Several months after a shortage of infant formula left store shelves empty, exhausted caregivers are increasingly desperate to find the food they need to feed their children.
And if there is simply no formula to be found? Doctors and dietitians worry that families are unknowingly endangering their babies with an unsafe solution.
Baby food was one of the household necessities in short supply due to over-buying due to pandemic. A massive recall of formulas by Abbott in February greatly exacerbated the problem, with some specialty formulas nearly impossible to find.
“It’s a terrible position for families to be in,” said Jessica Libove, a board-certified lactation consultant and the lactation program manager for the Department of Maternal, Child, and Family Health at the Philadelphia Department of Health.
» READ MORE: What You Need To Know About Infant Formula Deficiency
If you’re having trouble finding infant formulas, consider the safety of alternatives before trying them:
New. This may seem like a harmless way to stretch stock, but adding extra water to the formula can lead to emergency health problems, such as seizures and heart problems, said Nicole Fragale, a registered dietitian and clinical nutrition manager at Nemours Children’s Health. Too much water upsets the balance of electrolytes in formula, which can quickly affect a baby’s ability to function properly, she said.
Diluent formula reduces the amount of calories — and necessary nutrition — your baby gets.
Not only does diluted formula pose a deadly health risk, but “what will eventually happen is the baby will get hungrier and want even more formula,” Fragale said.
New. Medical providers and the FDA advise against homemade formula prescriptions. While it was common for parents to make their own formula before commercial powders rose in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, doctors and dieticians say homemade formulas don’t have the right balance of vitamins and nutrients.
“There’s a very specific ratio of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals — it’s impossible to mimic that in a homemade recipe,” Fragale said.
Formulated for adults, not infants, store-bought vitamin and mineral supplements can come in too high or too low a concentration, which can be toxic, Fragale said.
While homemade formula usually doesn’t pose the immediate danger of weakening the formula, it can lead to: long-term development problems. For example, many of the recipes are popping up online — often shared with the seal of approval “Just like grandma used!” – not having enough iron or calcium, which are essential for bone and brain growth.
It depends on the age. Babies under one year old shouldn’t have that cow’s milk because, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it has too much protein and minerals and not enough other nutrients. Your baby’s kidneys are not developed enough to handle cow’s milk and that can put you at risk of intestinal bleeding.
As long as your pediatrician says your baby is developmentally ready, you can introduce nutritious pureed solid foods to babies 6 months or older, which can reduce your dependence on formula, Libove said. Avocado and sweet potato are two foods that are filling and contain many of the same nutrients as formula or breast milk.
To check wholesalers, local mom and pop stores, and discount stores that may not sell out so quickly. Also consider stores that are not primarily grocery stores, but may have some food items. For example, BuyBuyBaby, a baby gear, furniture, and gift store, sells formulas on its website (although many are backordered). Food pantries, churches, shelters, and charities may have received formula donations to offer. Many local parent groups on Facebook have become informal retail spaces for formulas, although Libove urged people to only take formulas that are unopened and not yet expired and from someone they know or can meet in person.
Call your pediatrician to talk about alternatives. If your baby is on regular formula, you may be able to switch to a different brand or generic product.
“If a parent opens the closet and realizes they don’t have one, sometimes pediatricians have formulas” such as samples or emergency supplies, said Katie Breznak, a registered dietitian for the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. .
Probably. Most babies who aren’t medically frail and use regular formula can switch to a different brand, Libove said. She suggests parents look for a generic or store-brand formula, which may not sell out as quickly as popular brand names.
Caregivers usually become loyal to a particular brand they like the most, but “if it’s a regular formula, there really isn’t much difference,” she said. Pediatricians may recommend other brands or generics that are safe for your baby.
“If you’re faced with the choice of watering down your brand or using a generic brand in the right amounts, the generic brand will be safer for your child,” Libove said.
Call your pediatrician to see if they have samples or know where some are in stock. Discuss with the pediatrician whether there is a safe alternative to your current prescription formula.
With FDA approval, Abbott releases “on a case-by-case basis” some special formulas that are critical for babies with allergies, dairy intolerances or other medical complications and that are particularly difficult to find. They are provided free of charge, in consultation with doctors and hospitals, the Associated Press has reported† Parents should talk to a pediatrician before using these formulas as they are made during the bacterial infection.
Milk banks, where people can donate breast milk which is then pasteurized and sterilized may be an option for some babies who rely on special formulas for a medical need other than breast milk intolerance.
Could be. Resume lactation is possible, but takes time and is challenging – especially if you’ve never breastfed or if it’s been several months – so this isn’t a good option for parents who urgently need food for their baby. Increasing milk supply may be a particularly good option for people who are already breastfeeding but supplement with formula, Libove said. The amount of milk our bodies produce depends on demand, which means you can increase the supply by breastfeeding more often, even if it’s only for a short time.
Consult a certified lactation consultant to talk about whether restarting lactation is a good option for you or for help developing a plan to increase supply. Most private insurance plans cover lactation consultations. Many specialists offer a sliding payment scale to support families who are not insured or covered by Medicaid, which typically does not pay for lactation services. Find a certified lactation consultant by searching the database of the US Lactation Consultant Association. Families in Philadelphia can contact an advisor through the city breastfeeding counseling program or by downloading the Pacify mobile appthat offers free help on demand.
Every state has a WIC program that provides food, including infant formula, to families that meet income and need requirements. WIC is a supplemental program, meaning you may qualify for WIC even if you don’t qualify for other public assistance, such as SNAP or Medicaid.
After you enroll in WIC, a nutritionist will assess your family’s needs to develop a nutrition plan, which includes a list of foods covered. If your baby needs bottle feeding, your doctor will write a note informing WIC which formula you need. The program usually does not cover all the formulas that a family needs, but can help significantly†
Normally, only the specific formula in your WIC nutrition plan is covered, but Pennsylvania WIC allows families to choose from a list of alternatives deemed similar to their assigned formula due to Abbott’s recall and shortage issues.
Could be. Health insurance plans can cover formula if a doctor says it does medically necessary† Rules vary by health insurance company, so check with your benefits manager or insurer to find out if you qualify.