How 5 Parents Are Dealing With the Baby Formula Shortage
s if parenting during a pandemic weren’t already difficult enough, parents of infants are now facing a baby-formula shortage across the U.S. Supply-chain issues that have affected various industries made baby formula scarce. But the situation grew dire when the Abbott Nutrition, the nation’s largest baby formula manufacturer, recalled several lines of powdered formula after at least four infants were hospitalized for bacterial infections. Two of their infants were killed.
Groceries and pharmacies are now empty. Amazon is backordering or unavailable for certain products. Target, Walgreens, CVS and Walgreens have all begun to restrict the availability of baby-formula product for customers. Datasembly, an online retail software company, found that 43% were out of stock in 11,000 shops across the country for the week ending May 8th. This was up from 11% at November 2021.
Formula is often the best option for many families, since not all parents can breastfeed or want to. Some mothers cannot generate enough milk to fulfill their child’s nutritional needs and must rely on or supplement with formula. Some mothers decide not to breastfeed due to discomfort or pain. Some mothers are unable to breastfeed, or have to stop nursing because they work long hours. Adopting or using a surrogate to produce milk is not an option.
The run-on of certain brands has had a severe impact on families with children who suffer from allergies or other metabolic conditions and need a specific type formula. Federal assistance programs, such as WIC, have had their families disproportionately affected. WIC is a federal program that provides financial support for women, infants, and children.
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Despite manufacturers’ assurances that they would step up production, formula remains hard to find. The Biden Administration announced that the U.S. would increase imports of baby-formula in an attempt to reduce nationwide shortages. In the next week, specific measures will be announced by Food and Drug Administration to increase imports of formula.
TIME parents spoke out to say that they had driven across states and cities in order to find the formula for their babies. The parents struggled to figure out how to store the tubs for future use and what to give as a gift to their other children. Many found relief in the Facebook group where people with additional formula were willing to give it away or sell it.
These are five experiences from parents who struggled with a lack of baby-formula.
Mary Summers 27, Columbus, Ohio
My twins were eight months old when I decided to try breastfeeding. I knew that it was going to be a lot of work because there’s two of them, not just one. My first two kids were breastfed so I was confident that I could handle it. We were experiencing problems latching the twins in hospital. So I decided that it wasn’t worth the stress and that we would just formula feed. If I knew then we would face the shortage I would just have persevered and breastfed as much as possible.
One week is enough for the big containers of formula. Maybe less. Our baby boy, especially, he’s a chunk. He’s got rolls for days. We are already being eaten out of the house by him. He just suckers it all down. Our search for formula takes up about two hours each day. I’m losing sleep over it. My twins are my third and my fourth, so I’ve been through parenthood for awhile. This has been, without a doubt, the most difficult thing that I’ve ever experienced with my children. It would have made sense to me that it would have occurred then, rather than now.
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For the past two months, shelves have been empty almost every time we visit the shop. There’s a lot of people here who are on assistance, and in Ohio typically the only formula that is covered with assistance is either Gerber or Similac. There’s a lot of people out there who use Similac [which is made by Abbott Nutrition], and now that there’s been a recall, they’re all switching over to Gerber. Once that expires, they’ll start to take whatever they can. The Walmart brand and Target brand—that’s all gone. It takes 45 minutes to reach Columbus, before formula can be found.
We are both part of several Facebook groups, where we ask people all across the country to send us formulas. We’ve gotten four or five shipments of different formulas from a family in Pennsylvania and another family out in Arizona. There are people out there who are buying up the formula there is even though they don’t need it and selling it for $10 or $15 more than it costs through the store. I feel like they’re taking advantage of parents because they know we need it to survive.
I’m stressed. I’m overwhelmed. I’m always trying to figure out, What are we going to do if we can’t find formula? Because they suggest you don’t switch your infant over to regular milk until after one years old. There are still three and a quarter months left. I guess even though it’s not recommended, we’re just going to go ahead and switch them over to regular milk if we run out.
Bryan Lambillotte, 36, San Diego, California
Chris and I are both of the same sex, so we cannot breastfeed. When the shortage happened, we were looking into milk donors, but it just wasn’t something we were 100% onboard with because our babies’ tummies are super sensitive. Although milk donated by strangers is safe and screening, the way your baby consumes it will depend on each baby.
We are sticking with formula for now even though we know in the back of our minds if for some reason we’re not able to find formula in the coming weeks, we may need to bite the bullet and go that route. We were at the end of April with one can left of Enfamil. After doing a lot research, I headed out to find out if there was any stock in the area. Unfortunately, many stores either had no inventory or were out of stock. Some retailers had inventory. I was tempted to make payment ahead of time and collect, but then the product became unavailable. Amazon and stores in our area would give us a four- to six-week timeframe for when we might receive formula, and obviously for babies we can’t wait four to six weeks. It was scary.
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Target had six cans that I finally found. Because we have twins, I was sure to have all six. One can is used by each child every 4 to 5 days. But then I thought about another mom or another dad right behind me that might be freaking out because they’ve gone to Walmart, Target, and CVS and haven’t been able to find the specific type of formula for their child because, like ours, there’s many other children out there who have a sensitive tummy. I didn’t have the heart to take all the cans even though my kids are most important to me, and I want to make sure we can fill their bellies. I’ve talked to people who stocked up on 40 cans, and I’m freaked out when I hear that.
I’m a very optimistic person, and I’m always trying to look on the bright side. The supply-chain problems make me nervous. The twins just turned two months on Wednesday, and we’re planning on feeding them formula at least for the first nine to 12 months. But for my twins, I’m trying to stay as positive as possible and hope for the best.
The pandemic taught us, however, that not all things are easy. It was a few months before I became a parent, but I would never have imagined how crucial formula would become to me. Now, it feels like nothing is off the table with a formula shortage that’s so scary and shocking. Is there a next shortage? Diapers? It is not something I know.
Taylor Weeden, 19, Murfreesboro, Tennessee
I had my baby in February, so it’s been hard to find formula from the beginning, but in the last two weeks, it’s gotten way harder. Although I tried to breastfeed my baby, I wasn’t able to make enough. It’s the only option. It’s overwhelming.
It’s been rough not being able to know if I’m going to be able to feed my baby or if I’m going to have to switch up her formula and worry about it messing up her stomach. Every grocery store in my area was empty. My sister has a baby less than a month younger than mine, and she’s going through the same thing.
When I can find it, I can’t hog it all because there’s other babies that need it too. But one can doesn’t last more than three days. When I’m getting low I’ll just go to a bunch of different stores until I find it. I don’t really think about what I’m going to do if I can’t find it. I can’t. It’s okay to just follow the flow.
It was finally discussed on TikTok and I decided to post it without thinking too much. This lady reached out to me and told me she knew the formula and gave me two cans. That’s the best part of this is the other parents helping people. I would tell parents if they’re struggling to reach out on places like TikTok or even to family members in other states to see if they can help you find some. If it wasn’t for this post on TikTok, I probably would have had to change my baby’s formula and possibly mess up her stomach.
Jhoseline Sanchez Cornelison, 26, Idaho Falls, Idaho
We had my son back in February when all the recalls were going on, and I didn’t even know if the hospital was going to have any formula to give us. We were able to get some formula from them, although they didn’t have enough. My milk was extremely dry. So formula’s literally my only option.
WIC was available to my family so I could receive credits for formula. But the formula we can get through the program has to be from a certain lis, which made it even more difficult because the government doesn’t cover, like, organic ones. These were also the last ones on the shelves.
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I’ve searched high and low. I’ve probably looked at all of the stories in all of Eastern Idaho every day since the beginning of the month. I’ve even searched all the way up to the border of Idaho and Utah, Idaho and Wyoming. And it’s impossible to find anything right now. One way we’ve been getting some formula right now is through the pediatrician’s office. You can get anything you want, so you don’t have to be specific.
It’s so scary, especially as a first-time mom. I get into my head and am like, “Oh, I should have bought formula before he was even born.” You start tearing yourself down because you don’t have formula to feed your child. Our pediatrician told us to reach out to local hospitals, and they don’t have anything to give. They have everything they need to give newborn babies. I understand that completely.
My sister-in-law is due any day now, and she’s freaking out a little bit with me. Because you don’t know what your child will need, they are looking for any kind of formula to help them stock up. You could be suffering from a milk allergy, or they might just be colicky. He is very fussy and suffers from acid reflux. I think it’s the change of different formulas that we’re giving him because we give him whatever is left. I’m sure it’s tough on his tummy.
We’ve got groups on Facebook that have somewhat helped, but even then, when moms who are trying to help post, you have to hop on it that second or you miss your opportunity. Although I hope manufacturers will get on board, it seems like there is no end to the waiting.
Gayle Patasnik, 37, Astoria, New York
My 6 month old son has been formula fed from birth. It was my decision to have him formula-fed from the start. We used Similac ProAdvance at first. This worked well for my husband, and I have never modified it. The product was available in stock through Amazon. We had a monthly subscription to receive it. I didn’t even realize there was a shortage until his last can was about to be up and I was like, “That’s weird. Where’s our Amazon package?”
And I realized it wasn’t coming. This was two weeks ago. That was about two weeks ago. I phoned a few Astoria shops, but no one had the item.
To see if Costco had the item, I visited them. Our pediatrician assured me that Enfamil would suffice and I could provide it to him. This was the solution I sought. I’m lucky because he’s a kid that’ll drink other varieties versus a baby that would be pickier or have an allergy. It’s pure luck at this point. But that doesn’t make it any less stressful because, of course, there’s Enfamil shortages also.
We have friends whose babies are turning one, and we’ve been gifted some formula, which has been very helpful. I’m in an Astoria moms Facebook group, and I’ve noticed people offering extra formula to people in the neighborhood. It’s actually really nice to see the community come together.
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