I’m a chemical engineer. Don’t know what a chemical engineer does? Neither did I when I first entered college, which is what intrigued me to study it in the first place. The chemical engineering discipline has expanded to cover a lot, but at its core, it’s a study on how we can make specific molecules in a large volume efficiently, by using either chemical or biological methods. 

Why is this important to motherhood and how is this related to breast milk? Fundamentally, mimicking breast milk is a simple chemical engineering problem and it’s a problem that I’m dedicating my life to. Let me tell you why and how you can help.

You’re probably thinking: why do we need to replicate breast milk in the first place? Isn’t formula good enough? Well, that depends on how you define “good enough.”

Closing the molecular gap between breastmilk and baby formula

Human breast milk is a unique evolutionary creation. Many specific nutrients in breast milk are only naturally found in breast milk—so they won’t be found in cow’s milk or vegetable oils, which are the primary ingredients that make up most formulas today. Current infant formulas meet the macronutrient requirements (overall carbs, fats, and proteins) to support a baby’s growth sufficiently and safely. 

However, the specific molecular-level nutrients are not currently being matched to breast milk. By molecular level nutrients, I mean which types of carbs, fats, and proteins are used because each type can affect our bodies differently. 

Related: Everything you need to know about goat milk formula

For example, most formulas lack the presence of human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), which is technically classified as a carbohydrate. But, unlike the carbs that we generally know (like starch), HMOs function as fiber-equivalents and prebiotics to provide energy to babies’ gut microbiomes.

Additionally, HMOs provide many health benefits such as decreasing the risk of infection, supporting digestion, and developing the immune system. This is why we can't replace HMOs with glucose or starch. 

tiny bottles of sample baby formula in a lab
Test bottles - image provided by NAMUH

Creating a better baby formula that mimics breast milk

Can’t we create a better formula that matches the powerful nutritional offerings of breast milk? By putting on my chemical engineering hat, I found the answer to be quite shocking: mimicking breast milk was a relatively “easy” problem to solve scientifically. We don’t need any scientific miracles to create this formula and we are living in an era where most of the technologies needed to do this already exist. Yes, it would take some time and effort to optimize the technology, to scale up and to commercially manufacture, but I know it’s achievable. We just need to take a look at breast milk and copy what’s in it. 

Why hasn’t anyone done this before? 

It saddened me to realize that all we were missing was strong willpower from those who had the ability to change things. So, I’m bringing willpower and knowledge to the table, with the help of many experts from the ingredient and nutrition fields. Having been a baby who did not react well to formula and who now struggles with gut health and immune problems as an adult, I’m dedicated to helping all babies get access to quality nutrition. One day I hope to have babies of my own and I hope that when that day comes—because of my and my team’s efforts—there will be better formula options for parents. I dream of the day when the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends infant formulas as good alternatives for breastfeeding. 

Related: Here’s what you need to know about the new European-style formula brand you’re seeing everywhere

What is NAMUH?

This is why I built NAMUH–human spelled backwards. NAMUH is working on closing the molecular nutrition gap between breast milk and formula. We are tackling this mission in two ways: 1) better ingredients and 2) a better recipe. Our scientists and engineers are developing proprietary precision fermentation technologies to replicate breast milk nutrients. We ensure our ingredients are safe for babies and are 100% identical to the ones found in human breast milk. We are also looking closely at breast milk—the golden recipe for ideal infant nutrition. We want to understand the molecular nutrition of breast milk and create the most comprehensive database of human breast milk. 

Related: Society isn’t listening to the needs of breastfeeding mothers—they need support, not judgment

What is Project Breast Milk and how you can help

Project Breast Milk is the first step to creating a formula similar in nutrients to breast milk. With help from breastfeeding mothers across the country, we will be able to analyze its nutrients to develop our groundbreaking formula. So, we need your help. We are calling all breastfeeding mothers to donate milk to this project

And, it goes without saying that your privacy is of utmost importance to us. We will not leverage any personal information including your name, DNA or address in any way—all breastmilk samples will be cataloged anonymously. 

This is just the start for us. We can’t wait for the day when we can change the history of infant formula. Stay updated on what we’re working on by following us on Instagram and TikTok

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you’re interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please email [email protected]mother.ly.