by Erin Sadlowski
First cleaning supplies, then paper products followed by anything in an aluminum can. These would be the first of a long list of products to go missing from grocery store shelves related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of these shortages have been inconvenient at best. The disappearance of formula, which began in May 2022, has been more difficult to navigate, affecting the nutrition of infants and medically complex individuals.
Why is formula so hard to find?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more moms are choosing formula feeding over breastfeeding. Complex supply chain issues due to the pandemic, combined with a recall at Abbott Laboratories (a major U.S. formula manufacturer) have worsened matters. Abbott was cleared to resume production by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but it may be months before supplies return to normal. What can parents and caregivers do in the meantime?
Contact your doctor
If you are a parent or caregiver with formula concerns, please contact your child's pediatrician or the patient's doctor. The clinician may recommend use of a different, more readily available formula. They can also offer resources for obtaining the needed formula. Before you make the call, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and CDC have answers to often asked questions, including resources to help find formula.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health's (MA DPH) Women, Infants and Children program (WIC) is a state-funded nutrition program. The program helps families who qualify get healthy foods, nutrition education, breastfeeding support and healthcare. The MA DPH is working with federal agencies and formula suppliers to help families in need. And here on Cape Cod, A Baby Center in Hyannis started a drive for donations to aid families affected by the shortage.
Homemade is not best
Top public health experts recommend against any form of homemade formula. Formulas are created to give the body what it needs to keep nutritional balance using special ingredients and proportions. Without the formulation needed by the body, the infant or patient can become dehydrated, malnourished and, in some cases, critically ill.
Where to shop for formula
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has put together information for families seeking help with formulas and formula substitutes. A May 18, 2022 article in the Wall Street Journal by Dalvin Brown, compiles a list of free online inventory trackers. Parents may also call smaller stores or supermarkets outside of their local area. Small-scale markets in outlying towns may have formula in stock, where larger local grocers with higher traffic have been depleted.
How long is the shortage expected to last?
Formula shortages are expected through July 2022. As production ramps up, Abbott will first begin making specialized formulas for infants and patients with severe allergies and medical conditions. Given this rollout, it may be a month or more before supplies return to some measure of normal.
Erin Sadlowski has been a registered nurse for one year and has over ten years prior clinical experience as a medical assistant in outpatient settings. She is a former personal trainer and nutritionist. Erin earned her Associates of Science in Nursing degree from Middlesex Community College in Lowell, MA. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Earth and Environmental Sciences from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.