A national baby formula shortage is creating challenges for many families. More than 40 to 70% of top-selling brands are reported to be out of stock in many locations throughout the country.
“It’s terrifying to imagine running out of formula to feed your baby,” said Bentley Thomason, MD, a family medicine physician at ThedaCare Medical Center-Shawano. “The first thing I would recommend to parents or caregivers is that if you are having difficulty finding the formula you need for your baby, check several stores in your area, including grocery stores, supermarkets, big box stores, convenience stores and warehouse stores. I would go so far as to ask the store manager when their store typically receives their formula shipments and, if possible, plan to be at the store that day.”
Nicole Ruske, MD, another family medicine physician at ThedaCare Medical Center-Shawano, agreed and added that asking family and friends to look for formula in their areas is another option.
“This is a time to seek help wherever you can to have a safe supply on hand,” said Dr. Ruske. “If at all possible, I would recommend having a two-week supply to help give you time to secure additional formula before running out. However, we do understand at times that may not be possible, and our hearts go out to those families who are struggling to find the formula they need.”
Dr. Ruske noted that many parents also are using social media platforms like Facebook to connect with other parents to learn where formula might be available and sometimes even share formula supplies.
The formula shortage developed because of pandemic-related supply chain issues and the closing of a production facility in February because of contamination. That factory was slated to reopen in early June. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials recently publicly stated they believe formula supplies will return to normal by the end of July.
Dr. Thomason, herself a mom with a baby needing formula, encouraged parents to reach out to their baby’s health care provider with any questions.
“We’re here to help in any way we can,” she said. “Many of our providers are parents and we understand the challenges our patients are facing. While we may not be able to provide the formula supply, we are here to listen to concerns, and offer support when possible. Sometimes talking about what we are experiencing can help us all navigate the situation.”
Dr. Thomason and Dr. Ruske offered these basic suggestions for coping with the supply shortage:
If possible, be flexible with formula brands.
“If parents are using Enfamil, Similac or any other name brand, it’s okay to switch to a store brand from Costco, CVS, Wal-Mart, Target or reputable online sites such as Amazon,” said Dr. Thomason. “The store brands are regulated by the FDA and are just as safe to use and often less expensive. The important thing is to stay within the type of formula you’ve been feeding; that is, stick with a milk-based or soy-based formula.”
Both of the doctors have used store-brand formula for their babies.
“If parents have to switch between a milk or soy-based formula because they simply can’t find their primary type, then we’d recommend they talk with their provider about how to do that,” Dr. Ruske added. “It depends on why the baby needed the soy-based formula to know if the switch is okay. Talk with your provider first.”
Do not dilute formula.
“Under no circumstances should caregivers dilute formula,” Dr. Thomason stressed. “Diluting infant formula can be dangerous and even life threatening for babies, leading to a serious nutritional deficit and health issues. If you are having extreme difficulty finding the formula you need, please reach out to your provider. We can come up with a specialized diet for your infant based on local availability. I’m regularly keeping track of supplies in our area,” she said.
Do not make your own formula.
“Commercially available baby formula is heavily regulated by the FDA to be a safe breast milk alternative/supplement to provide babies the nutrition they need,” Dr. Ruske explained. “Babies who have been fed homemade infant formula have suffered from hypocalcaemia (low calcium). Other potential problems with homemade formulas include contamination and absence of, or inadequate amounts of, critical nutrients.”
Avoid substituting with regular whole cow’s milk from the store.
“Regular cow’s milk does not have the iron and other nutrients that babies need to thrive and grow,” Dr. Ruske said. “That’s why we generally don’t recommend cow’s milk before the age of 12 months.”
Dr. Thomason added that families should check with your baby’s provider if you are considering substituting with cow’s milk.
The formula shortage may be particularly difficult for parents of babies who need specialty, formulas. Both doctors stressed that parents should not wait until they are down to their last bottles of formula before making a change in formula brands or seeking help.
“It’s always better to make changes to a baby’s diet slowly,” Dr. Thomason said. “If you must switch between formula brands, interchange one brand with the other and gradually introduce the new brand to your baby. That will be easier on his or her digestive system.”
The doctors also noted that the U.S. government is now receiving shipments of formula from overseas and said parents should have no concerns about using formulas received from European countries, especially the United Kingdom and Australia. Dr. Ruske said that formulas from the United Kingdom are actually more regulated than those in the U.S.
Breast Milk Options
While breast milk is still considered best for babies, breastfeeding is not always an option for some moms.
“The demands and pressures on women in general have never been higher, in terms of post-pandemic issues etc., so this is not a time I would overly push a woman to breastfeed,” said Dr. Thomason. “If mothers were considering increasing breastfeeding to help supplement with formula, we would encourage those conversations.”
“Breastfeeding is a lot of work and a significant commitment, such as pumping or feeding every three hours,” Dr. Ruske added. “Even for those women who do breastfeed, many also have to supplement with formula because their supply is insufficient as the baby’s needs increase.”
She noted that for those who are breastfeeding and may be having difficulties or want advice for continuing longer, lactation specialists and breastfeeding classes are available throughout the area.
“As doctors, and mothers with babies, our hearts are in this with parents,” said Dr. Thomason. “We understand how distressing it would be to go to the store and find an empty shelf. We’re happy to work with parents in any way to make dietary changes that are needed because of supply issues. Every time I go to the store now, I’m checking the different supplies so when parents ask, I can let them know where I saw formula in stock. We want parents to know that we are here for there, and are willing to help in any way possible.”
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health of the communities it serves in northeast and central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 18 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including seven hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their best lives through easy access to individualized care, supporting each person’s own health and wellbeing. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand unique needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.
For more information, visit thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.