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What do Parents and Caregivers Need to Know About the Formula Shortage?

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The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc in the lives of families with young children in many ways. Over the past two and a half years, childcare centers were closed, family members became sick, and restrictions changed daily, among other things. Though the United States is arguably through the worst of the pandemic, some families are still feeling the impact in surprising ways. One of those ways is the recent baby formula shortage happening across the country.  

Why is there a baby formula shortage?

Though there have been some alternating theories on why a national baby formula shortage is happening, it is largely attributable to current supply chain issues and labor shortages. Some formula manufacturers have reported running low on ingredients, packing materials and labor, while retail stores may have also contributed to the problem by not ordering and stocking formula products quickly enough. All these supply chain issues and labor shortages compound with the fact that there was a recent formula recall involving multiple formula products. And lastly, when some parents hear reports of a baby formula shortage, their first inclination may be to stockpile formula—which reduces baby formula inventory even further. 

What are the options for parents affected by a baby formula shortage?

For parents and caregivers of formula-fed babies, reports of a shortage may be alarming, especially as baby formula is a primary source of nutrition for an infant’s first several months of life. It’s important to stay calm and consider the following:

  • While they may be out of your baby’s formula at your regular grocery store, a pharmacy or another baby supply store may have plenty on the shelves. Call around to your local stores to inquire about whether any is in stock.
  • Try ordering online, either directly from your formula manufacturer or from another retail website. Lots of formulas are now provided via subscription services, which can be helpful for parents and caregivers who tend to run low from time to time. 
  • For parents who are in a pinch, ask your pediatrician if they carry in samples of your child’s formula. Many keep certain formulas in stock for children with special dietary needs and can offer you assistance until you’re able to locate some for purchase. 
  • Formula, or breast milk, should be an infant’s primary source of nutrition until they turn one but for children over six months, it’s okay to introduce more nutrient dense foods into their diet. Mashed avocado, sweet potato or pureed beans are all nutritious foods to incorporate alongside their diet of infant formula or breast milk. 
  • Switching to a new formula brand from a trusted one is never the first option for parents, as it can come with varying allergy and digestive issues. But if your formula has been recalled or is consistently out of stock, ask your pediatrician if they think your child might be better served by another brand. 

Switching Baby Formulas

If switching formulas seems like the right course of action for your baby, make an appointment to speak with their pediatrician to find a comparable brand that will best suit your child. While it’s not uncommon for parents to feel anxious about switching formula brands, it’s important to note that all formulas sold on United States shelves must meet strict Food and Drug Administration regulations and contain the exact nutrients that babies need to grow. When you’ve selected a new formula brand, try introducing it slowly to your child over several days, by combining it with their old formula in gradually increasing ratios. 

Any primary nutrition switch in infants—be it from breast milk to formula or from one formula brand to another—will likely include some initial side effects. Expect changes in your baby’s stool or perhaps increased gas, but any side effects should dissipate around the ten-day mark. If they don’t, consult with your baby’s pediatrician about trying another brand. More serious side effects such as blood in baby’s stool or difficulty breathing mean that parents or caregivers should stop feeding the formula immediately. 

What should parents avoid doing during a baby formula shortage? 

While a formula shortage can feel like a desperate time for some parents, it’s important to continue to prioritize the health and safety of your growing infant. At no point during a formula shortage (or any other time) should parents or caregivers: 

  • Dilute baby formula—Adding more water than recommended to make a container of formula last longer is harmful to infants. They will not receive the proper balance of nutrients needed to support proper growth and development. 
  • Feed homemade formula—Recipes occasionally circulate online and in different parenting forums for homemade infant formula. This can again lead to nutritional deficiencies and slowed growth in your baby. 
  • Switch to cow’s milk—Cow’s milk shouldn’t be introduced to your child’s diet until after one year of age. It lacks necessary iron and is difficult for many infants to digest. 
  • Use toddler formula instead of infant formula—Toddler formula is formulated for children specifically over the age of one, who have different nutritional needs than infants. Serving toddler formula to a baby under one can be dangerous, as they will be missing out on some of the vital nutrients needed for growth. 

While it will take time for formula manufacturers to sort through supply chain problems and retail stores to deal with labor shortages, the one proactive step parents can take to help combat the baby formula shortage is to avoid panic buying. Stockpiling of infant formula is not only discourteous to the next parent and baby coming down the store aisles, but it also drives a demand for formula that leads to price inflation.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has encouraged parents and caregivers to purchase no more than a 10-day to two-week supply of formula to help ease the shortages across the country. More information about baby formula shortages and choosing an infant formula can be found at www.healthychildren.org.


By ABC Quality Team on May 31, 2022