How to Make Emergency Baby Formula

by Tommy Grant

This is an updated guide on emergency baby formula that we first wrote several years ago. We are not medical providers and none of the below is professional medical advice. Many medical professionals and the FDA advise against making homemade baby formula, so keep that in mind and do not use homemade formula if you have store-bought formula available.

An emergency can be a stressful time, especially with a newborn. Running out of baby formula or breast milk can make it even more stressful. Luckily, there is an easy way to make emergency baby formula with pantry items that have a long shelf life.

As a dad, having my infant prepared for emergencies was a priority. Luckily, Mom was around and provided breast milk whenever he was hungry. That is not always the case for everyone and some moms are forced to rely on formula. If there is a disruption in our food supply and the supermarket cannot stock enough formula, or if parents cannot reach the supermarket to get formula- what happens to the hungry babies? There may be some hope in the pantry…

Contents (Jump to a Section)

Evaporated Milk Baby Formula Recipe

Baby formula is made in high-tech labs and can’t be reproduced, right? Wrong.

Widely available baby formula was not available until the 1950s. Baby formula has been used since the 1920s. So what did everyone do for those 30 years in between? They made their own emergency baby formula.

The baby formula has a basic three-ingredient recipe:

  • 12 OZ evaporated milk
  • 18 OZ boiled water
  • 2 TBSP corn syrup (or sugar)

The ingredients are widely available, and you can even stock up on evaporated milk online. Both evaporated milk and sugar can last in the pantry for at least six months, which should carry you through all but the worst-case emergencies.

The corn syrup was meant to stave off constipation. These days, health services suggest using sugar instead (Alaska DHSS) in homemade baby formulas. You can also tweak the amount of sugar based on your child’s needs.

To follow the recipe, you simply combine the ingredients and thoroughly mix. If your infant is larger, you will want to proportionally increase the ingredients, making sure the ratios stay the same. This recipe helps babies gain weight but does miss out on some of the vitamins and nutrients store-bought formula provides. Vitamin supplements can always be added to the recipe to make up for any deficits.

Because of the vitamin deficiencies in the homemade formula, some professionals advise that homemade formula should not be given to babies at all. This is an absurd blanket statement since you will obviously need to feed your baby if there are no other options. The concern about vitamin deficiencies should be emphasized that homemade baby formula is only a temporary solution for when it is absolutely needed.

What Can I Substitute For Baby Formula?

If find yourself really in a bind without formula or evaporated milk, a few other options could help you out. Breast milk, whole milk, and even goat’s milk can get the job done if life depends on it.

Breast Milk – You may be thinking, “Well if I could provide breast milk I would”- but that is not the only source. Sure, you should consider inducing lactation if you are not completely sure that you cannot provide milk. If you are pregnant or have breastfed before, it can take between one and six weeks for milk to start producing. If it doesn’t work for Mom, you don’t necessarily need to give up.

Any woman with mammary glands could make breast milk. It is, after all, what the glands are meant to do. If a woman has been pregnant in the past it is much easier, but almost any woman can create milk with some work. Having an infant nurse in regular intervals (even if it is not producing) can help draw the milk in.

Whole Milk – Whole milk alone can cause some digestion issues, but for older babies, you can start phasing it in. Diluting whole milk with equal parts of water allows it to be substituted for the evaporated milk in the emergency baby formula recipe. Once your baby hits one year old, it is generally safe to switch them to undiluted whole milk anyway.

Goat Milk – Goats have been a homesteading favorite due to their versatility and ruggedness. Milk from a goat can be used in an emergency. It isn’t recommended for long-term use (it is low in vitamins B12 and folic acid), but it can get your baby much-needed sustenance if there is a disaster.

These options may be tougher to come across during an emergency or disaster. Milk and formula are usually a few of the first things to sell out at a grocery store, goats are not exactly found everywhere, and it may be difficult to talk somebody into breastfeeding your baby. Stashing some evaporated milk in the pantry is definitely a good route to go when it comes to being prepared with your little one.

Don’t Substitute These for Baby Formula

When professionals talk about NOT using homemade baby formula, they often refer to other solutions- some of which aren’t even homemade. Either way, you should avoid using:

  • Expired Baby Formula – Baby formula has a shelf life, and you should not keep or use formula past its shelf life since it can become dangerous to babies.
  • Goat’s Milk w/ Honey – Adding honey to goat’s milk is a common recipe, but this can actually cause botulism poisoning.
  • Diluted Formula – It can be tempting to cut the formula with water to make it last longer, but it’s not a good idea. Babies need milk and/or formula for a reason, and substituting this with too much water can quickly cause problems.
  • Counterfeit Baby Formula – Yes, this is actually a thing. It is more common overseas, where the FDA does not have oversight. Make sure your baby formula is from a reputable manufacturer.

There are plenty of other things you shouldn’t give your baby- but the ones above are the more common mistakes.

Here are The Doctors talking about a lot of these alternatives and their risks, the FDA warnings, and what people should try to do in shortages:

Can I Stock Up On Baby Formula?

Of course you can, and that’s your best thought of the day!

As we mentioned before, baby formula has a shelf life, but this shelf life can be up to 18 months- which should be more than enough to make it to the solid food stage. It is an excellent idea to have an emergency supply of baby food as a part of your emergency food supply. Even if the baby is being breastfed and you have extra breastmilk supply in the freezer you will want a shelf-stable option for an emergency.

Cans of powder formula typically are the easiest to store with your long-term food storage. My kids are now both grown out of the breastmilk stage, but we stored Similac 30 oz cans in addition to keeping our freezer fully stocked with breastmilk.

Baby Formula Shortages

Baby formula shortages are not uncommon and have been an issue recently. The FDA is actively working with manufacturers to solve and prevent shortages in the formula supply chain.

When we specify the recipe for emergencies, a temporary shortage isn’t what we have in mind. The emergency formula recipe should be your last resort when your baby is hungry and there are no other options, not just a choice of convenience.

Even during widespread baby formulas, dialing 2-1-1 (in the US) can connect you to a community resource specialist to get you what you need. They are liaisons to:

  • Food pantries
  • Charities
  • Food banks

Many of these options supply infant formula and baby food specifically for these events and should be sought out well ahead of a homemade recipe.

Sources and References

Here are the sources I relied on while researching emergency baby formula for my kids and updates since then.

  • Anderson, E., et al. (2022). Special Edition – Homemade Infant Formula. Michigan State University; Center for Research on Ingredient Safety. (Source)
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. (2023). Why Do Infants Need Baby Formula Instead of Cow’s Milk? Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5. (Source)
  • Chen, A. (2024). Comparison of Human Breast Milk Nutrition to Goat’s Milk & Cow’s Milk. LiveStrong. (Source)

The Final Word

Prepping by storing evaporated milk for emergency baby formula is not a topic I thought I would cover when I created this blog, but fatherhood and understanding risks can change things. Other parents should be able to relate to how you want to protect and provide for your children- no matter the situation or disaster.

It took some research for me to understand the importance of emergency baby formula, but I appreciated the chance to keep learning about prepping while improving my sons’ preparedness.

You may also want to check out how prepared you are for other emergencies with your baby in tow:

Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.

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