Many women ultimately settle on some combination of nursing and formula, adopting a “fed is best” mentality by supplementing whatever breastmilk they do produce with formula, either the limited FDA-approved options available in the U.S.—or imported options from Europe, where smaller companies generally use fewer, more regulated ingredients that rely on carefully curated supply chains for things such as dairy and lactose. I ordered a contraband organic formula from Germany when I had my son three years ago and no amount of pumping—at the office, in cars, on planes— made it possible to keep up with his feeding needs; Modi co-founded Bobbie.
The first organic, European-style infant formula with FDA approval, Bobbie’s recipe is modeled after breast milk and designed with the EU nutritional standards—updated as recently as 2019—in mind. Sourced with Organic Valley lactose from pasture-raised cows in Wisconsin and manufactured in Vermont, Bobbie was created with the idea that what you put in formula (adequate levels of DHA, a fatty acid that is not regulated in the U.S. but has been proven essential to eye and brain development in recent medical studies) is just as important as what you leave out (high-insulin spiking simple sugars and cheap carbohydrate additives, such as corn syrup, which are also not regulated in the U.S.).
Still; that Bobbie has secured FDA-approval after a hiccup early in its process that caused Modi and her partner, fellow Airbnb veteren Sarha Hardy, to scrap their initial pilot program and regroup with a different, and ultimately better manufacturing partner, is one of the most impressive things about its launch earlier this month. “While the FDA has a ways to go in advancing the nutrition science in infant formula, it does serve a very specific purpose,” says Jacquelyn Winkelmann, M.D a board-certified, hospital-based pediatrician in Southern California. Winkelmann, a medical advisor for Bobbie, is hesitant to vilify the U.S. formula industry. “You can’t sacrifice safety for quality,” she says, explaining that the advantage of the FDA is that everything is so tightly regulated: manufacturing facilities are routinely audited for safety, and 2,000 tests are conducted in a single batch of formula before it is shipped. As the agency cannot apply the same oversight to European brands, “there are a whole host of concerns with importing,” Winkelmann adds. There are issues like what Modi refers to as a formula “black market,” such as unknown storage and distribution practices, as well as the simple fact that these labels are typically not in English so many American parents make mistakes with dosage. But Winkelmann doesn’t blame them for wanting better options. “Today’s parents are very different from the parents of the 1970s. They have much more information and they’re much more particular about ingredient sourcing and environmental impact,” she says.
“We’re just here to provide that better option,” insists Modi, who also hopes to successfully provide a better narrative around a once taboo topic straddled by Big Pharma lobbyists on one side, and lactivists on the other. “Our job is to be radical centralists,” she continues, detailing a strategy that has put as much investment into product development as trying to give a face to these so-called centralists with personal storytelling and inclusive representation. Bobbie’s just-launched editorial site, Milk-drunk.com offers a nonjudgmental feeding hub where new parents can get critical medical information as well as support from its network of doctors, lactation consultants, doulas, and pediatricians. Perhaps even more importantly, it also aims to connect new parents—working moms, women who have had mastectomies, dads, parents who adopt, and anyone/everyone else who is on what Modi calls a “feeding journey” that has many, perfectly valid routes to the same destination.