(Forsyth County, GA) Over the past two years, Forsyth County residents have had to deal with inconvenient shortages and purchase limits due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other supply chain challenges. But arguably nothing has been as stressful for parents as the current baby formula shortage.
“It’s not like toilet paper,” said a local pediatrician’s office administrator, who shared that her own daughter had recently had trouble finding her child’s formula. “This is about feeding your kids.”
Though parents began noticing the shortage several months ago, the situation seems to have recently become more acute in some areas. The federal government announced plans this week to help ease the crisis, including invoking the Defense Production Act to direct suppliers of formula ingredients to prioritize delivery to formula manufacturers. The government will also allow formula imports from other countries that are usually not permitted.
FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D. said that the action “paves the way for companies who don’t normally distribute their infant formula products in the U.S. to do so efficiently and safely…With these flexibilities in place, we anticipate that those products that can quickly meet safety and nutrition standards could hit U.S. stores in a matter of weeks.”
However, a matter of weeks can feel like a lifetime for a parent worried about finding the right formula to feed their baby. So moms have taken to local social media groups like Facebook, NextDoor, and others to seek help. Forsyth County residents have answered the call, giving away cans of unused formula, sharing pictures of well-stocked stores with time and location information, and organizing donations for those in need.
Local moms step up to help out
In the popular local Facebook group Alpharetta, Milton, Cumming Connect Moms (AMC Connect Moms) , there have been multiple daily posts seeking formula. Other users posted pictures of cans or ready-to-use formulas they were giving away. Sometimes these are barely used cans that moms are giving away because their infant didn’t prefer that type. Other times they are samples that new moms received that they wound up not needing because they were able to breastfeed or used another type of formula.
“The whole point of AMC Connect Moms is to CONNECT,” said Betsey Darley, CEO of AMC Connect Moms. “I love how our moms have united and stepped up to help each other and the local community. We literally have moms posting daily on where to find in-stock formula, donating formula they don't need and asking if they can purchase formula for other moms in need. I love our amazing moms and life really is ‘Better Connected.’”
Another group on Facebook, Formula Finders GA , aims to help moms find specific formula types. Some babies require particular formulas because of unique nutritional requirements, allergies, or other medical conditions. The formula shortage has been particularly hard on these parents, who can’t just substitute their child’s formula for another brand easily. In the group’s rules, the group’s founder asked those who were providing formula to keep pricing fair, noticing the price gouging that some parents have faced in the wake of the shortage.
What caused the formula shortage?
As of May, up to 40% of the normal supply of the nation’s baby formula is out of stock. How could something like this happen? The answer is complicated.
In February, major formula supplier Abbott Nutrition, which controls 42% of the U.S. formula market, voluntarily recalled several brands and shut down a plant in Michigan after four infants who had ingested their powdered formula suffered from dangerous bacterial infections. The FDA opened an investigation and inspected the plant, but ultimately closed the investigation concluding that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to link the formula to the infections.
Around 95% of the formula used in the United States is produced domestically. There are only four major formula manufacturers: Abbott, Nestle, Mead Johnson, and Perrigo. Importing formula is rare because of high tariffs of up to 17.5% on imports. FDA labeling and ingredient requirements also stand in the way of some imports even during shortages. If something goes wrong with one of these manufacturers, like what happened at Abbott, this can dramatically affect supply.
Other factors include state contracts for the WIC program or other welfare programs that give certain manufacturers a big local advantage. Formula manufacturers offer rebates and WIC vouchers, but these discounts can only be used for their products. That is why the shortage crisis has been worse in some areas of the country than in others.
What not to do during the formula shortage
While social media has been helpful for parents trying to find formula, there’s always the problem of misinformation too. Many individuals, though they may be well-meaning, are sharing ideas about formula alternatives and homemade recipes that pediatricians warn could be dangerous.
The Georgia Department of Public Health has urged parents who are unable to find their baby’s typical formula to contact their pediatrician for trustworthy information about appropriate nutritional and safe feeding alternatives.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also advised parents to contact a medical professional if they can’t find their baby’s typical formula. They suggested calling your OBGYN or pediatrician’s office to request in-office samples or to get a suggestion for a similar formula that may be more readily available in stores and is nutritionally similar to your infant’s typical formula.
In a press release, HHS also shared these tips:
- You should not water down formula, try to make formula at home, or use toddler formula to feed infants. Don’t discard formula unless it is expired or is part of the recall. Check your formula’s lot code to see whether or not it was affected by the recall.
- You can find more guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics .
- Contact your local WIC office to identify or obtain additional sources of infant formula nearby.
- Feeding America: call your local food bank to ask whether they have infant formula and other supplies in stock.
- Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA): certain HMBANA-accredited milk banks are distributing donated breast milk to mothers in need; please note that some may require a prescription from a medical professional. Find an HMBANA-accredited milk bank.
Have you been affected by the baby formula shortage? Let us know in the comments or email email@example.com.