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Baby Formula Shortages Worsen; What Can You Do?

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

The ongoing infant formula shortage has just taken a turn for the worse. Almost 40% of popular baby formula brands have been sold out in retailers nationwide. This is according to data analysis supplied by Datassembly starting April 24th, 2022, which had assessed supplies of over 11,000 stores. This is up from the previous high of 31% two weeks ago Datassembly said.

Major retailers such as CVS, Target, and Walgreens are limiting the amount of formula that shoppers can purchase. In particular Walgreens has limited shoppers to three infant and toddler formula products per transaction. At CVS the limit was also three per purchase in store and online.  CVS Health stated, “We’re continuing to work with our baby formula vendors to address this issue and we regret any inconvenience this causes our customers,” the statement continued. Target is limiting its shoppers to four formula products at a time.

There has been a voluntary recall of Abbott nutrition which was issued in mid-February for select batches of Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare formulas which were made in Sturgis MI. The recall was expanded in late February to include another lot of Similac. The Food and Drug administration in March issued a preliminary finding that the formula maker failed to maintain sanitary conditions and procedures at the plant. The Food and Drug administration continues to investigate the situation at Abbott and is working on the safe return to production at the Sturgis, MI facility.

“We are aware the recall has created new concerns about the availability of certain types of infant formula, particularly given the overall strains on supply chains experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the FDA said. “We will continue discussion with Abbott Nutrition and other infant formula manufacturers and consider all tools available to support the supply of infant formula products.”

The maker of Enfamil has been running its factories constantly in order to increase the supply. The company has ample supply, but its sales have increased 18% which is more than double birth rates. They have taken a number of measures to increase supply to consumers including shipping 30% more product to stores, running their factories 24/7 with three shifts per day, and refocusing the sizes that will allow them to provide the most formula to parents. They have also evaluated to make sure their safety standards are rigorous and maintained in spite of the increased workload.

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Formula shortages began to emerge at the end of November 2021 when about 11% of brands were out of stock. Prior to that supply was relatively stable and any shortages didn’t account for more than 8%. The recalls, supply chain shortages, inflation, and supply chain disruptions have caused the shortage is to increase. Baby formula tends to be higher in out-of-stock levels than any other category. However, they are most severe in Tennessee, Texas, Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota. These states faced supply shortages of higher than 50% with the week starting at April 24th, 2022, according to Datassembly.

So, what does a parent do if they don’t have any formula for their newborn child and they can’t find it on the store shelves? There are several different options for parents who find themselves in this situation.

  1. Shop beyond the grocery store as drugstores, convenience stores, pharmacies, and baby specialty stores may have stock that hasn’t been depleted yet.
  2. Shop directly from the manufacturer. You can order formula directly from Enfamil and Gerber  manufacturers.
  3. Ask your pediatrician for assistance in securing formula. This is especially helpful for children with medical needs for special formula. Pediatricians typically have a variety of samples and for children with medical needs can write a prescription for specialized formula.
  4. Contact your local WIC office for assistance with formula. They may be able to help you find and secure formula for your infant.
  5. Try a different brand of formula. Changing baby formula can be difficult as it can cause varying issues if done too quickly. Consult your pediatrician on how to transition you are baby from one type of formula to another.
  6. All infants require formula until a year old but if your child is over six months you can supplement their nutrition with some solid foods. Baby food is a good place to start such as fortified cereal, mashed bananas, or well cooked and pureed meat.
  7. Using banked breast milk may help, but don’t use informal breast milk sharing for health and safety reasons. The Human Milk Banking Association of America can direct you to a location which has breast milk near you.
  8. Although tempting to do in order to keep your baby’s tummy full, do not dilute formula or breast milk to stretch your supply. It might seem like a good idea in the short term but it can lead to lifelong neurological issues for your baby.
  9. Do not import formula from overseas as imported formula is not FDA reviewed and therefore cannot be guaranteed as safe.