Ever wondered how or when baby formula was invented? You might suddenly find yourself asking this question if you need the best baby formula for an infant child. I have created an appropriate historical perspective for you to bring you up to speed with the evolution of baby formula until the 21st century.

Long before the era of modern medicine, human beings have been trying to find the perfect replacement for human breast milk in the case where the breastfeeding mother was unavailable or just unable to nurse for various reasons. The most popular type before the 1800s was a popular practice known as wet nursing. This was a practice that commonly involved already nursing mothers offering to breastfeed their milk to the respective infant.

This practice was so devolved such that there were strict laws governing this practice in Europe and America in the 1700s. Families would either accommodate the wet nurse during the weaning period or give away their child to the wet nurse station for the entire weaning period. You would see how this complicated things for the families looking to find a solution for feeding their infants. The established laws regulated how either party was to conduct themselves to ensure the healthy growth and development of the infant.

For instance, no wet nurse was allowed to tend to more than one infant at a time, until the entire weaning process for one infant was complete. Further, the wet nurse has to be examined regularly to ensure that they were in perfect health to breastfeed an infant. There were even regulations regarding the dietary ingestions to prevent them from possibly passing any harmful substances to the infant or fail to provide sufficient nutrients altogether. At the time, there were even some common beliefs among the people that brunettes made the best wet nurses as it was believed that they had the proportionate amount of nutrients as compared to redheads or blondes.

History of Baby Formula From1800s

Suffice to say that these regulations as well as the misconceptions about the ideal wet nurse are what made wet nursing fall out of favor. By the beginning of 1800s, various physicians and pediatricians had already started experimenting with the various nutritional contents available in human breast milk as compared to that of animal milk.

People had already started trying out with goat, cow, donkey and sheep milk. As a matter of fact, the highly preferred alternative to human breast milk was donkey milk since it was almost similar to human milk. However, cow’s milk was the most commonly used as it was easy to come by as compared to other sources of alternate infannt milk.  Several other factors including maternal deaths led to desperate search for alternatives but there wasn’t much until after 1850.

To create baby formula, individuals mixed cow’s milk with water and other supplements as a substitute to breast milk. This practice grew quite popular such that Liebig’s soluble infant formula was commercially produced and distributed at $1 per bottle in 1869. Liebig’s infant formula consisted of cow’s milk, wheat flour, malt flour and potassium bicarbonate. BBC detailed Liebig’s invention in this piece here.

Later in 1870, Nestle’s instant food was created and started manufacturing baby formula consisting of cow’s milk, sugar and wheat flour. This was a suitable competitor to Liebig’s infant formula, selling their product at only $0.50 per bottle. Furthermore, in contrast to Liebig’s baby formula, the nestle was diluted with water only. This meant that it was much easier to prepare the infant’s food as compared to preparing Liebig’s infant baby formula with milk.

Several other companies such as Horlick’s Malted Food, Mellin’s Infant Food and Ridge’s Food for the Infants joined this industry, selling their formulas at $0.75, $0.75 and $0.65 respectively before 1900. Evidently, this created a whole new perception of infant baby food as it was entirely an artificial formula. This is what popularly became known as dry nursing.

Baby formula in the 1900s

By the beginning of the 20th century AD several studies had been launched to find the most suitable baby formula for ideal infant growth. Thomas Morgan Rotch of Harvard Medical School created a measure of the relative nutrients available in human milk versus those available in cow’s milk. He called it the ‘Percentage Method.’ In his analysis, he delineated that cow’s milk contains more casein than human milk.

To solve this problem, he theorized that diluting cow’s milk with water would lower the casein content. However this created a whole new entire set of deficiencies in the sugar and fat levels (Lower than that of human milk). To correct this problem further, cream and sugar were added to the already diluted cow’s milk in order to create an appropriate perspective of human milk nutrients.

By the 1920s, it was decided that Thomas’ percentage method was too complex to create the right proportions of nutrients in infant food and thus physicians even advised families to either use commercial baby formulas or homemade formulas made with evaporated milk. Evaporated milk had long been preferred ever since its inception by Louis Pasteur in 1864.

However, physicians had highly opposed the use of pasteurized milk as they strongly believed that evaporation significantly diminished the nutritional value of the milk. As a matter of fact, pasteurized milk was particularly lacking in important development vitamins such as vitamins C and D. In order for the pasteurized milk to qualify as a valid substitute for human breast milk, it had to be supplemented with cod liver oil and specified doses of orange juice to prevent certain deficiency diseases such as scurvy and rickets. By around 1915, pasteurization had not only been adopted in the US, but had also grown to cover most parts of the world.

Baby formula in 1920s,1930s to the 1960s

As pasteurization was proving to be a difficult solution to substitute infant food, Gail Borden was the blessing that was much expected during this time. Gail Borden created a way of heating milk to extremely high temperatures in sealed kettles. This saw that the milk lost almost 50% of the water content thus maintaining the optimal nutritional levels ideal for infant food.  Nonetheless, to improve the scalability and shelf life of the milk, Borden added sugar to the resulting sweetened condensed milk.

This method was improved by John Myenberg, where he eliminated the sugar addition to the milk product. What’s more, he used the same process to eliminate over 60% of the water content in the milk and sterilize it at a relative temperature of 200 degrees Celsius. This created a different problem where others thought that this was not milk anymore. In fact, they theorized that the homogenized milk had totally different physical properties than those which identified a fluid as milk.

It is this pretext that was proved that was deeply researched and proved in medical and pediatric arenas alike. By the 1920s and 1930s, most individuals had been convinced of this research and had already begun using the evaporated milk as the best suitable alternative for breast milk.  In fact, physicians as well as other medical practitioners in the medical field were taught how to make this mix:

  • 2 oz of cow’s milk per pound of body weight per day
  • 1/8 oz of sugar per pound of weight per day
  • 3 oz of fluid volume per pound per day

As such, the period between the 1940s and 1960s saw a vast change in the adoption of evaporated milk not only in the medical arenas but also in the homemade setups. This was together with vitamin and iron supplements. In addition, there was an array of research that clearly displayed that infants fed with breast milk and those fed using evaporated milk grew relatively in the same way.

Baby formula in the 1930s

As pasteurization was proving to be a difficult solution to substitute infant food, Gail Borden was the blessing that was much expected during this time. Gail Borden created a way of heating milk to extremely high temperatures in sealed kettles. This saw that the milk lost almost 50% of the water content thus maintaining the optimal nutritional levels ideal for infant food.  Nonetheless, to improve the scalability and shelf life of the milk, Borden added sugar to the resulting sweetened condensed milk.

Infact, during the 1930s, physicians were advised to create baby formula made of evaporated milk using the following criteria;

  • 2 oz of cow’s milk per pound of body weight per day
  • 1/8 oz of sugar per pound of weight per day
  • 3 oz of fluid volume per pound per day

Baby formula in the 1940s

By the 1920s and 1930s, most individuals had been convinced of this research and had already begun using the evaporated milk as the best suitable alternative for breast milk. By the 1940s, this method was improved by John Myenberg, where he eliminated the sugar addition to the milk product. What’s more, he used the same process to eliminate over 60% of the water content in the milk and sterilize it at a relative temperature of 200 degrees Celsius. This created a different problem where others thought that this was not milk anymore. In fact, they theorized that the homogenized milk had totally different physical properties than those which identified a fluid as milk.

Moreover, the baby formula was also reinforced with iron supplements, which facilitated the great reduction in anaemia cases among children who were bottle-fed in the US. Nonetheless, this baby formula was still unpopular as most people believed that iron supplements contributed greatly to gastro-intestinal problems among infants.

Baby formula in the 1960s

Baby formula gained invaluable importance in the 1950s and was greatly commercialized during this period. This gave rise to the popular concept that commercial baby formula is much better than formula made from evaporated milk. In fact, commercial baby formula had almost phased out evaporated milk by the 1970s.

As such, the period between the 1940s and 1960s saw a vast change in the adoption of evaporated milk not only in the medical arenas but also in the homemade setups. This was together with vitamin and iron supplements. In addition, there was an array of research that clearly displayed that infants fed with breast milk and those fed using evaporated milk grew relatively in the same way.

Baby formula in the 1970s

Proprietary formulas had been developed by multiple companies since the 1920s. However, there was an increased level of companies that created different proprietary infant food products from the 1960s to date. Before then, people had preferred sticking with evaporated milk as it was more affordable and easy to prepare. With time, commercial proprietary formulas gained popularity and people gradually started using them as an alternate substitute to breast milk.

By 1970, the main focus on baby formula was balancing the nutritional content in milk to simulate that of human breast milk. Actually, Mead Johnson had discovered that by adding a compound known as Dextri-Maltose, you would have a relatively close approximation of the fat and carbohydrate content in the milk. However, the formula was only given to infants only when prescribed by physicians.

When did Enfamil come out?

Enfamil is one such product that was developed and released in 1959. Mead Johnson’s Enfamil set the pace for other proprietary formulas used in contemporary times. Infant baby formula has come a long way since then.

Baby formula brands and relative costs in the 1980s

In fact, there has been great development since the late 20th century such that specialty formulas and milk modifiers have been developed to cater for premature babies and underweight infants for their healthy growth and development.

The two major brands in the 1980s are Ross labs, which created Isomil and Similac, as well as Mead Johnson, which majorly focuses on Enfamil. There are also other brands like Nestle and Gerber, which also had promising sales during this time. Baby formula had gained so much recognition such that you would get a 32 ounce bottle for $3 in supermarkets.

Baby formula costs in the 1990s

Finally, proprietary formulas now closely resemble all the crucial nutritional contents available in human breast milk, making the perfect substitute. By the 1990s, you could get baby formula at a relative pricing of $1.5 – $2 per every ready to feed bottle. This cheaper pricing was also due to the fact that most women re-initiated using baby formula as well as the rise of store brands, which cost less, and were FDA approved.

The development of proprietary formulas to the modern era

Proprietary formulas had been developed by multiple companies since the 1920s. However, there was an increased level of companies that created different proprietary infant food products from the 1960s to date. Before then, people had preferred sticking with evaporated milk as it was more affordable and easy to prepare. With time, commercial proprietary formulas gained popularity and people gradually started using them as an alternate substitute to breast milk.

This brought in a new perspective to the focus on balancing the nutritional content in milk to simulate that of human breast milk. Actually, Mead Johnson had discovered that by adding a compound known as Dextri-Maltose, you would have a relatively close approximation of the fat and carbohydrate content in the milk. However, the formula was only given to infants only when prescribed by physicians.

Enfamil is one such product that was developed during this time. Mead Johnson’s Enfamil set the pace for other proprietary formulas used in contemporary times. Infant baby formula has come a long way since then. In fact, there has been great development in the 21st century such that specialty formulas and milk modifiers have been developed to cater for premature babies and underweight infants for their healthy growth and development. Finally, proprietary formulas now closely resemble all the crucial nutritional contents available in human breast milk, making the perfect substitute.

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