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I’m Almost Out! How to Navigate the Baby Formula Shortage

By May 11, 2022March 19th, 2024Current Events

“Out of Stock” does not compute in the baby formula aisle. But in the midst of a sudden dire scarcity of Gerber, Enfamil, Similac and other brands, pediatricians agree on two urgent points: 1/ Stay calm, there are options; and 2/ DO NOT dilute your baby’s formula with water.

In some states, stores report 40% less inventory and no one is speculating how long this will last. EVERYONE, in the meantime, is working to fix the problem: manufacturers ramping up production, hiring more workers and relying less on external supply chain, government agencies networking with services and coops.

Inflation, too, is a factor, though parents say they can pay for it if they can find it. Across the board, prices have spiked about 18 percent. And there is price-gouging: An eBay vendor listed one can of specialty formula for $120. Another seller listed 10 cans at $40/ea., purchased at once for $400.

What TO Do Right Now.

The following information comes entirely from pediatricians, who unanimously urge parents: Always reach out to your pediatrician as a go-to for advice, reassurance or if you’re having trouble finding sources that can help you locate formula in an emergency.

Valuable Tips:

  • Call or drive around to your local stores to see if your formula is in stock.If not, ask if and when they expect to receive more product.
  • Check out smaller, less accessible stores that are less mainstream. Call ahead about availability and if you locate your brand, tell the manager you’re coming, though stores are not obliged to hold product for you.
  • Please don’t hoard. Buy only enough for a two-week supply. (Another frightened mom may have “your” supply stacked in her pantry.)
  • Use a brand not included in Abbott Nutrition’s February recall, especially powdered versions of: Similac Sensitive, Similac Pro-total Comfort, Similac Advance, and Similac PM 60/40.
  • All other Similac (Abbott Labs) products are safe. It is also helpful to know that none of Abbott’s liquid formulas is included in the recall.
  • Contact your WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Program nutritionist within the Department of Health (DOH), local food bank or local diaper bank for assistance.
  • If your baby isn’t using specialized formula, it’s fine to switch brands (ideally with similar sources of nutrients and carbs but not mandatory). It may take your baby time to adjust so if possible try introducing the new formula a little at a time, increasing the ratio and decreasing original formula over a few days.

What NOT To Do When You Can’t Find Your Usual Brand

  • The shortage is most serious for infants on specialized hydrolyzed or anti-allergy formulas. Talk to your pediatrician first if you must switch brands, as changeovers can sometimes be complicated for infants with allergies, gastrointestinal issues or metabolic disorders.
  • NO to trying to make homemade formula using online recipes. It’s dangerous!
  • NO to buying online through a third-party retailer because they may be selling counterfeit formula that can be harmful.
  • NO to buying baby formula from Europe because it is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and not required to meet FDA nutritional and rigorous testing standards. Also the instructions may not be in English, which could lead to improper mixing.
  • NO to toddler formula for babies under one year for digestive reasons.
  • NO to using whole milk under 12 months for digestive reasons (nine months if you’re baby seems ready and eager).
  • NO, lastly, to substituting with plant-based formulas because they are made with water and do not meet a baby’s calorie/nutritional needs.

How Did We Get Here?

In February, Abbott Labs voluntarily recalled four powdered Similac formulas made in one Michigan facility and seemingly linked to four infants who got sick (two died) with Cronobacter illness, a rare but lethal infection, after consuming powdered products in Abbott’s extensive product line.

The disguised blessing is that Abbott took immediate, proportionate action when reports surfaced of sick babies who had ingested their formulas. This response is a sea change, significantly owing to recent pushback against feeding cow’s milk-based formulas to babies under one year. See A Case for Women – necrotizing enterocolitis.

Some say the situation wouldn’t be happening at all if Abbott’s recall hadn’t been imperative, but it was. Other manufacturers say they have all the raw materials but not enough workers. Others say production isn’t increasing even with added employees.

The bottom line is — we have enough formula to go around if we remember that the next frantic mom in line is wearing our shoes.