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Feeding your baby, whatever choice you make, can be a complicated and emotional decision. The current formula crisis has many families concerned about their ability to feed their babies.

What is the formula shortage?

Due to several factors, there is currently a shortage of many baby formulas in the United States. Approximately 40% of baby formulas are out of stock. Recently, President Biden announced that companies will increase production to meet the needs of families.

The cause

During the start of the pandemic, people stockpiled baby formula, just like the great toilet paper shortage of 2020. As people worked through their stockpiles of formula, sales declined. This resulted in manufacturers having an inaccurate calculation of demand. The global supply chain strain has impacted baby formula manufacturers as well.

Then to top off the already challenged market, there was a massive recall and plant closure at a major production plant- Abbott Nutrition Sturgis- due to discovered traces of the pathogen Cronobacter sakazakii. As a result, the FDA recalled several brands of formula, and parents were advised to not buy or use some formula tied to the plant. Biden announced that this plant was cleared to reopen and will begin production.

The solutions

There are some options that you can take to ensure that you have an appropriate baby formula for your child(ren).

Never water down formula

As tempting as it may be to water down your current formula, NEVER do so as it will result in an imbalance of nutrition for your baby. NEVER make your own baby formula or substitute it with cow’s milk or milk substitutes. Cow’s milk should not be introduced prior to age 1 unless specifically instructed by your pediatrician. Other milk alternatives are not advised as baby formula alternatives due to nutritional deficiency

Alternatives

You can search for brand alternatives that may be more readily available than your current formula. Search within the same brand but a different formula, different brand but similar formula, or store brands. Some have similar nutritional compositions.

 

Baby Formula Alternatives Chart

 

Reach out for help

See if you qualify for WIC, a government program to support low-income women, infants, and children with nutritional assistance. Contact your local office to see if they can help supply you with formula or other resources.

Additionally, contact your pediatrician or OBGYN to see what resources they have available. Some receive formula samples and may be able to advise you on resources or alternatives. For older babies closer to age one, their pediatrician may be able to advise you on the use of toddler formulas that have been more readily available in stores. Toddler formulas are not appropriate for infants.

Social media has been rallying behind families to source and swap formulas. If you do participate in an informal formula swap, be mindful to check safety seals and expiration dates. Some social media groups have been posting when individuals find baby formula in stock at stores.

Alternative purchasing sites

Check out smaller shops that may have formulas in stock rather than larger big box stores. If you’re able to purchase online do so from reputable and recognized resources.

Some families have chosen to use European formulas, such as Holle and HIIP. These are not FDA-regulated (for a variety of reasons) and can be costly, but are nutritionally adequate.

Avoid stockpiling

The anxiety of not having a reliable and consistent source of baby formula can be intense. Major retailers have placed limits on how many cans of formula can be purchased at once. However, please do not stockpile the formula when you do find it. This will continue to exacerbate the problem and remove a valuable product from the shelves for other in-need families. Production IS being ramped up and there will be more availability in the near future. Ideally, you need about 2 weeks' worth of formula in your pantry.

Breastfeeding and breastmilk

Some families have considered introducing, reintroducing, or combination feeding with breastmilk during this shortage. Breastfeeding and breast milk may not be the right choice for every family, and that’s absolutely ok. You should not feel pressured to breastfeed if that’s not right for you or your baby.

Should you wish to breastfeed or pump breast milk, consult a lactation consultant to help you plan accordingly.

Another option that families have considered is donated breastmilk. Breastmilk can be purchased from a milk bank, like Human Milk Banking Association of North America, or purchased/donated from peer-to-peer resources like Human Milk 4 Human Babies or Eats on Feets. Milk banks collect donated or purchased milk that is then screened and pasteurized and sold to individuals or hospitals. The current price for milk bank breastmilk is $3-5 per ounce. This cost may prohibit some families from going this route. (ex, if your baby drinks 4 ounces per feeding, 8 times a day, the daily cost is up to $160).

Peer-to-peer milk donation is informal and unregulated, but an alternative that many families choose. Some peer-to-peer milk is purchased from individuals while other is purchased at various rates. There is no official screening and you must rely upon trust and honesty. I personally donated breastmilk via peer-to-peer donation and was happy to answer any screening questions that prospective families had. Typical questions revolve around diet, alcohol consumption, medications, infant health, and lifestyle choices.

The formula shortage has impacted countless American families. The stress and anxiety of an already stressful 2 pandemic years can lead to feelings of fear and a desire to stock up on necessities. There are resources available, both formal and informal, with more production being ramped up on a national scale.

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