- Social-media pediatricians the PediPals urge people to stop sharing formula alternatives online.
- Potentially harmful recipes have spread across social media plaforms during the nationwide shortage.
- “There’s no one size fits all,” Dr. Ana said, which is why the recipes can be dangerous.
Viral social media posts offering supposed alternative recipes for baby formula have spread during the ongoing shortage of the product in the US, but medical experts with online followings are speaking out against the trend, calling the DIY substitutes dangerous.
Amateur baby formula recipes have spread across numerous platforms including on Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube, Bloomberg reported. While social media platforms have removed some videos that violate their rules prohibiting medical misinformation, the platforms haven’t removed such videos consistently, the report said.
“We understand the need to try to do anything — to help each other out — but it seemed that it was just more and more videos and different recipes, all of which, if you have any kind of nutritional or medical background, you can see are extremely dangerous,” said Dr. Sami, a Texas-based physician who is one-half of the PediPals, a pediatrician duo who makes social-media content to help educate parents on childcare.
At first, Sami told Insider she saw just a few videos promoting at-home formula recipes. But eventually, she said she realized there were more of them, and the videos were going “more and more viral.”
Some videos promoting at-home formulas seen by Insider called for ingredients like evaporated milk and Karo syrup. Other TikTok creators called for hemp seeds, pitted dates, and vanilla. Some creators recommend that people feed infants goat milk as an alternative. All of these options care be potentially harmful to infants, doctors told Insider.
One recipe video seen by Insider had more than 1.4 million views on Friday.
Dr. Ana, also a Texas pediatrician and the other half of the PediPals, told Insider the videos she saw generally originated from creators who appeared to have “no expertise at all” in pediatric care.
“They say this worked for me, this worked for my mom, my grandma, and so this should obviously work for you,” Ana said.
But that type of “blanket advice” can be dangerous, she said.
“There’s no one size fits all, and the formula is so researched and there’s so much that goes into putting all the right nutrients and electrolytes in because babies are very vulnerable,” Ana told Insider.
Sami’s frustration with these videos compelled her to make an impassioned plea on TikTok. In the May 15 video, which has 1.2 million views, Sami urged creators to stop sharing the recipes.
“Back in those days, infant mortality was just an accepted part of life,” Sami said in the video, responding to people sharing recipes and advice passed down from previous generations that she says modern medicine has made obsolete.
“People used to pop out 8 to 10 babies, and 2 of them would die,” she added. “Our babies actually live, and we don’t want to go back in time.”
Bad formula recipes could lead to health problems for babies
Improper nutrition from an at-home formula recipe could lead to several problems, including electrolyte imbalances and vitamin deficiencies, which could lead to seizures, heart issues, and problems with bone development, the doctors said.
“There are so many things that can happen,” Ana said. “And just because it doesn’t happen to some people doesn’t mean that other children can’t suffer from this type of advice.”
Even too much water can be harmful to newborns, the PediPals added.
“It’s all in the same realm of horrible because a kitchen is not a sterile environment,” Sami said. “Babies are super fragile, especially newborns, and especially babies under six months of age. They don’t have fully developed kidneys. They can’t just drink anything, so these recipes don’t come from a place of safety or evidence. They’re old wives’ tales.”
Ana and Sami said they started PediPals in 2020 as a means to offer help and educate parents during the COVID-19 pandemic, but more recently they said they’ve found themselves debunking dangerous misinformation that’s spread online.
At first, the duo started a podcast but later spread across
, including TikTok, where they recently crossed 500,000 followers. They said they both worked full-time as pediatricians and made the social-media content on the side.
While platforms like TikTok have rules prohibiting medical misinformation, Ana and Sami are part of an entire subgenre of TikTok creators: medical experts who debunk and respond to inaccurate and dangerous misinformation spread on the app.
But speaking out against misinformation online is often difficult for creators, who previously told Insider they received death threats and harassment for making content calling out other creators for sharing bad information. The PediPals said they’d faced threats for doing things like speaking out about vaccines, abortion, and COVID-19.
The duo asked to be identified only by their first names, which are also their online identities as the PediPals, because of the threats they’ve received in the past.
“Medical creators are unfortunately targeted,” Sami said. “You have to have a lot of bravery if you want to talk about evidence-based medicine.”