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Panic! At the Grocery Store: The Formula Shortage

Baby Formula Shortage 2022

Everywhere you look – from social media to the news channels – you’re seeing one of the most unexpected things to happen in a well-developed country…a baby formula shortage.

BABY FORMULA SHORTAGE?!?!?!

It’s easy for those of us who are out of the breastfeeding bottle cleaning trenches to feel calm right now; but this isn’t like the dreaded Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020. This is actually a serious cause for concern. This impacts the health and well-being of our littlest of littles.

Why The F*ck Are We Out Of Formula??

The culprit of the baby formula shortage is the same as every other recent disaster – COVID-19. According to HealthyChildren.org, “Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there have been significant shortages of infant formulas in stores. Current shortages have been largely caused by supply chain issues and the recent recall of several baby formula products over concerns about contamination.”

A contributing factor is Abbott Nutrition. Abbott, is one of four (yes, seriously, ONLY FOUR) companies in the US that represent 90% of the formula market. This formula giant was forced to close its Michigan plant in February, when four infants became ill with bacterial infections traced back to that plant.

Robert Ford, the CEO for Abbott, made an apology in a Washington Post op-ed posted on May 21.

“We’re sorry to every family we’ve let down since our voluntary recall exacerbated our nation’s baby formula shortage,” Ford said. “We believe our voluntary recall was the right thing to do. We will not take risks when it comes to the health of children.”

The Michigan plant is the largest formula plant in the US, producing about 20% of the country’s baby formula (and you DIDN’T think this was going to be a problem???)

The company has come to an agreement with the Food and Drug Administration to get the plant reopened early June, and back to production as soon as possible. Abbott expects it will take six to eight weeks before products start showing back up on store shelves.

Abbott Nutrition plans to set up a $5 million fund to help families with babies hospitalized or sickened because of the shortage. Not having access to the right formula for an infant with special dietary needs is a big issue. This money will go toward medical and living expenses until the shortage is over.

This still leaves many families struggling to find the formula their baby needs on the shelves of their local grocery stores or even online right now.

Even today, every other formula item listed on Amazon – especially the ones for infants with allergies or other food sensitivities – are out of stock.

What is being done to get formula to families now?

On May 18, the Biden administration decided to invoke the Defense Production Act, which would kick formula production into gear, so hopefully that gets things moving faster here in the States.

Da fuq is the Defense Production Act? It’s basically a system that lets the president say, “Hey, assholes, lets get shit done to protect our citizens …” This can be things like infrastructure, emergency preparedness, etc. and now, producing baby formula.

On May 22, the first shipment of European infant formula landed in Indianapolis. There was only enough for about 17,000 babies. Three days later, a second shipment delivered 120,000 pounds of formula with more shipments expected in the coming weeks.

Are European baby formulas safe?

We have this conception that if it’s not FDA-approved, then it’s gotta be crap. But there are other countries with similar regulations to ours (perhaps, dare we say, better in some cases?)

All baby formulas in the US have to meet the guidelines set by the Food & Drug Administration. The FDA is working to make sure that any formula not previously sold in our country, meets the same production, labeling and shipping standards. These formulas undergo a similar process by the European Food Safety Agency, which is not unlike the FDA here, and deemed “highly reliable.

How do we handle things while we wait?

First and foremost: DO NOT WATER DOWN YOUR BABY FORMULA!

HealthyChildren.org says that adding extra water to formula should never be done. Adding water will only dilute the amount of protein, minerals and nutrients in the formula. It can also throw off electrolyte balances in your baby’s blood, which can cause serious problems and lead to hospitalization.

The American Academy of Pediatrics DOES NOT recommend using homemade formulas. There are too many risks and pediatricians have a lot of safety concerns because of nutrient concentration and possible contamination. Using homemade formulas can also land your baby in the hospital.

Dr. Errol Douglas from Gold Pediatrics in Rockville, Maryland has a bit of advice to offer:

“Breast milk and baby formulas are the primary food source for newborn babies and young infants. There really are no substitutes.

“If your baby is close to one year old. Perhaps 11 months or older. If you cannot find any formula, ask your pediatrician if it is safe to start whole milk a little early. But ask first.”

Dr. Douglas, also said that if your infant uses a special formula because of a medical condition, check with their pediatric gastroenterologist who manages the child’s condition. They may be able to help obtain your baby’s formula or a suitable alternative.

Plant-based milks (almond, soy, coconut) are not produced for babies. These would not make safe substitutes for formula.

Will Canadian Amazon really ship formula to me?

Yes and no.

According to PolitiFact, “Parents with US addresses can’t order baby formula from Amazon in Canada that’s sold and shipped by Amazon or sold by a third-party seller and shipped by Amazon.

“It is possible that parents could find a third-party seller on the site to ship it to them directly, but some medical experts warn against that, and it will likely be more expensive.”

Can I let my friend breastfeed my baby or use donated breast milk?

While we’ve all heard the (slightly judgy) phrase, “Breast is Best” that isn’t always the case.

Breast milk banks are a real thing and people do donate their breast milk to them. However, these have primarily been for NICU babies who need supplemental breast milk to keep them alive and healthy.

The supply that these banks have isn’t necessarily enough to supplement families through the formula shortage though. The demand for donated breast milk has already been on the rise, with banks distributing 9.2 million ounces last year. Right now, some banks are seeing a 20% increase over that.

Milk that is donated to these banks have to go through stringent screenings before they can be used. They need to be checked for diseases (think HIV, syphilis, hepatitis …), bacteria, and nutritional composition. Then, the milk needs to be pasteurized to kill off any viruses and bacteria in it.

That’s a lot more than people who are pumping and posting their fun-bag formula on Facebook Marketplace are doing with their breast milk. The risks of giving something harmful to your baby by reaching out to a friend or picking up frozen bags online are not worth it.

If you want to look into donated breast milk for your baby, check for banks that are accredited through the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

Formula Shortage Patience

The worst thing you have to do right now is be patient. Waiting for anything is hard. When it comes to waiting for something that kids *literally* need to survive the first year of life? Well, that shit is downright impossible, and it makes us want to tear down walls.

However, we are graceful betches. We can’t make this happen any faster. Because, you know, the men are still in charge of things …

Abbott Nutrition is about start production in the biggest formula plant in the country. They have made promises to put even more product to the market than prior to January 2022.

The government waited a little longer than they should have to take action, but formula is on the way to store shelves as we speak. A formula manufacturer should produce infant formula in a safe and clean environment. They failed to do so. Now here we are.

How have you been coping through this madness? Have you been experiencing the stress and aggravation that came with this formula shortage shitshow? What have you been doing to stay sane?

Share your stories with us and commiserate together! Remember to check the “Formula Thread” in your Cool Moms Community to see if there has been any formula spottings in your area.

Author: Jessica Neff is a mom, writer, photographer, born-again baker and failed housekeeper. She’s living the doublewide dream as a reporter down in Texas with her fiancé and two daughters. Jessica is also the Market Director for Cool Moms of Dallas-Fort.

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