The dangerous problem with promoting celebrity parenting tips

Today I am screaming from the rooftops:

Do NOT, I repeat Do NOT make your own baby formula.

Why, you ask? It seems a popular magazine published an article containing a mom celebrity du jour who was promoting her new book. In it, she touts her homemade formula. They included the formula ingredients as if they were including a banana bread recipe and only after A LOT of backlash did they remove the recipe. While I am pleased at the final outcome, I am completely frustrated that a magazine would publish something so irresponsible and so potentially dangerous in the context of good parenting.

As a pediatrician I am used to debunking common myths. I do it every day. For example, drinking milk while congested does not, in fact, worsen congestion. Vaccines do not, in fact, cause autism. A wet head does not, in fact, cause a cold. These are commonly held beliefs that began years ago before we understood the physiology that made them untrue.

I frequently get the question about how to choose formula. I understand that parents asking this question are just trying to give their child the best breast milk alternative and are attempting to make sure they are not missing out on anything important. And while I hope that everyone who would like to choose breast milk is able to do so, I also understand that breast milk (totally organic and 100 percent natural, by the way) is not always an option. But please know that making your own formula is not a great idea. It does not prove that you are more loving, organic, smarter, or more committed to your child than a parent who buys formula. It does not come without risk.

The problem with putting celebrity trends in magazines is that it implies that because they are famous, celebrities have more access to medical science than your average parent does. We assume — wrongfully — that they must see the “best” doctors, have the “best” nutritionists and know more than the average parents does. They do not. In fact, celebrities are often vulnerable to the influence of charismatic charlatans and then (sometimes) become one.

I am not saying that no baby ever survived or thrived on goat’s milk or homemade formula, for that matter. That would be untrue. There are cases where infants are so allergic that they simply require something very unique and different. These children are rare and often very sick babies. They are under the care of doctors and nutritionists who work to make sure that all nutrients are being delivered in a safe, appropriate way.

What I am saying is that I wish these celebrities and the magazines that make tons of money publishing their nonsense would stop promoting things that are questionable for the health and well-being of babies. I’m afraid their “stories” are misinterpreted as medical recommendations. Please, next time you pick up a magazine, look at the pretty pictures.

About Dr. Sara Connolly, Board Certified Pediatrician

Sara Connolly, MD, FAAP, is a Board Certified Pediatrician who practices in Palm Beach County, Florida. She has a passion for child advocacy and has worked on the local, state, and national level to increase access to care for children. Her interests include nutrition, breastfeeding, and parenting skills.


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