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HISTORY

Baby formula originated as a crisis solution and other facts about this revolutionary, yet polemic, food

This is the story of the baby formula and how it went from being a crisis solution to being one of the most controversial products to this day.

Baby formula has existed for a long time with some even tracing its origins to the 18th century. But it hasn’t always been as easy as to go to your favorite store and find it (although it has become harder since there is a shortage of it in the U.S). In its early stages, it was made of high-calorie content products such as bread, grains, or even flour, but it provided little or no nutrition and, most of the time, it put the baby at risk due to the lack of food safety.

This is the story of the baby formula and how it went from being a crisis solution to being one of the most controversial products to this day.

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You might find interesting: The day Al Capone allegedly invented expiration dates in milk bottles

How do mothers feed their babies when there was no formula yet?

Breastfeeding is a natural part of being a mother but believe it or not, not all can achieve it or struggle to do so.

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Blockage of ducts, milk supply lagged, mastitis and event prematurity from the baby, cleft palate, and other physiological problems were many of the reasons that could prevent breastfeeding.

Because of lack of knowledge at the time, shortages of food, or even social problems like slavery, many babies that suffered from these problems were most likely to die because of lack of nutrition.

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However, some civilizations started using cow or goat’s milk or broth and started mixing it with honey, warm water, grains, flour, or bread. Of course, this made the baby gain weight, but then another problem appeared. Because of the lack of modern standards of food safety, babies could get sick from drinking spoiled or homemade formula full of pathogens.

If you were one of the lucky ones, maybe you were able to get a “wet nurse”, that was no more than a mother still lactating that took care of other babies whether because hers passed away, she had too many and her body was still producing milk or because she was forced, according to some historians.

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The first chemical formula

In the 18th century, French scientist Jean Charles Des-Essartz published his Treatise of Physical Upbringing of Children in 1760 in which he discussed his findings of comparing the composition of human milk to that of the cow, sheep, ass, mare, and got.

He concluded that human milk was the best way to feed an infant in order for them to get all the needed nutrients for their development. This made many scientists pursue and emulate human milk in a chemical way.

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But it was not until 1865 when German chemist Justus von Liebig, developed, patented, and market a soluble food for babies that consisted of cow’s milk, wheat flour, malt flour, and potassium bicarbonate.

It instantly became a good solution for mothers who had trouble breastfeeding and for those who started to enter the workforce. It was also good timing since the rubber teat was just invented and facilitated feeding a baby without the need of a “wet nurse” or other unsafe options.

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Formula controversy

Over the years, the original formula has been changed and now you can find it added with minerals, vitamins and all needed for the right development of the baby.

But, despite it being a revolutionizing food that helped many mothers and babies, it has also it downsides. A series of articles published by The Lancet in 2016 enlisted some of the risks related to being formula-fed, among them a higher risk of respiratory or digestive sickness.

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That is why in recent years, many activist have been pushing to normalize and embrace breastfeeding in the workplace, by facilitating pump stations and encouraging young mothers to breastfeed instead of using formula.

However, as we saw earlier, not every mother is able to breastfeed and there is where formula enters.

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