Where is the Iron in Homemade Baby Formula?

by Sarah Healthy Pregnancy, Baby & ChildComments: 8

iron in baby formula

Interest in homemade baby formula (made from either raw cow or goat milk) as an alternative to unhealthy commercial formulas continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Mothers who are unable to breastfeed or obtain sufficient quantities of donated breastmilk are the main drivers of the trend as they seek healthier alternatives for their babies.

One of the most common questions asked by parents who are investigating the option of homemade formula for the first time is this,  “Where is the iron in the homemade formula?”

This is a very valid question and one that can be very confusing given that many of the commercial formulas on the market are fortified with iron and this fact is emblazoned on the label. In addition, many of the cereals used as first foods for babies starting around six months of age are fortified as well.

Moreover, pediatricians routinely test babies and children they consider at risk for anemia and encourage iron supplementation starting as early as four months old in accordance with the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The impression for a new Mom or Dad is that iron is extremely important for the development of baby. And, most certainly, this is true!

However, it is also important to note that iron has the potential to impede baby’s development as well if too much is consumed. For example, it is known that iron competes with zinc, which is likely why breastmilk is naturally low in this particular mineral. Zinc is critical for the neurological development of baby, so much so that it is sometimes referred to as the intelligence mineral.

The importance of zinc status for a pregnant mother is so important, in fact, that women who have been on oral contraceptives are advised to wait 6 months before conceiving after discontinuing use. This is because the Pill is known to deplete zinc stores along with other critical nutrients.

Homemade Baby Formula Contains Iron

Homemade baby formula that is made from raw cow or goat milk actually does contain iron in easily absorbed form. Utilization of this mineral present in raw milk is facilitated by lactoferrin.

Lactoferrin is a multifunctional protein that is an important component of the human immune system as it is highly anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. Lactoferrin is present in highest amounts in human colostrum, followed by breastmilk and then cow milk. Its presence ensures that the iron in breastmilk or homemade formula is fully bio-available and used efficiently by the infant.

Most of the lactoferrin in raw milk is destroyed by pasteurization, one of the reasons why even low-temp pasteurized milk is not a good choice for making baby formula at home – the milk must be grassfed, clean and RAW.

The chart at this link shows a handy comparison between the iron in breastmilk versus iron in the homemade baby formula.

Iron Sources for the Older Infant

Given that there is slightly more iron in the homemade formula than even in breastmilk, there is no need to supplement additional sources of iron for an infant until about the age of 6 months.

From that point forward, a slow transition of baby onto nutrient dense solid foods will supply the additional iron needed for baby’s continued development. This article and video show how to prepare this traditional first food properly, which includes a small amount of grassfed, organic liver grated into a soft boiled egg yolk in accordance to the wisdom of traditional cultures.

Even Health Canada has officially recommended in its guidelines that eggs and meat are optimum first foods for baby’s development, thereby recognizing the wisdom of indigenous cultures in transitioning infants to solid foods that are naturally rich in nutrients. This in sharp contrast to the synthetically fortified cereals, teething biscuits, and microwaved/watered down baby foods typically chosen in America that in the long term, contribute to weight and allergy issues.

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

Comments (8)

  • Jenine

    If I can find a pure form of lactoferrin (raw/organic etc) would this be a good substitute for the desiccated liver in the goat milk formula?

    March 11th, 2016 1:28 am Reply
    • Sarah

      No it would not be a good substitute. Not sure what your question is anyway since the lactoferrin is in the raw milk. The desiccated liver supplies B12 and folate which is low in goat milk.

      March 11th, 2016 8:24 am Reply
  • Lisa

    As for “traditional foods” to feed baby, in Ayurveda, an over 5000 year old tradition, you feed the baby mostly whole grains prepared in various ways. This can be supplemented with ghee from raw milk from grass fed cows.

    March 10th, 2016 7:53 am Reply
    • Sarah

      At what age are these foods introduced (I’m assuming these foods are for an older baby) … and I’m assuming the grains are fermented and/or soaked as other ancestral cultures practiced? Would like more info on that Lisa if you have some to pass along. Certainly, soaked oatmeal is fine for a baby after one year of age. Earlier is not appropriate given that babies make very little amylase (enzyme to digest carbs) prior to that time.

      March 10th, 2016 7:57 am Reply
  • dana fox

    It seems important to add to the discussion the issue of delayed cord clamping and how it relates to the need for supplemental iron in the first 6 months. It became standard to add iron to formula because babies cords are cut immediately, depriving them of a large volume of their blood supply. Midwives have been practicing delayed cord clamping routinely and now there has been sufficient studies to disprove some of the notions that led to the routine practice of immediate cord cutting in hospital births. Babies end up with 50% more blood volume and do not need iron for 6 months when most start eating other food.

    March 4th, 2016 10:30 am Reply
    • Sarah

      Great point! Thanks for sharing.

      March 4th, 2016 5:10 pm Reply
  • Michael

    Sarah, you always have been true,when it comes to our,or our children’s health. I can’t thank you enough for all that you do.

    March 4th, 2016 1:01 am Reply
    • Sarah

      Thank you Michael for your kind words :)

      March 4th, 2016 5:14 pm Reply

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