When Was Baby Formula Invented? A History & Breakdown

Since its invention, baby formula has been a game-changing resource for parents who can't or choose not to breastfeed or wish to combination feed. But, when was baby formula invented? 

Join us as we explore the history of baby formula, tracing its journey from what life was like for parents before it even existed to its significant role in modern parenting.

How Did Parents Manage Breastfeeding Before There Was Formula?

In the days before baby formula, breastfeeding was the primary method of nourishing infants. However, not all mothers were able to breastfeed.

This posed quite a challenge for parents, so they had to come up with alternative ways to feed their little ones. 

Wet nursing and dry nursing

The two most common ways parents managed infant feeding before formula was wet and dry nursing.

Wet nursing was the practice of hiring a lactating woman to breastfeed another woman's child. This allowed mothers who were unable to breastfeed to ensure their infants were still receiving breast milk.

Dry nursing involved feeding the infant with a bottle or cup of animal milk, usually from cows or goats. This method was often used when a wet nurse wasn’t available or affordable.  

However, the medical community soon realized that while these substitutes could serve as a temporary solution for infant feeding, they just weren't as nutritious as breast milk. 

The Quest for a Breast Milk Substitute

The quest for a breast milk substitute spans thousands of years and involves many different substances, from animal milk to bread, wine, and other soft food. In fact, the earliest known use of a breast milk substitute dates back to ancient Egypt where mothers would feed their babies goat's milk or honeyed water in the absence of human breast milk.

Back in the 16th to 18th centuries, people started making the first prototypes of baby bottles for feeding infants. But it wasn't until the 1920s that scientists began delving into the composition of breast milk in order to create baby formulas that could mimic its qualities.

The Birth of Pasteurization, Refrigeration, and Healthier Milk

The birth of pasteurization and refrigeration goes back to the 19th century when milk production and distribution became a public health issue. At that time, milk was produced and distributed under unsanitary conditions, leading to illnesses and even deaths.

That's when Louis Pasteur, a renowned French scientist, discovered that applying heat to milk could eliminate disease-causing microorganisms. This process, named after him, is known as pasteurization and became a common practice in milk production. 

Unfortunately, pasteurized milk lacks vitamins C and D, so during this time, many babies were given supplements with vitamins A and D to protect them from various diseases.

Refrigeration also played a pivotal role in transforming the milk industry. Prior to refrigeration, milk was transported in horse-drawn carts and stored in warm, dark areas, creating the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. 

The introduction of refrigeration helped to maintain the safety and quality of milk by providing proper storage conditions, reducing bacterial growth, and preserving freshness.

When Was Baby Formula Invented?

Although pasteurization and refrigeration changed the industry, it wasn't until the 19th century that a more standardized and commercially available baby formula emerged.

The First Baby Formula Ever

The first baby formula ever was invented by Justus von Liebig, a German chemist, in 1865. Liebig's formula was a combination of cow's milk, wheat and malt flour, and potassium bicarbonate, which when mixed with heated cow's milk, became a popular choice for feeding infants in Europe.

However, it wasn't until 1883 that evaporated milk was introduced as an ingredient in baby formula, which allowed for better transportation and storage of the product without it spoiling.

The Modern Era: The Infant Formula Act

In the modern era, one of the most significant advancements in the field of infant nutrition was the introduction of the Infant Formula Act in 1980. This legislation, passed in the United States, aimed to improve the safety and quality of baby formula by establishing strict standards for its manufacturing and distribution.

It was a response to growing public health concerns surrounding the quality and nutritional composition of baby formulas. Under the Infant Formula Act, baby formulas were required to meet specific nutritional and compositional requirements to ensure the health and well-being of infants.

In addition to setting these standards, the Infant Formula Act granted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to oversee and regulate the manufacturing and labeling of baby formulas. This oversight ensured that formulas would be produced according to strict guidelines, and that accurate labeling would provide transparency for parents and caregivers.

Present Day Baby Formula Options

With strict regulations, ongoing research, and innovations in the field, baby formula has become a trusted and essential part of modern infant nutrition.

Here are some key aspects of present-day baby formula:

  • Variety of options: Today's market offers a wide range of baby formula options, including cow's milk-based, soy-based, hydrolyzed protein, lactose-free, hypoallergenic, organic, and specialty formulas for infants with specific medical conditions. 
  • Strict regulations and safety standards: This ensures that baby formulas on the market today are safe, high-quality, and provide the necessary nutrients for infant growth and development.
  • Nutrient fortification: Modern baby formulas such as Aussie Bubs are fortified with essential nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids, to mimic the nutritional composition of breast milk. 
  • Focus on digestion and tolerance: Present-day baby formulas are designed to be easily digestible and well-tolerated by infants. This includes the use of protein, carbohydrate sources, and hydrolyzed formulas for infants with allergies and intolerances.
  • Accessibility: Baby formula is widely available in various forms, such as powder, liquid concentrate, and ready-to-feed options, making it convenient and accessible for parents and caregivers around the world.

Final Thoughts

From its early beginnings as a substitute for breast milk to its significant role in modern parenting, baby formula has come a long way. Today, it’s the only safe and trusted alternative to breastfeeding. With ongoing research, strict regulations, and continuous innovations, baby formula will continue to evolve, ensuring that infants receive the best possible nutrition for their growth and development.