The issue behind the formula shortage is two-fold. First is the widespread supply chain issue due to the pandemic, which has affected everything from cars to Nutella.
To make matters worse, in February, the Food & Drug Administration closed Abbott Nutrition’s Michigan factory after Abbott voluntarily recalled brands of its formula. The formula was tied to a bacterial infection that was linked to the deaths of at least two infants.
Abbott produces Similac, a routine milk-based formula, as well as Similac Advance and other specialty formulas for babies with certain allergies.
The Biden administration has said that they are talking with suppliers in an effort to get more formula on store shelves.
“This has led to parents struggling to find appropriate formulas for their kids. They are traveling out of their geographic areas and ordering products online, where not everything meets the same standards as formulas produced in the U.S.,” said Dr. Matthew Harris, who practices in pediatric emergency medicine, emergency medical services, and pediatrics at Northwell Health’s Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York.
Rebecca Romero, RD, LD, CLC, on the clinical nutrition and lactation team at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, said parents are having difficulty getting enough formula to feed their children.
“Due to the infant formula shortage, parents are facing the very serious problem of not having enough formula available to feed their children,” added Romero. “Many stores are having supply issues and parents are being forced to drive store to store to find their child’s formula. Additionally, we are seeing an increase in families preparing homemade formula or mixing foods not intended for infants with formula, which can be very risky and compromise the developing infant’s health.”
If your child uses a standard, milk-based powdered formula, several alternatives are available besides Abbott’s recalled formulas.
For children taking a specific formula, such as one for a milk protein allergy, experts recommend looking for a similar, alternative formula for what their child is currently taking.
It is important to select a FDA-approved formula, meaning it meets safety standards and is specifically designed to provide appropriate nutrition for infants. If parents are unsure of what product would be considered a safe alternative, they should talk to their child’s healthcare provider or dietitian for guidance,” said Romero.
Harris noted that other companies, like Enfamil, for example, or other U.S.-produced milk-based formulas have very little difference and would be considered safe to use as an alternative.
“As a father of an infant who has a milk protein allergy, which is very common, they cannot take standard formulas, which are all increasingly difficult to find in powdered form,” he said. “We have been successful finding liquid formulas on Amazon; however, these liquid-based formulas can be more expensive for families facing financial distress.”
Right now, parents can also look at ordering online from known entities, like Amazon, Walmart, and CVS.
While this is incredibly stressful for parents as they try to provide appropriate nutrition for their children, experts stress that parents should avoid diluting formula or ordering products from unknown online retailers.
“What we want to avoid is parents extending the life of the powder formula by adding water and diluting it,” said Harris. “That is not good for children because it causes low sodium, and that can lead to seizures, which can be life-threatening. Never dilute formula, hard stop.”
Another tip is to not order formulas from websites that may not deliver products certified in the United States. Formulas produced in the U.S. that use a typical 20 calorie-per-ounce, milk-based formula have very little difference from each other.
Harris also recommends double checking any Similac product that parents do happen to find to make sure it’s not part of the recall.
“There are still products on the shelves that are part of the recall that may not have been taken down,” he said.
The FDA has also issued warnings against using homemade formula since it isn’t regulated and can be contaminated or lack key nutrients.
In a 2021 warning, the FDA said some infants fed homemade formula were hospitalized due to low calcium.
“These problems are very serious, and the consequences range from severe nutritional imbalances to foodborne illnesses, both of which can be life-threatening,” the FDA said in the 2021
If parents do happen to find Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare powdered infant formula products,
- the first two digits of the code are 22 through 37; and
- the code on the container contains K8, SH, or Z2; and
- the expiration date is 4-1-2022 (APR 2022) or later
In addition, Abbott Nutrition has recalled Similac PM 60/40 with a lot code of 27032K80 (can) / 27032K800 (case). Parents can also enter the product lot code on the company’s website to check.
“As healthcare providers, we are aware of the severity of this shortage and how it is impacting families,” said Romero. “Providers are working closely with families daily to help provide support and guidance to ensure their children are receiving appropriate and adequate formula. Families should make sure to talk to their child’s healthcare provider or dietitian if guidance is needed.”