat by mimicking mom. If mom doesn’t eat healthy, baby won’t either. Twizzlers for mom and raw goat milk for babe…how long is that going to last?? If you don’t eat a wide variety of nutrient dense food, then I don’t care what you do from 0-6 months, that kid isn’t going to learn healthy eating habits to last through childhood, never mind adulthood.


  6. Just reminds me of how little things have really changed since I was born (over 40 years)-that there will always be those that put down breastfeeding in some way. I was a preemie and my mother was told to feed me a formula made of evaporated cow’s milk, white sugar, and boiled water so that I could put on weight (she showed me the doctor’s note with the recipe). My youngest baby was also born preemie, and though the hospital encouraged me to pump milk for her, they insisted they *must* supplement the breastmilk because *most* breastmilk does not have enough calories and nutrients for preemies…supplements for her began with a concoction of lipids with vitamins and minerals, then moved onto small amounts of preemie formula mixed in. I overheard that other preemies with certain conditions (reflux?) also had rice cereal added to their formula…Thankfully I got my baby off the supplements and her doctor confirms she is growing and developing normally while exclusively breastfed-I guess my milk has enough calories and nutrients after all.


  7. Thank you for this! I had read the statement that my milk wasn’t good enough because I didn’t have a perfect diet and I started to panic a little. Everything I had read told me that breast milk was best and that my body would take what it needed from me if I didn’t have it and now I was seeing otherwise? I panicked a little. Thankfully I messaged my friend who is a registered dietitian and breastfed her own son for over a year and she was able to tell me that the milk I was making was perfectly fine 🙂


    1. I think that speaks a lot to the insecurity moms feel in general–and it can be projected onto anything we do, whether it’s breastfeeding, discipline, dressing our kids, helping them with homework. Be nice to yourself; if moms in developing nations with little to eat have babies that survive and thrive on their supply, an ‘imperfect’ diet is nothing to worry about.

      The insecurity itself does more harm than a diet of brownies and soda. 😉


      1. It’s so hard not to feel insecure sometime as a mom. I think there is a lot of pressure out there to have perfect kids and if you don’t have perfect kids it is somehow your fault as a mother. I’m working at giving myself more grace every day 🙂


  8. Finally!! A great article well put. Its not that you bashing people who use formula. You just stated the facts and showed the proof. That is what I like to see.


    1. Thank you! I really appreciate that because my goal is not to bash people for their personal choices — I don’t know the whys and hows behind someones life and why they are making the choices they are and frankly there is no reason to think they need to justify them to me anyway. But I do think that it is important that everyone be allowed access to the research as we know it (and we know it can and does change) — to do anything less is to patronize women by claiming to be protecting them from their own emotions (usually labelled as guilt).


  9. I can’t speak for WAPF but I am a real food blogger apart of Village Green Network and what I say to my readers is that even if your diet is not perfect or even good, still breastfeed (because we all know its not just about nutrition) but know that what you eat matters and does affect the quality of your milk. Your body doesn’t magically make perfect breastmilk. WAPF (and me) just wants mothers to eat better, not give up breastfeeding. They want mothers who are currently buying store bought formula to consider making a homemade formula instead.


      1. Thanks so much Amy. It really is sad that Sarah is not handling herself very well. She is amazing resource for real food and she breastfed both her children, but how she is saying that what you eat matters, is not ok.


  10. My wife and I have recently been trying to follow a WAPF diet, mostly for the benefits of avoiding processed foods. We are expecting our first child via surrogacy in April. Our baby will have pumped colostrum from the surrogate mother, and my wife is attempting to induce lactation. However, we have been warned that this procedure is not guaranteed, and even if she produces milk under the program, she may not produce enough to nourish our child.

    For that reason, we are considering using the WAPF raw milk formula (or their other formulas, if casein becomes an issue). I would like to point out that while reading WAPF materials (including the two Nourishing Traditions books), I never once felt that the book was telling us to choose formula over breastfeeding – the formula is offered as an option when breastmilk is not sufficient (for the many cases in which this can happen, adopting parents and our situation included). I think improving a breastfeeding mother’s diet in order to improve her breastmilk should go without saying – no matter what nutrition guidelines you subscribe to.

    Considering the horrible contents of formula available on the market (HFCS, soy lecithin, synthetic vitamins?), and facing the possibility of no breastmilk, and considering the risks of milk banks (it’s pasteurized for one, thus losing the immune-building live constituents of human breastmilk, and you’re putting the handling of your baby’s food in the hands of an unknown woman), I’d like to know what the author would suggest as an alternative to WAPF raw milk formula?


    1. A wet nurse. Seriously, if you can find a lactating woman who is willing to feed or express, even for a fee, that’s the next best thing. Human milk for human babies. Before formulas, that was how it was done. Best wishes.


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