When Was Baby Formula Invented? 

By: Dr. Nazeli Gevorgyan - Updated May 15, 2024 - 10 Minute Read

When Was Baby Formula Invented? | The Milky Box

Have you ever wondered what parents did before baby formula was invented? Picture a time when wet nurses were the nurturing caretakers, succeeded by an era where animal milk and homemade concoctions took center stage. Alongside these alternatives came new challenges. 

Fast-forward to today, and we have a remarkable solution—cutting-edge infant formulas offering parents nutrition, safety, and peace of mind.

In this article, we’ll explore the evolution of infant feeding, from historic challenges to the innovative options offered by modern formulas.

The Power of Infant Formulas 

Infant formulas, whether liquid or powdered, serve as substitutes for human milk. They are crucial in providing essential nutrients, especially for those who cannot be breastfed. In the United States and other developed nations, most infants are introduced to formula during their first year, as the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding diminishes over time.

Evolution of Infant Feeding

The history of infant feeding involves the progression from wet nursing to the adoption of feeding bottles and formula. Society’s disapproval of wet nursing and bottle advancements, access to animal milk, and better formulas led to a transition from natural to artificial feeding. The popularity of formula was further boosted by advertising and improvements in safety, making infant formula feeding prevalent in the United States today.        

Infant Feeding History | The Milky Box

What is a Wet Nurse?

Wet nursing, the practice of a woman breastfeeding another child, was prevalent before the advent of feeding bottles and formula, dating back to 2000 BC and continuing until the 20th century. If a mother couldn’t provide enough milk or chose not to breastfeed, families often hired a “wet nurse.” 

Understanding the Role of Wet Nurses

In ancient Israel, nursing was considered a religious duty, but it wasn’t always feasible due to maternal lactation failure or maternal death during childbirth. During the Renaissance, aristocratic women frequently avoided breastfeeding due to fashion concerns and their impact on social status and daily activities. 

Wives of merchants, lawyers, and doctors didn’t breastfeed because hiring a wet nurse was cheaper than finding someone to replace them in managing their husbands’ business or household.

Wet nurses were selected carefully, believing the quality of their milk influenced the baby’s future. Brunette wet nurses were preferred for supposedly better nutrition and a calm nature.

In the 18th century, high demand led to bureaus registering wet nurses, regulated by governments with health checks laws, and limiting nursing to one infant.

Simultaneously, concerns arose about infants developing strong bonds with wet nurses.

In the 19th century, the use of bottles and animal milk began replacing wet nursing, and by 1900, the organized profession of wet nursing had disappeared.

From Wet Nursing to Dry Nursing

In ancient times, artificial feeding with animal milk, known as dry nursing, was also practiced alongside the common practice of wet nursing. Until the late 19th century, various animal milk, including those from goats, sheep, donkeys, camels, pigs, and horses, were utilized for main infant feeding, with cow’s milk being the most widely used.

Different tools, such as perforated cow’s horns in the Middle Ages and pewter or silver devices by the 1700s, were employed for feeding.

Pap and panada served for additional nourishment alongside animal milk, especially if the baby wasn’t growing well. Pap was typically made by soaking bread in water or milk, while panada involved cooking cereals in broth.

Unfortunately, in the 16th to 18th centuries, cleaning feeding tools, pap boats, and other devices was challenging. This led to bacteria build-up, harming infants’ health. In the early 19th century, unclean tools, along with poor milk storage, contributed to a third of artificially fed infants dying in their first year.

The First Baby Formula Ever

In the 19th century, scientists began analyzing human and animal milk to develop nonhuman milk formulations resembling human milk. Notably, in 1865, chemist Justus von Liebig introduced and patented the first infant formula, initially in a liquid form and later as a powdered version for improved preservation. 

Liebig’s formula, composed of cow’s milk, wheat, malt flour, and potassium bicarbonate, gained recognition as the ideal infant nourishment.

In the 1870s, Nestle’s Infant Food became available in the US. Unlike Leibig’s Formula, Nestle’s, made with malt, cow’s milk, sugar, and wheat flour, only needed water added—no extra cow’s milk. This made it the first complete artificial formula in the country.

The Invention of Bottles, Pasteurization, and Refrigeration

In the mid-19th century, significant progress was made in developing the feeding bottle and nipple. With glass bottles, a new era began. The modern feeding bottle and nipple and the widespread availability of animal milk popularized artificial feeding. Doctors shifted their focus to alternative milk sources for infant nutrition.

Cow’s milk, especially in urban areas, underwent multiple stages of handling, often resulting in an impure product. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, doctors realized that germs in contaminated foods could cause diseases. 

Raw milk, which spoiled quickly without refrigeration, was found to transmit diseases like tuberculosis, typhoid fever, cholera, and diphtheria. Widespread refrigeration didn’t happen until about 1910. 

In 1864, Louis Pasteur discovered that heating wine prevents souring. By 1890, pasteurization was employed in the dairy industry to prevent milk from spoiling during transport. Later, it was recognized that pasteurization also safeguarded against milk-borne diseases. 

The advent of refrigeration, around the same period, further revolutionized the preservation of perishable goods.

Children consuming pasteurized milk, deficient in vitamins C and D, were supplemented with daily doses of orange juice (rich in vitamin C) and cod liver oil (vitamins A and D) to prevent scurvy and rickets. Pasteurization became a widespread practice in the US around 1915.

Big breakthrough: Evaporated milk

In the early 1900s, an innovative infant formula using evaporated milk gained popularity. The process involved reducing water content, sterilizing the condensed milk, and homogenizing it, resulting in a formula that was cost-effective, easily digestible, and resistant to bacterial contamination until the can was opened. 

The 1920s and 1930s research revealed that infants fed the evaporated milk formula exhibited growth comparable to breastfed babies. This compelling evidence, coupled with the affordability and widespread accessibility of evaporated milk, led physicians and parents to widely support and recommend its use for infant feeding.

Major Improvements | The Milky Box

Seeking a “Humanized” Formula

Over time, a variety of other commercial products and formulas were introduced. These early formulas, while rich in carbohydrates and high in fat, lacked crucial elements such as protein, vitamins, and minerals. The desire to replicate the composition of human milk and create “humanized’’ formulas became a driving force, leading to significant progress.

Early research indicated that cow’s milk had higher protein levels and lower carbohydrate content than human milk. Modifications were made to the carbohydrate, fat, and protein content in formulas, fortified with essential minerals and vitamins. The formula was transformed from a temporary solution into a potent superfood, providing diverse nutrients. 

Milestones in the infant formula evolution also included the introduction of the first soy-based formula for infants with cow milk allergy.

The Infant Formula Act

The Infant Formula Act of 1980 empowered the FDA to ensure the quality of infant formulas. While following AAP recommendations, the FDA mandates specific nutrients in all infant formulas, including protein, fat, vitamins (C, A, D, E, K, B group), iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc. 

While synthetic formulas closely resemble breast milk nutrients, formula labels acknowledge that breast milk is the best nourishment for infants. 

Infant Formula Composition | The Milky Box

Present-Day Infant Formula Options

Today, a diverse range of infant formula options addresses various nutritional needs and preferences. Formulas come in different bases, such as cow’s milk, goat’s milk, soy, and specialized options for infants with specific dietary requirements. 

Manufacturers continue to innovate, offering variations like hypoallergenic, anti-reflux, preterm, vegan options, or probiotic formulas. European organic formulas are available, providing parents with natural, pesticide, and GMO-free choices in line with organic farming practices. 

Additionally, formulas are available in different forms, including powder, liquid concentrate, and ready-to-feed, providing convenience for parents. 

Types of Infant Formula | The Milky Box

Formula Progress: A Modern Parent’s Convenience 

In summary, the journey of baby formula, marked by continuous progress and innovation, ensures that today’s parents have a variety of high-quality formula options. While breastfeeding remains the optimal choice, when it’s not possible, our babies can still receive excellent nutrition. 

Now, discovering and getting the best organic European formulas is just a click away with “The Milky Box” website. Providing the best for our babies has never been more accessible.


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7. O, N. R., BeRT S OppeNheIm, I. B. and Scalici, C. (2009) ‘Infant Formula’, American Family Physician, 79(7), pp. 565–570. Available at: https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2009/0401/p565.html

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Please be aware that this information is based on general trends in babies, and it is not medical advice. Your doctor should be your first source of information and advice when considering any changes to your child’s formula and when choosing your child’s formula. Always consult your pediatrician before making any decisions about your child’s diet or if you notice any changes in your child.

Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby because breast milk provides your child with all the essential nutrients they need for growth and development. Please consult your pediatrician if your child requires supplemental feeding.

Nazeli Gevorgyan is a medical doctor from Armenia, and is a researcher in the fields of Obstetrics and Gynecology, among others. Dr. Nazeli is passionate with providing women and parents with reliable and high-quality information on healthy options for infant nutrition, breastfeeding, infant formula, and food. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, traveling, and pottery. 

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Reviewed by Dr. Eric Wood, ND, MA

Dr. Wood is a licensed naturopathic doctor, with a doctorate degree from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto, Canada. He received his post-graduation certification in Mind Body Medicine at Harvard University.

With 15 years of experience, Dr. Wood is an Associate Professor of Holistic Nutrition at the American College of Health Sciences in Portland, Oregon. Dr. Wood is an educator, clinician, author, media figure, consultant, and owns his own holistic (naturopathic) medical practice in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Dr. Wood is currently researching and drafting books on cancer and pediatrics.

Outside of the medical profession, Dr. Wood loves singing with the Miami Lyric Opera and is an avid musician in South Florida. He also loves spending time with his wife and kids.