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Infant Formula Shortage: Central Pa. Doctor Warns Against Homemade Recipes, But Offers Alternatives and Optimism

Infant Formula Shortage: Central Pa. Doctor Warns Against Homemade Recipes, But Offers Alternatives and Optimism

Parents should “definitely not” resort to homemade versions of baby food, even amid the ongoing national shortage, a pediatrician at Penn State Children’s Hospital said Tuesday.

It is true that decades ago people relied on homemade formulas. But available recipes aren’t approved by health authorities, they won’t provide proper nutritional benefits, and some ingredients may prove unsafe and harmful, said Dr. Katherine Shedlock.

“There can be electrolyte imbalances and your child could potentially have seizures or even die if we don’t give them the right kinds of nutrition in the formula and different kinds of electrolytes,” she said.

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Shedlock further warned against diluting formula in an attempt to increase supply, saying it would prevent a baby from being fed enough.

Instead, she urged parents to continue looking for formulas, while also stressing that they should be willing to use another brand, saying such switches will not cause significant harm. However, parents of babies who need specialized formula should talk to their doctor about a suitable alternative, she said.

Shedlock said cow’s milk can serve as an alternative in very limited circumstances, such as with an older child, and for no more than a week. The problem, she said, is that cow’s milk contains too much protein, which can put a strain on infants’ kidneys, and not enough iron, an essential nutrient.

The same goes for other milk products, such as almond milk, and milk for toddlers.

The American Academy of Pediatricians says that a child over 6 months old should be fed cow’s milk in a pinch for no longer than a week.

At the beginning of this month, the supply of baby food on store shelves across the country was more than 40% less than usual.

Still, Shedlock expressed confidence on Tuesday that no one in central Pennsylvania will be completely without formula, and she expects supplies to improve soon.

That doesn’t mean parents don’t have to struggle for a while.

“It’s very stressful for a lot of families looking for formula right now, but there are a lot of resources out there,” she said.

Shedlock advises parents to:

  • Check for formula at multiple stores, including smaller stores and drugstores and pharmacies;
  • Call around to several stores, and if a store has the kind you want, ask them to have a can for you;
  • Consider using a different brand;
  • To check www.communityactionpartnership.com
  • Call United Way’s 211 resource to connect with a local specialist who can help you find formulas;
  • Check with your pediatrician, who may be able to provide samples or other sources.

Shedlock said representatives of formula companies have assured Penn State Health pediatricians that formula is available, and she knows of no local cases of anyone finding it impossible to obtain formula.

The shortage has been building for months, reflecting factors such as supply chain issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the closure of a major manufacturing plant due to contamination concerns and voluntary recall of formulas from the plant, and the fact that the United States relies on a relatively small number of domestic manufacturers with little imported formula.

But in recent weeks, President Joe Biden’s administration has taken steps, including using the Defense Manufacturing Act to ramp up production and import formulas from abroad. The closed factory also resumes production. Still, it is expected to take weeks for the deficit to narrow.

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