Despite recent detractors, there can be no doubt that baby milk formula has saved countless lives over the years. The first successful milk formula was produced in the 1860s by Henri Nestle, in Switzerland. It was based on cows’ milk and cereals and was the first scientific attempt to imitate breast milk.
It isn’t just in modern times that some mothers have difficulty is producing enough breast milk to feed their baby: t has always been a problem and remains so. This inability to produce breast milk is more prevalent in mothers who themselves have poor diets and is a major problem for mothers living in grinding poverty. It was whilst visiting mothers living in poverty and children in orphanages that Henri Nestle first determined to come up with substitute to breast milk. He eventually came up with a concoction he called farine lactee, based, as he put it, on “wholesome Swiss milk and a cereal component baked by a special process of my invention”. In 1867, he fed this to a premature baby boy whose mother was dangerously ill herself; the boy survived, and Nestle’s reputation skyrocketed. Nestle’s major strength wasn’t invention, he was an extremely good marketer, and within 5 years he was selling he had offices in London, and was exporting formula to South America and Australia.
Nestle was not the only manufacturer of formula milk. Others included Justus von Liebig, Horlicks and Mellins Foods. The success of formula milk based on sows’ milk owes everything to the massive strides in bacteriology made by the like of Louis Pasteur and others who made the handling of milk far safer than it had been before.
The term ‘formula’ is derived from Thomas Morgan Botch’s approach to “percentage feeding.” He coined the term when he was trying to devise the best mix of the various constituents that make up baby formula. A common basic formula, at the time, at Infant’s Hospital in Boston was 2-6-2, meaning 2% fat, 6% carbohydrate, and 2% protein. During the twentieth century many commercial companies have strived to improv milk formula. Franklin Infant Food introduced, in 1923, was a powdered formulation, later to be called Similac. Enfamil, by Mead Johnson, was a latecomer in 1959, but the company, established in 1905, and pioneered vitamin research in the 1920’s with the first cod liver oil of standardized potency in 1924 and pure solution of Vitamin D in 1929.
There has been much controversy with formula milk in recent years. Slick advertising campaigns led to many millions of women feeding their children formula rather than breast milk. Whilst the negative effects in the West have been minimal (if at all any) the same can’t be said for mothers in the Third World who bottle-feed their babies. The lack of basic safe, clean water has led to the deaths of millions of children who were fed contaminated formula milk. Despite many campaigns, the practice of dumping milk formula on the developing world appears to be an ongoing problem.
The history of bottle formula milk is not very old and the take up by millions of women all over the world has been staggering. It is also a controversial history and its future seems set to be one of controversy.