The co-founder of ByHeart shares 3 things parents need to know about the formula industry

parent feeding baby with bottle formula industry
McKinsey Jordan/Stocksy

Breast milk is the gold standard of infant nutrition–in fact, we like to say that it’s nature’s most super superfood. Feeding our babies is one of the first and most important decisions we make as new parents, as the nutrition that baby receives in its first year of life is crucial to development. But breastfeeding doesn’t work for all parents, or not all the time—for myself included.

When I had my firstborn, Neve, I found that breastfeeding just didn’t come easily to me or my baby—let’s just say there were many middle-of-the-night tears between the two of us. When I made the decision to supplement feeding with formula, I was discouraged by the options available to me. Any product I picked up off the shelf required me to make a compromise and I found myself asking questions that nobody—not even the labels on the cans—could seem to answer: Do I prioritize easy digestion or brain development? Why do so many formula options include corn syrup, soy or palm oil? Why should I feed my baby skim milk instead of whole healthy fats? Needless to say, it made me feel confused and insecure about my feeding options.

We started ByHeart with a vision to build a future where all parents can feel amazing about feeding, no matter how they do it. This meant starting from scratch, working with breast milk scientists to understand how our formula could get closest to breast milk. It meant building our own factories to completely control end-to-end manufacturing because it was the only way to create the formula of our dreams. And it meant significantly raising the bar on quality and committing to providing true transparency into our process—something we encourage the industry at large to implement as well. Parents want to lean in, do their research and feel confident in their feeding decisions.

I’ve learned a lot as an industry insider, and want to share three things parents need to know in order to make informed feeding decisions that they can feel amazing about.

3 facts about the infant formula industry parents need to know

1. 90% of the industry is controlled by only 3 “big formula” manufacturers

In early 2022, the US experienced the most significant food security crisis in our country’s modern history, when one of the three major manufacturers—a manufacturer that supplied approximately 40% of the country’s infant formula—had to implement a nationwide recall and pause production, setting off a national formula shortage.

The sudden shift forced parents to scramble to find formula to feed their babies, as the rest of the industry wasn’t equipped to increase production to meet demand. This was the first time in recent history that the shortcomings of the infant formula oligopoly were not only exposed but placed under extreme scrutiny by regulatory institutions, government agencies, and parents alike.

The ripple effects of this shortage are still felt today, almost two years later.

When we started ByHeart 7 years ago, we could have never predicted a shortage, but we were aware that parents had to rely on too few manufacturers for baby’s most important food. Our primary reason for creating ByHeart was not only to develop an innovative infant formula that babies and parents love, but to launch as the first new US-based infant formula manufacturer in 15 years who would do things differently and provide new choices for parents that they could trust.

This is critical to creating a stronger supply chain to ensure that parents have consistent access to the nutrition they want and need to feed their babies.

2. We now have the tools to get closer to breast milk than ever before

We like to say that we’re in a golden era of breast milk research, with scientists and researchers discovering more and more about the magic of breast milk at a faster and more impactful rate than ever before. But not enough of these developments are making their way into formulas available on shelves.

Why? Because rewriting the recipe to truly innovate a new formula requires time-consuming and costly clinical trials and securing regulatory registrations.

This lengthy and expensive process has led to a slew of brands opting to work with the only contract manufacturer in the country to produce their formula, which uses existing recipes based on old science and data. Don’t you think babies born today deserve a formula based on science from this century? We sure do.

When we started ByHeart, we ran the largest clinical trial by a new infant formula brand in 25 years, and were the only new brand to add a comparison to breast milk. Yes, you read that correctly: the only new brand to add a comparison to breast milk.

Feeding is the first and most important decision we make as parents.

Whether breastfeeding, combo feeding, or formula feeding, this food supports all of baby’s systems during a critical stage of their growth—this is where health begins.

3. All baby formula should be easy to digest—happy babies, happy parents

Let’s talk about baby’s digestion. Did you know it’s been reported that 50% of babies switch formulas due to a perceived digestion issue*? How about that around ¼ of pediatrician visits involve a digestion issue? Breast milk science and research has shown that one of the most important elements of infant formula that impacts baby’s digestion is the protein—breast milk includes both whole and broken-down proteins, making it naturally easy to digest. Some “gentle” formulas use exclusively broken down proteins with the idea that they might be easier to digest.

But while some whole proteins may take longer to break down, their exclusion means babies may miss out on important benefits that these proteins provide. This is an example of one of those compromises that parents are forced to make—choosing between benefits and ease of digestion. 

Our team at ByHeart designed a patented protein blend that gets closest to breast milk —this blend includes the two most abundant proteins found in breast milk (alpha-lac and lactoferrin) combined with broken-down proteins—and is clinically proven to be easy to digest. Our goal as a collective industry should be to produce formulas that bridge this protein gap and set parents up to feel confident about their feeding options—no matter how they choose to feed their babies.