Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, baby formula has been increasingly difficult to find on store shelves. Shortages caused by disruptions to the supply chain were made worse following the recall of several formula products that were contaminated with bacteria. In response, many retailers are limiting the amount of formula allowed in each purchase. Since 75 percent of babies consume at least some formula by the time they’re 6 months old, millions of parents who rely on infant formula to feed their babies are understandably concerned. So what can they do?
First, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises parents to limit themselves to purchasing no more than a 10-day to 2-week supply of baby formula at a time. It might be tempting to stock up at home when you finally see formula at your favorite store, but keeping no more than a 14-day supply will help ease shortages overall.
What if I can’t find formula?
If you’re in an urgent situation due to being unable to find the formula you need, here are some steps you can take. Also check these Health and Human Services and Healthy Children pages for more information.
- Talk to your doctor. You should always check with a pediatrician first if you have a concern about your child’s nutrition. Their office, or your OB-GYN provider or a local lactation consultant, may also have a small supply of formula samples in stock.
- Contact WIC. Your local Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) office may have resources to share.
- Temporarily switch types or brands. According to the AAP, “For most babies, it is OK to switch to any available formula, including store brands, unless your baby is on a specific extensively hydrolyzed one such as Alimentum or Nutramigen.” Daniel Ganjian, pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, advises that it’s best to stay within the same category of formula—milk-based, soy-based, or hypoallergenic—when deciding which new brand to try. Also, if you normally use powdered formula, you can switch to liquid (if the extra cost isn’t an issue). Check with your pediatrician if you aren’t sure which substitutions are okay for your baby.
- Call manufacturers. With your doctor’s help, you can submit an urgent product request via Abbott (Similac). Other consumer resources such as Gerber’s chat line, Enfamil’s contact page, or the contact number for another preferred brand, may also be able to help you locate a supply or figure out which formula types to aim for.
- Ask around. Consider borrowing formula from a friend or neighbor, or ask if anyone has some to spare in local online groups. Be sure to check for tampering, and make sure the expiration date hasn’t passed and that the lot number hasn’t been recalled.
- Change sources. Consider buying online (from a trusted vendor), or join a direct-to-consumer brand that delivers formula to you directly. For example, Motherly reports that “The newly launched, FDA-approved ByHeart offers a subscription-based service as well as cans available for one-time purchase to get formula delivered to your door.”
- Shop smaller stores. Smaller shops and drug stores may carry formula even when bigger stores are out of stock. Call first to check before making the trip, and ask the manager when they expect the next shipment to arrive.
- Call for help. In a food shortage emergency, call 211 to access community resources or visit Feeding America’s website to find nearby food banks.
- Consider a milk bank. For an alternative solution, pasteurized breastmilk (from screened donors) is available at human milk banks around the country. Call the closest one for more information.
What should I avoid?
It’s understandable to want to do anything in your power to make sure your baby doesn’t go hungry. That said, you certainly don’t want to put your child at risk while you’re trying to get them fed—here are some things you should definitely avoid doing.
- Do not water formula down. It might seem like a decent way to make your supply last longer, but you’ll be reducing the vital nutrients your baby needs with each feeding. The CDC also warns that diluting formula can cause serious health problems, including seizures.
- Do not DIY your formula. The AAP warns that homemade formula recipes might seem cheaper or more healthy, but “they are not safe and do not meet your baby’s nutritional needs.”
- Do not offer milk alternatives. These aren’t recommended for babies under 6 months old, at any time. IF you have no other alternatives, you can offer a baby over 6 months old either soy milk fortified with protein and calcium (not other plant milks), or toddler formula—but these substitutions should never be used for more than a few days.