Images of barren store shelves once stocked with baby formulas, stories of parents frantic to find formula for their children, distributors at a loss due to inventory shortages from multiple manufacturers. These are just a tiny window into the crisis that has hit national headlines in recent months. But why such a critical situation people are asking? The answer can be attributed to two main factors: (1) ongoing pandemic supply chain shortages of critical ingredients required for manufacturing baby formula and (2) a February 2022 nationwide recall of several popular infant formula lines from one of the top formula manufacturers in the United States (Abbott- Similac), amid reports of bacterial contamination.
By the middle of May 2022 more than 40 percent of formulas were out of stock around the country causing a major crisis situation for parents navigating an already confusing world of infant formulas which come in many brands, lines (preemie, standard, semi-elemental, hydrolyzed, amino-acid based etc.) and forms (powdered, ready-to-feed liquid). So, what does this all mean? In simple terms, parents and caregivers of healthy babies and those with mild to severe health conditions are struggling to find the formulas they need to maintain their children’s growth and development. Although the federal government has invoked the Defense Production Act to help other formula manufacturers to scale up their production, and there have been promises to use the military to speed up the import of formula from other countries worldwide, it is difficult to say exactly when this shortage crisis will end.
In the meantime, while this shortage situation continues, here are some tips you can use as a guide:
- DON’T GO HOMEMADE-As tempting as it may seem, DO NOT use any homemade formula recipes you may come across whether by word of mouth or on the internet, blogs, social media, etc. These recipes are not safe or sterile as they can lack nutrients and are easily contaminated, especially for babies with weakened immune systems. Ultimately this can have severe consequences leading to hospitalization.
- WHEN YOUR USUAL BRAND IS OUT -If you cannot find your usual brand of infant formula or your usual supplier is out, begin by reaching out to your child’s pediatric or gastroenterology office as they may have samples available, or they can provide you with contacts for organizations who can help (WIC), and perhaps other ideas.
- DO NOT DILUTE YOUR BABY’S FORMULA -Adding extra water beyond what is recommended to your baby’s formula might seem like an option to “stretch” your existing supply. However, this can place your baby in a dangerous health situation and the potential consequences strongly outweigh the benefits.
- FOR BABIES WITH SEVERE ALLERGIES ON SPECIALIZED FORMULAS – If you cannot find the specialized hypoallergenic or amino-acid based formula for your baby, contact the pediatrician, pediatric gastroenterologist or pediatric dietitian/nutritionist for guidance on what to use for your baby.
There are many organizations with guidelines for this very stressful time such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), or the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition (NASPGHAN) whose websites offer information to support parents and families. If your baby is in a medical emergency call 911 or visit the nearest pediatric emergency room (ER).