How to navigate the formula shortage and feed your baby

Sanford Health offers support, guidance for parents amid nationwide supply issues

How to navigate the formula shortage and feed your baby

Millions of parents across the country are struggling to find infant formula and health providers are feeling the impact close to home.

While formula shortages began early in the pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration announced a plan May 16 to hopefully provide some relief. Abbott Nutrition — one of the largest formula manufacturers in the U.S. — announced it has reached an agreement with the government to reopen one of its closed factories and increase production.

Additionally, current supply chain and formula recall issues are compounding the problem. Many families may be looking for alternatives or resources on how to find infant formula.

The internet is full of alternatives, but they don’t consider what’s best for your baby. That’s where Sanford Health comes in.

Jackee Haak, a board-certified lactation consultant, is the nursing director of the Family Birth Center in Fargo, North Dakota.

“It’s terrifying,” Haak told Sanford Health News in reaction to the shortage. As a mom of two kids, she immediately puts herself in the shoes of those who are affected.

“Parents just want to feed their babies and make sure they’re OK,” Haak added. “This shortage has led to a whole host of chaotic events, and people are scrambling to make sure they can feed their baby.”

Katie Larson, M.D., is a mom and a Sanford Health pediatrician in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“We’re getting calls every day of parents panicking, trying to find formula, especially our patients who are on specialized formulas and they only have a few options,” Dr. Larson told Sanford Health News. “I had a patient tell me they went to Sam’s and Costco and both were out. They even tried to order online and they couldn’t order online. It’s definitely a scary situation out there.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 75% of all infants born in the United States are fed or supplemented with formula by the time they’re 6 months old.

If your baby’s formula isn’t available

If your baby is on a regular or generic formula, and not specialty or prescription, Dr. Larson said it is safe to change brands. It will not harm your baby.

Haak said contrary to what parents have been told or read in circulating misinformation, most formulas are generally the same.

“They’re held to the same standards to have a consistent amount of macronutrients like fat, protein, carbohydrate, as well as some vitamins, minerals and electrolytes so any basic formula that you have on the market has been tested and has to fulfill those requirements. That said, changing brands, whether it’s generic or brand-named, it doesn’t matter.”

If baby is on a specialty brand or prescription formula, perhaps requiring a higher calorie count for a variety of reasons, parents are encouraged to consult their provider before making any changes.

“If baby is getting close to one year, parents may be able to switch to whole milk safely and not have to worry about the formula,” she added.

Additional tips to keep in mind:

  • Check nearby smaller, locally owned grocery or drug stores for additional supply
  • Call your store/pharmacy to find out when the next shipment arrives
  • Order online from reputable stores
  • Make sure formula is FDA-approved before use

Things you should avoid

In the meantime, homemade formulas are not recommended.

“There are recipes floating around from when my parents were babies — and they’re in their 70s — with like evaporated milk and karo syrup,” Haak said. “Don’t do that. It’s not a good idea.”

She said there is a very delicate balance of electrolytes and other nutrients babies need, for example, in order to keep kidneys and other body systems functioning properly.

Diluting, or watering down, formulas to increase at-home supply is also not recommended.

She says, again, it is safe to switch from one generic brand to another if that’s an option. Otherwise, contact your provider.

“This is the sole source of nutrition for these babies,” Dr. Larson added. “We want to make sure we’re giving them the correct nutrition. I certainly understand the stress and the thought process behind wanting to try to water down the formula and conserve, but it’s so dangerous and baby can get very sick.”

If you’re struggling to find formula or not sure what to feed your baby, she said, your doctor will be the best resource.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has some helpful guidance on the formula shortage in the meantime.

Additional tips to keep in mind include:

  • Do not stockpile formula
  • Keep a 10-day to two-week supply on hand to help ease impact of shortages and avoid compounding issues
  • Do not import formula from overseas as they may not meet all FDA regulations
  • Do not use goat milk, camel milk, raw cow milk or plant-based milk

Avoid ‘mom-shaming’

Haak and Dr. Larson encourage anyone to stop shaming moms who are unable to breastfeed.

“I’ve seen a lot of narrative saying, ‘Well, just breastfeed; this solves all the problems,’” Haak said. “That’s not always the answer.”

“You never know the other side of the story and you never know what someone else is going through,” Dr. Larson said. “There are certainly many women who just don’t make enough or for whatever reason they can’t produce milk or the baby themselves can’t latch.”

Moms who have recently breastfed and have stopped cannot just turn on the milk supply again.

“It’s not that easy. It’s not a faucet,” Haak said. “Shaming people, for making whatever choices they are, does not help the situation. All we want to do is make sure babies are getting fed safely.”

Breastfeeding and beyond

Breastfeeding mothers also can donate extra milk to a local milk bank.

Read: Top 10 superfoods for breastfeeding moms

Many of the larger-scale banks require screening, testing and approval of milk before it can be accepted and passed on.

If you’re searching for donated milk, Haak suggests staying off of unfamiliar internet sites or large-scale classified advertising sites to avoid scams or poor quality milk.

Haak and other Sanford Health certified lactation consultants provide breastfeeding help and can answer any questions. Sanford’s lactation services are free.

More about formula feeding

Formula milk is a nutritional substitute for breast milk. It is an adequate substitute but can never compare to the nutritional benefits of breast milk. Your baby will still receive the proper calories and nutrients to grow and develop if you chose formula milk.

Read: Hungry and ready to feed: clues it’s time to feed your baby

If you have questions or concerns about the use of formula milk, you can ask your baby’s doctor or dietitian for guidance.

No matter what your choice is, meeting your baby’s nutritional needs requires major adjustments in your time and lifestyle. It is important that you be informed of all the options when it comes to feeding your baby. Whether you breastfeed/pump or formula milk feed your baby, your baby’s growth and development should be your main priority. Sanford Health offers support for every mom, whether you’re breastfeeding, pumping or formula feeding.

“Formula feeding is the beauty of living in the United States,” Dr. Larson said. “We really just want babies fed.”

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Posted In Children's, News, Nutrition, Parenting, Pregnancy, Women's