Parents with infants or older children with medical conditions who require baby formula for daily nutrition are struggling to find the food their children need. Across the U.S., retailers report more than 70% of their formula stock is out, with some stores offering nothing but empty shelves to desperate parents.
While the problem started with pandemic-related supply chain issues, the closure of an Abbott Nutrition factory, which recently reopened, and a voluntary recall of its formula over safety concerns worsened the shortage. Abbott is the maker of both general milk-based formulas, as well as specialty formulas for infants and children with allergies, and is responsible for producing approximately 42% of the formula sold in the U.S.
Dr. Teresa Hardisty, a pediatrician with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, understands that the lack of formula supply can be very stressful for parents. However, she notes that there have been formula supply issues in the past that were quickly resolved, and she anticipates this will not be a long-term issue. Abbott Nutrition is set to soon reopen and federal authorities are looking to additional sources for baby formula.
“This is not necessarily a new issue,” she says. “It is just an escalated issue due to a number of factors. And people are working around the clock to get it resolved.”
Baby formula shortage do’s and don’ts
In the meantime, Dr. Hardisty offers a few do’s and don’ts to parents seeking baby formula at a time when the product is hard to find.
- DO find alternate sources. Go beyond the grocery store to shop at pharmacies, baby stores and online retailers, including manufacturers’ websites. Local food banks may also be a source. And pediatricians often have baby formula samples they may be able to share.
- DO switch brands. If your baby drinks a standard milk-based formula, you can likely switch brands or even switch to a soy-based formula. Formulas sold in the U.S. must be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and there is little difference across brands, including store brands.
- DO consider breastmilk. If you are using formula as a supplement to breastfeeding, talk with a lactation consultant about increasing your breastmilk supply for the time being. You may also be able to acquire donated breastmilk through a local milk bank, although some require a prescription from your pediatrician.
- DO start solids if your child is at least age 4 to 6 months. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), most babies can begin eating solid foods around age 4 to 6 months. Talk with your pediatrician about whether your child is ready to be introduced to foods, including infant cereals, fruits and vegetables.
- DON’T dilute baby formula. Diluting formula with extra water can lead to seizures and can be life-threatening.
- DON’T switch to milk or toddler formulas. Unless your baby is very close to turning age 1, switching to milk or toddler formula too early can be dangerous. Talk with your pediatrician before making this change.
- DON’T use formulas from other countriesunless received from a trusted source. Only U.S.-produced baby formulas are reviewed and given approval for use by the FDA. Also, packaging on formulas from other countries may be in a language other than English, and directions could be difficult to translate or hard to follow. While the U.S. government is bringing FDA-approved shipments of baby formula from select countries — available through trusted retailers, hospitals, home care companies and WIC programs — it is recommended you avoid purchasing formula produced outside the U.S. from alternate sources.
- DON’T attempt to make your own formula. Both the FDA and AAP advise against making formulas at home, saying they are not safe and do not meet babies' nutritional needs. In fact, infant deaths have been reported after the use of some homemade formulas, according to the AAP.
- DON’T stockpile formula. The AAP recommends buying no more than a two-week supply of baby formula at a time to avoid the panic buying that can increase shortages.
“Above all, talk with your pediatrician if you have questions or are unable to find the product you want, especially if your child has special needs or is younger than 1 year old,” Dr. Hardisty says. “We are here to help you through the baby formula shortage and all other concerns about your child’s health.”
For more information about finding baby formula, visit the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services infant formula resources website.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Hardisty about the baby formula shortage, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.