President Biden Announces Additional Steps to Address Infant Formula Shortage, The White House, FACT SHEET, May 2022. FDA Takes Important Steps to Improve Supply of Infant and Specialty Formula Products, May 2022, Food and Drug Administration.
Pediatricians offer advice on coping with the ongoing infant formula shortage as well as where to acquire the essential nutrients for your baby.
IN THIS ARTICLE
- Why is there a baby formula shortage?
- When will the formula shortage be over?
- Tips for coping with the formula shortage
- Safety tips during the formula shortage
Finding the perfect baby formula for your little one can be challenging even under the best of circumstances. But the ongoing shortages caused by the Abbott formula recall and pre-existing pandemic supply chain issues have made things even more difficult than usual.
In case you’re not familiar with the recall, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pulled certain powdered baby formulas in February — including some Similac, Alimentum, EleCare and Similac PM 60/40 products — made at a Michigan facility by Abbott Nutrition. The agency issued the recall due to a possible contamination with Cronobacter, a bacterium that can cause severe foodborne illness.Top ArticlesREAD MOREThese Are the Best Gyms With Child Care Aroundthe Country
The factory shut down for a number of months, and the temporary closure has had long-lasting effects. Months later, parents are still struggling to find their go-to brands in stock.
Here’s what you need to know about the ongoing formula shortage, plus what pediatricians recommend you do to find the nutrition your baby needs.
Why is there a baby formula shortage?
You’re not imagining things: The global pandemic has created supply chain issues across a slew of different industries, including baby formula.
“What families of young children are experiencing right now is a crisis on top of a crisis; they have been through so much already with the pandemic, and now many families are struggling to find safe ways to feed their babies,” American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) President Moira Szilagyi, M.D., wrote in a letter to federal officials.
The Abbott recall sent parents who would have purchased the recalled products to other brands already facing production strains. As a result, there are still shortages across the board.
When did the baby formula shortage start
2022 United States infant formula shortage/Start date
When will the formula shortage be over?
On May 16, the FDA and Abbott reached an agreement to restart production at the company’s Michigan facility. And on June 4, production began again at the Abbott Michigan plant.
Read This Next
But not even two weeks later, a storm hit the region, shuttering the factory once more. Production finally resumed on July 1. It will still take time for supplies to become more widely available in stores.
In the meantime, the FDA has accelerated the importation of more international formulas. The agency has selectively reviewed certain formulas’ labeling and nutrition content before giving them the okay.
The first flights of imported formula from Europe arrived in the U.S. in late May. The shipment contained specialized formula for children who have allergies.
The FDA has also been working with various formula companies to increase production of other types of formulas that are approved for use in the U.S. and are being made available to parents struggling to feed their babies during the shortage.
In the meantime, the AAP has urged parents not to hoard formula, and to buy no more than 10-day to two-week supplies of formula “to help ease the impact of shortages.”
Some major retailers, including Walgreens, Target, CVS, Walmart, Kroger and Costco, cap how much formula customers can buy. Check on those quotas with your local store before purchasing if you’re not sure.
Tips for coping with the formula shortage
It’s hard to consider using something new when you’ve already found a formula that works for you and your baby, but a little leeway is important in the face of a shortage.
Pediatricians recommend doing the following to help you find formula that works for your family:
If you can’t find your usual formula in stock
- Try a similar version of a different brand. “If you can find a similar product in a different brand, this would be my starting point” when you can’t find your regular formula, says Emily Wisniewski, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician with Mercy Family Care Physicians in Baltimore, Maryland. “Your baby is getting something that is probably very [close] to what they were already on.”
- Try a similar version of the same brand. You may be able to find a slightly different formula made by the brand you’ve relied on that will still work just as well for your baby. “Often, formula companies have different versions of the same formula, such as a version for reflux or one that approximates breast milk,” says Katie Lockwood, M.D., a primary care pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “The main components of these formulas are similar, so making this switch isn’t a big deal for an infant.”
- Try the generic version of the brand-name kind you normally use. “Generic versions, oftentimes, are very similar” to the big brand products, says Daniel Ganjian, M.D., a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. Dr. Wisniewski agrees, explaining that generic formulas are typically only marginally different in ways “that most babies don’t even notice.” Labels on generic products will often state which brands they’re closest to in order to help guide you. If your baby is accustomed to a hypoallergenic formula, though, you’ll just want to swap it for another hypoallergenic one — especially if your child has reactions to regular formula, Dr. Ganjian says.
- Switch to the liquid or ready-made version of your usual formula. Many powdered formulas also have a liquid or ready-made version — they’re just a bit pricier than the DIY kind, says Dr. Lockwood. Since they cost more, they tend not to be as popular, so it’s less likely they’ll be out of stock. If you are able to buy a ready-made variety, there’s an added bonus: You’ll save yourself some time and effort since the formula is pre-mixed.
- Stick with the same brand, but just make sure it’s not recalled. If your baby’s formula is manufactured by Abbott Nutrition but isn’t included in the recall, it’s fine to use. “We don’t want you to waste or throw away products that are good, especially given how expensive formula is and how hard it is to find,” Dr. Wisniewski says. Still, she stresses that it is “super important” to check every can to see if it’s part of the recall. If it is, then you can toss it and get a refund.
- Check WIC benefits. If you are in the WIC program, check this map to see if your state is allowing families to buy different brands or sizes of formula with WIC benefits.
- Call around. Just because one store in your area is out of your go-to formula doesn’t mean that they all are. “You can oftentimes try and call other stores if you have to,” Dr. Ganjian says. You might also check local social media groups to see if anyone in your area has ideas about where formula might be in stock.
If you can’t find infant formula anywhere
In emergency situations where you can’t find formula in stock, the AAP recommends the following:
- Ask your pediatrician about toddler formulas. Although toddler formula is not recommended for infants, the AAP says if you can’t find infant formula anywhere and “you have absolutely no other choice,” a toddler version might be a safe alternative for babies approaching age 1 for a few days. Just make sure to call your pediatrician for guidance.
- Ask your pediatrician about cow’s milk. The AAP recently adjusted their recommendations on navigating the shortage to say that whole cow’s milk might be a temporary option for babies 6 months and older in “urgent” situations. While the AAP says it should not become routine to serve your infant cow’s milk, it can be a short-term alternative if you can’t find formula. If you do have to serve your infant cow’s milk, it’s important to make sure they get enough iron in their diet from solid foods to prevent anemia. Consult your pediatrician for guidance and ask if your baby may need an iron supplement.
- Ask your pediatrician about soy milk. Although soy milk is also not recommended for babies under 1, the AAP added that it might be a temporary option in emergencies for babies who are approaching a year old for just a few days. Always consult your pediatrician for guidance, and look for varieties that are fortified with protein and calcium.
In these situations, you should switch back to infant formula as soon as it’s available. And when in doubt, place a call to the doctor’s office. “We sometimes have formula samples we can give out, or we may know local stores that have formula in stock,” Dr. Lockwood says.
If you’re struggling to afford formula, your pediatrician can also help by recommending resources to help make it less expensive. You might qualify for benefits such as WIC, SNAP or TANF — programs that provide families with vouchers, Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT), or cash for buying formula.
Families that don’t qualify for benefits may be able to access formula and other infant supplies through local food banks. Visit FeedingAmerica.org or call 211 to connect with a specialist for help.
Safety tips during the formula shortage
Here’s some advice to heed during the current formula supply crisis to keep your baby safe and healthy.
Never serve your baby homemade formula
Although you might come across homemade baby formula recipes online, it’s never safe or recommended to give your baby one of these do-it-yourself concoctions.
Major medical organizations and regulating bodies agree that homemade formula comes with significant risks. While commercially manufactured formula is carefully designed to deliver the right balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats along with vitamins and minerals found in breast milk, homemade formula could give your baby too many or too few of certain nutrients.
What’s more, homemade formula is not regulated by the FDA. There’s an increased chance that an ingredient used could be contaminated, which could cause your baby to develop a serious foodborne illness.
What to do if you cant find formula?
If you can’t get the formula your infant needs, call your pediatrician. They might have samples on hand, links to other local organizations, or suggestions for additional locations to contact, such the WIC office in your community. Additionally, if you can, buy infant formula online until supply constraints subside.
What is the cause of the baby formula shortage?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) temporarily closed an Abbott Nutrition facility in Michigan due to unsanitary conditions and tainted products, which led to the product recall that resulted in the scarcity of formula.
Don’t water down existing formula
Always mix powdered formula according to the manufacturer instructions and never dilute it. Watering down your baby’s bottle could result in nutritional imbalances, which could lead to seizures.
Be mindful of other types of milk
Because infants have sensitive digestive systems, pediatricians recommend waiting until your baby is 1 to introduce cow’s milk. However, the AAP updated their guidance in May 2022 to say that whole cow’s milk might be a temporary option in urgent situations for babies 6 months and older if you can’t find formula during the shortage.
The AAP stresses that while “not ideal,” this is safer than offering diluted or homemade formula. You should switch back to formula as soon as it’s available.
In an emergency, soy milk might be a temporary option for babies approaching 1, but you should consult your pediatrician for guidance, look for varieties that are fortified with protein and calcium, and switch back to formula as soon as it’s available.
Almond milk, hemp milk and other nondairy varieties should still not be given to infants.
Avoid unknown online suppliers
Always steer clear of buying formula from unknown online distributors, suppliers and auction sites like eBay and Craigslist, as there’s no way of telling whether the seller’s product is safe and sanitary (i.e. packaged and stored properly, no ingredients added, etc.), whether you’re getting the actual product you think you’re getting, or whether the distributor is reliable, reputable and above-board.
There have been reports of fake formula being sold online with phony labels that give inaccurate expiration dates, ingredients and nutritional information.
Be careful about buying European and other imported baby formulas for now
If you can’t find your regular formula, it’s tempting to look toward European baby formula and other imported infant formulas as a solution. But proceed with caution before doing so.
“Formulas overseas are held to different standards,” Dr. Lockwood points out.
Internationally-made baby formulas also may not have been stored or shipped properly, the AAP notes, and up until recently, it has been illegal to import or sell formulas from overseas.
However, in May, the FDA eased its restrictions on some imported formulas, paving the way for some reputable formulas made in Europe and other countries to sell their products in the U.S.For now, continue to be mindful of buying European and other imported formulas from unknown online suppliers. Always talk to your pediatrician before giving any imported formula to your baby