Baby Brezza, a $200 Formula Maker, May Pose Health Risks to Infants

Baby Brezza, a $200 Formula Maker, May Pose Health Risks to Infants

Like many first-time parents, Jon Borgese, a tech executive in Manhattan, had heard the buzz around the Baby Brezza formula maker, a countertop device that automatically dispenses warm bottles of formula at the touch of a button.

The $200 machine, widely available at retailers like Amazon, Target and Buy Buy Baby, markets itself as the “most advanced way” to mix powdered baby formula and water “to perfect consistency.”

But after Mr. Borgese and his wife, Nicole, started giving the machine-mixed formula bottles last year to their 2-month-old daughter, Lily, she became fussy and began to look thin, he said. The couple rushed her to the pediatrician, who confirmed that Lily was losing weight and sent her for medical tests to determine the cause.

The problem was the Baby Brezza gadget, which had dispensed watery formula with insufficient nutrients for the baby, said Dr. Julie Capiola, Lily’s pediatrician. Mr. Borgese said he had since filed two class-action lawsuits against the machine’s maker, claiming the device was defective.

“You don’t want any baby or any parent to go through this,” he said, adding that Lily gained weight once the family stopped using the formula maker. “It was very, very upsetting.”

Mr. Borgese was one of many parents who have reported issues with the Baby Brezza formula machine, which was the top-selling baby feeding accessory in the United States over the last two years, according to the NPD Group, a market research company. On Amazon, Facebook, Better Business Bureau and parenting forums, people have posted more than 100 complaints saying the machines dispensed incorrect or inconsistent amounts of water or baby formula.

Separately, five pediatricians described to The New York Times how they had recently treated babies — whose parents had fed them Brezza-dispensed bottles — for failure to thrive, a condition caused by lack of nutrients. The doctors said the health risks could be even more severe because infants’ digestive systems aren’t developed enough to process formula that is too watery or too concentrated.

David Contract, marketing team lead for the Betesh Group, a private company in Newark that makes the Baby Brezza devices, said the company had carefully calibrated the machines to work with more than 2,000 types of baby formulas and regularly tested the devices for precision. He said people must clean the machines frequently to prevent powder buildup, which could cause the systems to dispense watery formula — requirements he compared to installing infant car seats correctly.

“We are confident our machine works properly and accurately when it’s used right,” he said. He later added, “I do think there are people who don’t use it properly, who get a bad outcome, who get a watery bottle because they’re not cleaning, they’re not using the right settings.”

Mr. Contract said the Betesh Group believed that the lawsuits were an “attempt by a plaintiff’s lawyer to troll for additional plaintiffs by seeking media attention.” The Brezza machine had no other insurance claims or lawsuits against it, he said.

The problems that families said they have had with the Brezza machines illustrate the risks of adopting novel health-related devices before they are on the radar of federal regulators.

While the Food and Drug Administration regulates infant formula as a food and the Consumer Product Safety Commission oversees the safety of “durable” baby products like cribs, each agency initially said the other was responsible for vetting possible inaccuracies with automated baby formula-dispensing machines.

“Is anybody overseeing devices like this?” said Dr. Gayle S. Smith, a pediatrician in Richmond, Va., who said she had treated a Brezza-fed baby for failure to thrive. Or, she added, “is it babies who are supposed to fail to thrive in large enough numbers” before regulators intervene?

Mr. Contract said the machines were safe and met F.D.A. requirements for materials that come into contact with food.

Dr. Jacqueline Winkelmann, a pediatrician in Orange, Calif., said she had seen babies admitted to a hospital for weight loss because they were given bottles that had been mixed incorrectly by hand.

“I believe the Baby Brezza Formula Pro is a great way to ensure baby gets the right amount of nutrients in every bottle,” said Dr. Winkelmann, who consults for the Betesh Group.

The Betesh Group began selling automated formula-dispensing machines in 2013. The devices took off in 2018 when the company introduced a new model, the Baby Brezza Formula Pro Advanced. About half a million of the Brezza machines have been sold in the United States, the company said. Several similar machines are also available, with brand names like Baby EXO and Zomom.

To use the Brezza machine, people fill compartments for water and infant formula powder. They also set the machine to their desired number of ounces and specific type of formula. Mr. Contract said the devices can save parents several minutes per formula bottle, a welcome convenience in the middle of the night.

On BabyList, a popular site for expectant parents, more than 60,000 people — or about 6 percent of users — included the Brezza machines on their baby gift registries last year. Many parents swear by the devices.

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