Christy Gardner, M.S., RD, LD/N, clinical dietitian at the University of Miami Health System
It is hard to turn on a news outlet without hearing or seeing news about the baby formula shortage.
Throughout the pandemic, there were shortages of supplies for manufacturing baby formula. However, since mid-February, a recall of products from the main formula provider for the U.S. has been in place, making it even more difficult for parents to find them.
The company, Abbott, controlled 43% of the infant formula market and 60% of the specialized products, including life-saving products for infants, children, and adults with GI and metabolic conditions. Add in a lack of alternative products, the already constrained production of raw materials, political unrest, and a recall, and you find yourself at the current state of up to 50% of infant formulas out of stock at the grocery store.
This is a stressful place to be as a parent. You understandably want solutions to provide your child with basic nutritional requirements safely.
First and foremost, do not use recipes circulating online. These homemade recipes are not safe or sterile for the weak immune system of a baby and can cause severe consequences which require hospitalization. Instead, follow this guide for families on navigating the formula shortage, depending on their needs.
Infant formulas are confusing.
There are multiple brands of infant formulas, and within each brand, an array of choices. If you use an intact formula for your baby six months old or younger, consider using a similar alternative from another brand. The most available brands currently are those which are not a part of your local WIC formulary. These include Gerber formulas, any organic formulas, most ready-to-feed formulas, and generic brand formulas.
If you have to switch to a new formula, consider increasing the bottles of the new formula slowly over several days if able. Doing so may allow your baby to tolerate a switch in formula better. While the formulas are made for the same purpose and meet the nutritional needs of growing babies, the ingredients may differ. If their gut has only received these ingredients in their lifetime, there will likely be a change in their bowel sounds and patterns if exposed in high doses. Usually, it will require up to two weeks for their tummies to adjust.
If your baby is over six months and consuming solids, try to ensure that you are providing regular exposure to sources of iron and zinc.
Some pediatricians are recommending that cow's milk can be appropriate for an infant over six months in emergency short-term circumstances. Be mindful that providing cow's milk can be dangerous to an infant's developing kidney to process high protein levels and place at risk for multiple nutritional deficiencies as this is not a nutritionally complete beverage. Plant-based milk is even less appropriate as they tend to be less nutritionally dense and unfortified.
Consult with your pediatrician (or a pediatric dietitian) on substituting formula appropriately.
Some babies require a hypoallergenic formula due to allergies or intolerances. These formulas have multiple substitutes, are available over the counter, and are mostly covered by WIC.
There are some familiar names at the store, such as:
- Nutramigen (comes in a ready-to-feed bottle)
- Gerber Extensive HA
- hypoallergenic under all major grocery stores and pharmacies (typically in orange/tan colored cans/lids)
If your nine-month-old baby is on the hypoallergenic formula and you cannot find any formula alternative in stores, speak with your doctor about using the toddler Nutramigen, which is only approved for nine months and older.
Elemental or special metabolic formulas are not available over the counter, and you can only obtain them through WIC or a DME company.
Contact your pediatric gastroenterology office promptly if you cannot get sufficient formula through your supplier.
Your physician will provide a prescription for a comparable alternative formula. If you need to change the formula, check the mixing instructions, as the scoop sizes are relatively different depending on the manufacturer.
While this uncertainty is scary for many parents, rest assured that your pediatric specialists in gastroenterology and nutrition are working hard to ensure that your baby and child will maintain their needs for growth and development.
Always speak to your pediatrician, pediatric gastroenterologist, or pediatric dietitian/nutritionist before changing your baby's formula diet.
If your baby is in a medical emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest pediatric ER.