Child & Teen Health
The formula shortage is hurting families: What parents should know and do
It's terrifying to think about not being able to feed your baby — and right now, with the baby formula shortage, parents all over the country are feeling exactly that terror.
The supply chain for baby formula had been tenuous for some time, but when Abbott Pharmaceuticals recalled many of their formula products — and closed down their biggest production facility in the US — it literally caused a formula crisis. Many store shelves are empty of baby formula, and it isn't easy to find online, either. While formula companies and the government are working to restore the supply, it may take a while before it's easy to buy a can of formula. In the meantime, here are some do's and don'ts for parents who use formula.
What parents shoulddo during the formula shortage
- Try lots of different stores and websites. Most families are already doing this, but it's worth saying.
- Put out the word to friends and family — the more people looking, the better.
- Check out social media. Many organizations, sites, and pages are offering information about where formula is available.
- Be willing to buy other brands besides your usual one, if your baby uses regular formula. It truly doesn't matter, they are all remarkably similar. If your baby is on a specialized formula, check with your doctor as to which brands can be substituted.
- Only buy from reputable sites and sellers. You want to be sure that what you buy is the real thing.
- If you get formula through WIC or a medical supply company, call them to see if they can help.
- Call your doctor! This is particularly important if your child is on a specialized formula (in which case you absolutely must call them). But also call if you have any questions about what to give your baby and how to find it.
In a pinch, here are some things you can do for a few days while you look for formula. Please note: This does not apply if your baby is on specialized formula or is less than 6 months old!
- If your baby is close to a year old (say, 10 months old or older), you could give them toddler formula or soy milk. (If you use soy milk, only use brands that are fortified with protein and calcium.) Do not give toddler formula or soy milk to younger babies.
- If your baby is more than 6 months old, you can give whole cow's milk. If you do this, be sure there is plenty of iron in your baby's diet, and talk to your doctor about giving an iron supplement.
Again, these should only be done for a few days.
What parents shouldn't do during the formula shortage
- Don't dilute your formula. Not only is diluted formula lacking in calories, but it can be dangerous.
- Don't buy formula directly from other countries. It's not regulated by the FDA and may not be safe.
- Don't make your own formula. It may not be safe.
- Don't give plant-based milks, except soy milk for older babies as noted above. Many plant-based milks, such as almond milk, do not have enough nutrition for babies.
- Don't give juice instead of milk. It definitely doesn't have the nutrition babies need.
- Don't hoard formula if you find it. As tempting as it might be, think of all the other families in the same boat you are. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends buying no more than a 10-to-14-day supply.
If you have any questions, call your doctor.
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About the Author
Claire McCarthy, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing
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