For some new parents, the choice to breastfeed or feed their baby formula can be a tough decision. But what happens when there isn’t even enough formula on the store shelves? The baby formula shortage seems like something out of a nightmare for parents who depend on it to feed their babies — but there is still hope.
Here’s how the baby formula shortage happened
If you’ve noticed that your supermarket shelves aren’t as plentifully stocked as before, you’re not alone. Supply chain issues that began as a result of the pandemic put a delay not only on stores, but the manufacturers that were scrambling to get their products out into the market.
Then, in February, Abbott Laboratories, (which manufactures Similac, EleCare, and Metabolic), closed a manufacturing facility in Sturgis, Michigan. A federal investigation found that four babies who had been using the formula developed bacterial infections — and two died. (Abbott denies the claim between the formula and the babies’ illnesses.) The recalled infant formula complicated the already delicate supply chain issues, causing an even greater shortage, since Abbott supplies approximately 43% of all formula fed babies nationwide, per Forbes.
“During the pandemic as lockdowns happened across the country, parents stocked up on formula,” Dr. Jill Cioffi, MD, F.A.A.P., Medical Director of Ambulatory Primary Care Pediatrics at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital tells Celebrity Parents. “The demand for formula during the 2nd quarter – 4th quarter 2020 was very high, and subsequently in 2021, many parents were using their stockpile, so demand became lower.” As a result, production of formula was matched to meet the lower demand, and, according to Cioffi, the companies underestimated the surge in demand needed in late 2021 and 2022.
This is what is being done to help with the baby formula shortage
In an attempt to help with the shortage, President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to increase baby formula production. It created “Operation Fly Formula” that would deploy Defense Department planes to bring formula shipments from overseas into the United States, per the New York Times. As of this writing, a third Operation Fly Formula flight will be bringing infant formula stateside, with an estimated 300,000+ pounds of formula (or the equivalent of 3.7 million 8-ounce bottles of Kendamil infant formula). The shipments will be available at Target stores nationwide in the coming weeks.
Should you make your own homemade formula?
Desperate parents have been looking to DIY it and make some homemade baby formula. But as simple as it might seem to be, it’s not advisable to make your own formula. “The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly advises against homemade formula,” Dr. Cherilyn Cecchini, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician, medical director and medical writer tells Celebrity Parents. “This is because recipes for homemade formulas are unable to meet the nutritional needs of your developing baby. While commercial formulas include critical nutrients in the correct amount, homemade formulas do not.”
But what can actually happen if you try to make your own baby formula? A lot, according to Cecchini. “Making formula at home increases the likelihood of imbalances of important salts and minerals, which can lead to dangerous health complications,” she says. “Diluting formula with more water can lead to the same issue and make your baby very sick. Certain ingredients like raw cow’s milk also increase the risk of infection.”
Should I feed my baby that baby formula recipe that’s online?
As parents search for baby formula alternatives, some have come across this “baby formula recipe”. Is this safe to feed your child? No, says Dr. Victoria Regan, MD, a pediatrician at Children’s Memorial Hermann Pediatrics. “I am familiar with this recipe — this is from the 1950’s when commercial baby formula was difficult to get,” says Dr. Regan. “Although it was recommended and used back then, it is not currently recommended today as it does not supply all the nutrients and vitamins that we now know are needed to optimize an infant’s growth and development.” Plus, it needs to be made using a sterile technique, she adds, in order to inadvertently cause a bacterial contamination that could potentially lead to intestinal infections.
What can parents do who rely on formula to feed their babies?
If you’re running low on formula, you should speak to your pediatrician ASAP. “Contact their child’s health care provider – they may have some samples in their offices or can connect with the formula manufacturers,” advises Regan. “Do not water down formula or buy from untrusted sources.” Your pediatrician’s office might have some samples on hand that can give you some formula for the time being.
Although cow’s milk is recommended for babies ages 12 months and older, you should speak with your pediatrician to see if you can begin giving Baby cow’s milk for the time being. “For children older than six months who are otherwise healthy and drinking regular formula, talk to your pediatrician about pasteurized cow’s milk for a short period of time with iron supplementation,” advises Cecchini. “For children under six months or those with dietary requirements who need a special formula, speak to your pediatrician about the best alternative.” Plant-based or soy milk may be considered for babies who are close to one year old. But vitamin supplementation and additional protein and fat intake will be important since most of these formulas don’t include enough for a growing infant.
And even if your baby has been on one formula since birth, you might need to switch things up until their brand becomes available again. “Try to find alternative brands that are suitable and equivalent for your child,” says Cioffi. Look to pharmacies, smaller shops or websites, or distributors as long as they have been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You can also call United Way’s 2-1-1 to be connected to a community specialist who might be able to help you find local resources or reach out to your local Women Infant Children (WIC). And if it’s possible, experts urge new moms to breastfeed their babies until formula is available again.
Above all, make sure that you don’t waste any formula that you do have. While that doesn’t mean reusing a bottle that Baby has already drank from, be mindful to make just enough formula for your little one. “Only make the formula your child actually needs,” says Regan. “For example, if your child typically takes 6 ounces per feeding, don’t make an 8 ounce bottle.”
Be sure to prioritize your health, too
The stress of trying to find formula is trying for many families. That’s why experts all advise to take care of yourself as well during this difficult time. “My biggest worry is the psychological stress this is causing on formula fed families (and breast-feeding families),” says Cioffi. “New parents need to reach out to family, friends and community resources and seek not only formula but the psychological support they need to weather this crisis.”
The idea of not being able to feed your baby is downright frightening. But Abbott plans to reopen its closed plant on June 4, which should definitely help with supply issues. And hopefully, the baby formula shortage will come to a close, and both manufacturers and the government will have plans in place in case a shortage should ever occur again.