questions about the formula shortage

Expert Recommendations for Dealing with the Formula Shortage

Many factors, such as formula recalls, the COVID-19 pandemic, and supply chain issues have resulted in the formula shortage that continues to pose challenges for many families with babies. While there is much information being shared about what you can and cannot do to safely feed babies, it’s crucial to follow the proper guidelines and recommendations.

We’ve turned to an expert resource, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to find answers.

Store shelves without formula representing the formula shortage

The AAP Answers Questions on Formula Shortage

What if I run out of formula and cannot find more because of the formula shortage?

Check smaller stores and local pharmacies that may still have a supply. You can also consider buying formula online from well-recognized, reputable distributors, grocers, or pharmacies. If you are completely out of formula, you should call your pediatrician. They may have samples in stock, connections to other local organizations that can help, or suggestions of other places to call. 

If I do find a formula, should I stock-up?

While it is tempting to stock-up and buy large amounts of formula when you find it, the AAP advises against doing this. They suggest purchasing no more than a 10-day to two-week supply to help ease shortages and allow other parents to buy what they need as well.

Can I switch between brands if I find small amounts of different types?

In most cases, it is safe to switch to any available formula, including store brands. Most babies will do just fine. If your baby does not like the taste or has a hard time tolerating a different formula, you can gradually introduce small amounts of the new formula mixed with the usual formula. Then slowly increase the amount of the new formula to help your baby adjust more easily.

What if my baby needs a specialty metabolic formula?

Abbott is releasing limited quantities of Similac PM 60/40 and other metabolic formulas for babies in urgent need. Contact your pediatrician’s office and ask them to fill out a request for you. If it is approved, the formula will be shipped to your home. You can also talk to your pediatrician about safe, comparable specialty formulas that may work for your baby..

Can I add extra water to the formula to make it last longer?

It is not safe to add extra water to formula, and this should never be done during the formula shortage or any other time. Doing so will dilute the levels of protein and minerals, leading to low sodium levels in the blood and other electrolyte disorders, which may require hospitalization. Always follow label instructions exactly or those given to you by your pediatrician.

Can I make my own baby formula? 

The AAP does not recommend making or using homemade baby formula during the formula shortage or anytime. While this was done in the past, there were many risks to babies who drank it. There are online recipes for homemade baby formula, but there are significant safety concerns related to contamination and nutrient concentration. Using homemade baby formula can harm your infant, and some babies have been hospitalized from reported use of homemade formulas.

What’s the earliest age I can give my baby more solid food and less formula?

Solid foods should not be used to stretch baby formula supply. Formula contains all of the nutrients young babies need, but solid foods may not. Infants are typically ready to eat solid food when they are about six months old, but the exact time frame depends on their stage of development, and the right time should be discussed with your pediatrician.

Can I substitute toddler or premature formula for regular baby formula?

Toddler drinks, often found in the formula aisles, and formulas designed for babies who were born prematurely are not typically recommended for babies who do not fall into these categories. If you absolutely have no other choice during the formula shortage, toddler drinks can be safe for a few days for babies who are close to a year of age. Formulas designed for premature babies can safely be used for a few weeks to feed full-term babies if nothing else is available.

Can I give my baby cow’s milk?

If your child is older than six months of age and is usually on regular formula (not a specialty product for allergies or other special health needs), this may be an option for a brief period of no more than one week. However, this is not ideal and should only be done if absolutely necessary during the formula shortage.

One concern with giving cow’s milk to a baby who is older than six months but less than a year on a long-term basis is that it does not contain enough iron, and this can lead to anemia. If you must use cow’s milk, it’s also important to give your baby plenty of iron-containing solid foods, such as baby food made with meat or iron-fortified cereals.

Can I give my baby plant-based milk?

Plant-based milk alternatives are not typically recommended for babies under a year of age. Soy milk may be an option for babies who are close to a year old during the formula shortage, but only for one week or less. Be sure to buy soy milk that is fortified with calcium and vitamin D, and change back to formula as soon as possible. Do not consider almond milk or other plant milks since they are often low in protein and minerals. Talk with your pediatrician if you are considering using plant-based milk.

Can I use a formula that is expired?

Generally, formula should not be used past the “best by” date because it may no longer be safe. It may also be lacking in the required levels of nutrients that your baby needs.

Is it safe to get breast milk from a friend or online group?

You can’t know for sure whether breast milk from a friend or online group is safe. It is better to check with a local milk bank that is accredited through the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

Is relactation possible so I can breastfeed my baby?

Many moms are turning to relactation amid the formula shortage, and it may be possible for you and your baby. According to the AAP, relactation works best if you gave birth recently (particularly if your child is less than three months old) or if your milk supply has been low or nonexistent for only a short period of time. You will likely need to nurse frequently and possibly use an electric breast pump to help reestablish your milk supply.

The formula shortage is stressful for many parents, and you are not alone if you are feeling this way. Remember that your pediatrician is a resource who can advise you on the best and safest ways to feed your baby.

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