As parents, we all know that getting our little ones to sleep as well as eat can be greatest challenges especially during the early weeks and months. Mum of two and founder of LittleOak, Elke Pascoe, knows this all too well. This Perth-born, Sydney-based single mum is mama to Olive and Freddie. With each of them, her feeding journey was frought with difficulty. Driven by her own challenges and a passion to help mums everywhere who might be facing similar struggles, Elke founded her own milk formula company, LittleOak, in 2016. Read on as she shares her story in this edition of Mums We Love.
Tell us a little about yourself and your growing up years.
I grew up in a family of lots of girls, with a twin sister and two younger sisters. We lived in a small town called Edithburgh in regional South Australia, before moving to Perth when I was older.
When I was eight years old, not much older than my son is now, I was visited at my small country town school by a community nurse who had just returned from Africa. It was the eighties, and the world was shining a light on the plight of famine in Africa. In her short talk she shared her own personal account of her trip and recounted the stories upon stories of hungry, starving children.
It was a moment that stuck with me for life.
At that moment, I committed to myself that I would do what I could to help children in need. Looking back, this was probably the very early seeds of LittleOak being planted.
Did you have a role model while growing up? Who was it and how did he/she inspire you?
I was always inspired by my Dad. Despite his shortcomings, he always drove us to do our best, work hard, treat others with respect and carry out all dealings with a healthy degree of humility and humour.
What challenges did/do you face raising your kids as a single mum?
Parenting as either a single mum or as a couple is always challenging. Olive, Freddie, and I have a very close relationship and have been through so many things together that we are the strongest little team. The hardest thing about single parenting is accepting that you are solely responsible for keeping a roof over your children’s head and being able to put food on the table. And at times the financial pressures were really hard – particularly when I first started LittleOak. But like any parent, being able to juggle being the mum that I wanted to be, while also building and running a business, was at times incredibly stressful, but always satisfying.
Share with us about your pregnancy and breastfeeding journey.
My breastfeeding journey was not straightforward, as is the case with many families. I wasn’t able to adequately nourish my babies with breastfeeding alone so I had to supplement their feeds with formula. However, it was challenging to find a suitable formula option. Olive and Freddie were both lactose intolerant and the formulas we used to supplement their milk feeds caused skin and digestive issues. Freddie in particular had serious skin rashes including terrible and painful pustules over his arms, stomach and legs together with severe and prolonged bloating of his tummy.
We went through multiple doctor visits and cream prescriptions before I realised that their diet was the main root of the issue. That was actually the beginning of how LittleOak was born.
What inspired you to set up LittleOak?
The LittleOak journey began when I first decided to look into the root cause of Freddie’s skin conditions – his diet. I noticed that cow milk was a trigger for Freddie, and thus started researching alternatives. We tried a range of different formulas such as cow, organic cow and various hypoallergenic variants. However nothing really worked until we tried goat milk.
I discovered that goat milk is actually the best form of milk protein for many people. It has lower lactose levels than cow milk, making it easier to digest. It also naturally contains A2 protein and has naturally occurring prebiotics (oligosaccharides). This makes it perfect for babies and toddlers with sensitive tummies because it causes less allergies and digestive stress.
Later during my research, I was shocked when I found out how much infant formula was full of preservatives and added sugar. These formulas had skimmed cow milk, maltodextrin, synthetic taurine like that used in energy drinks, plus chemically extracted oils. None of these things should be consumed by an adult let alone a baby. After rolling back the layers on the infant formula industry, not only did I see an opportunity to help children, but more importantly, I felt I had a responsibility to do better for our kids. Much better.
I had one very clear goal: to develop the most wholesome formula that was as close to nature as possible. This meant in taste, in texture, and in nutritional value. And so LittleOak was born.
How is LittleOak different as compared to other formula milk brands?
We knew we needed to create a brand that was supported by science, but as natural as humanly possible. Many people assume that goat milk is a new option, but it’s actually the complete opposite. Dating as far back as 2000 years ago, goat milk was once the preferred source of milk in human history because of its nutritional goodness.
We made a solid commitment to source the absolute best and most natural ingredients to fortify and super-boost the nutritional profile of our formulas. We subscribe to a less-is-more approach and this is our key point of difference, with our world first From Fresh processing method.
For most formulas, first you heat the milk to create a milk powder. Then, you add in water to turn it back into liquid, thereafter heating it again to blend it into formula. But at LittleOak, we don’t. Because we know that the more you heat any food, the more you deplete the natural nutrients. Instead, we have halved the heating process. We use fresh whole goat milk and heating it only once to preserve all its natural goodness.
We also uncompromisingly reject any chemical processing and preservatives by rigorous testing of how and where our ingredients are sourced. As well, we are concerned about their impact on the health of our babies and the environment.
LittleOak is the first formula in the world to be certified 100 percent palm oil free! We use flaxseed oil to replace canola oil and palm oil. Additionally, we use naturally occurring and sustainable algae sourced DHA and ARA. These are at levels that are scientifically proven to benefit babies.
What are some of the challenges you faced when setting up the business (at home and work)?
The relentless stress of starting a business is something that is truly under appreciated. The sleepless nights, the financial pressures and the juggle to manage time for my children while running all facets of the business, were at times very tough. However, I also knew that LittleOak had a higher purpose. I was creating something that had the potential to change not just the life of a child, but the life and health of many children. When you have a guiding star, an innate passion like I do for improving the lives of children and their health, then all the sleepless nights and worry are worth it.
One proudest achievement since the establishment of LittleOak?
I’m so proud of our industry leading commitment to the highest quality ingredients, sourced responsibly. We are the first formula in the world to be certified 100% Palm Oil Free by POFCAP. It was important to me that our formula cares equally for little ones and the world they will grow into.
The feedback we receive on a daily basis from mums and dads that tell how LittleOak has changed their children’s life makes us proud. Parents regularly send us pictures of their baby covered in eczema or rashes before using LittleOak. Thereafter, they send photos of their bubs two weeks after using LittleOak. In the “after” pictures, their skin is clear, eyes are sparkling again and they are happy little babies. This is what makes everything worth it.
How is it like juggling work and looking after the kids simultaneously?
Tough but enormously satisfying and enjoyable. And when you can involve your children in different areas of the business, like asking them what product designs they like, or getting them to speak at our events, it’s truly a heartwarming moment. Rightly or wrongly, Olive and Freddie have come to understand why I am always on the phone or computer. However, they also know that when I put my phone down at night, then the time is exclusively theirs.
If there was one piece of advice you would give to mums facing difficult breastfeeding journeys, what would it be?
I would say that whatever decision you make around feeding your baby, it is yours so you must remain strongly confident in it. Yes, there will always be people who will have an opinion on how you feed your child. However, the decision is yours, and yours only. While I am the biggest advocate of breastfeeding, I also know that fed is best. So whether that is breast milk or formula milk, your child will be getting the nutrition they need. Don’t allow the opinions of others to knock your confidence!
One activity I love doing with my kids is…
I love travelling with my kids like taking them to different places and exploring different cultures. It’s great to get them to understand how different people live.
I wish I had more time to…
Future plans? What’s next for LittleOak?
We are absolutely thrilled to be available in Singapore! At present, we are continuing to look at other markets around the world where we can support even more families. We also have some incredibly exciting products in our pipeline, which are slated to launch later this year. I can’t say too much just yet, but rest assured they are true innovations in infant and child nutrition. What I can promise is, that our products will always be as close to nature as possible. In my mind, that’s what our children deserve.