Feeding Babies Part One — Formula Marketing Is Dodgy

Why most claims on baby formula are unsupported or outright false

Gideon M-K; Health Nerd


Pictured: Extremely Cute Photo by Taksh on Unsplash

Note: this is part one. You can find part two, which looks at the claims about the benefits of breastfeeding here.

If there’s one thing that’s contentious online, it’s talking about what we feed infants. There are a group of about five topics that most science writers steer clear of, not because they aren’t interesting, but because if you wade into those waters then no matter how careful you are you’ll likely have people shouting at you for years to come.

But I wrote about vaping, so I thought I might as well look at one of the other topics that makes people furious. And when it comes to formula for babies — specifically, milk formula produced as a breastmilk replacement — there is some really interesting scientific evidence that has recently come out showing that most of the claimed benefits that are promoted by industry are total nonsense.

Pictured: A baby eating. Ah, the life of luxury. Photo by Lucy Wolski on Unsplash

It turns out that pretty much all of the marketing claims behind formula that you see on the shelves of supermarkets and pharmacies every day are either unsupported by evidence or completely false. Formula, it turns out, is the supplement industry of the infant world.

The Data

The basic issue with formula products is simple — they often make claims on their packaging that are used to sell parents on the benefits of switching from breast milk to a more lucrative (for industry) option, or for spending a little more on the milk you feed your tiny person. Here are a few of the claims that I turned up on a quick Google search of baby formula:

  1. Supports gentle digestion
  2. Enriched for immunity
  3. Brain building
  4. Naturally gentle

And on, and on, and on. The endless tide of suggestion from companies producing baby formula is that it will improve their intellect, help them sleep better, have more effective immune systems, and generally super-charge their lives.