11:23 AM

Addressing Families' Concerns about Baby Formula Shortage

By Dr. Steven Griffin, Pediatrician, Holy Rosary Healthcare

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there have been significant shortages of infant formulas in some stores caused by supply chain issues and a recall of several contaminated baby formula products. As a family medicine provider, I have received questions about the current situation from concerned parents. Based on the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations, I wanted to share some helpful information to help answer some important questions. Keep in mind that this advice is strictly for urgent situations. If you have any concerns about your baby's nutrition, it is essential to talk with your pediatrician.

If you're struggling to find baby formula during the shortage, here are some tips that can help:

  • Check smaller stores and drug stores, which may not be out of supply when the bigger stores are.
  • If you can afford it, buy formula online until store shortages ease. Purchase from well-recognized distributors and pharmacies rather than individually sold or auction sites. Do not import formula from overseas since the imported formula is not FDA-reviewed.
  • For most babies, it is okay to switch to any available formula, including store brands, unless your baby is on a specific extensively hydrolyzed or amino acid-based formula such as Elecare. Ask your pediatrician about recommended specialty formula alternatives available for your baby.
  • Check social media groups. There are groups dedicated to infant feeding and formula, and members may have ideas for where to find the formula. Make sure to check any advice with your pediatrician.
  • To help ease the impact of shortages, the AAP advises buying no more than a 10-day to a 2-week supply of formula.

Is it OK to put more water in baby formula?

No. While it may be tempting to water down a formula to stretch it out, it is not safe. Always follow label instructions or those given to you by your pediatrician. Watering down the formula is dangerous. It can cause nutritional imbalances in your baby and serious health problems. Always mix formula as directed by the manufacturer.

Can I make my baby formula?

The AAP strongly advises against homemade formulas. Although recipes for homemade formulas circulating on the internet may seem healthy or less expensive, they are not safe and do not meet your baby's nutritional needs. Infant deaths have been reported from the use of some homemade formulas.

Is cow's milk a safe alternative to baby formula?

Cow’s milk may be an option if your child is older than six months and is usually on regular formula (not a specialty product for allergies or other special health needs). In a pinch, you could feed them whole cow's milk for a brief amount of time until the shortage is better. This should only be done for a short time, and talk to your doctor if you have to switch to cow’s milk. Try to limit to no more than 24 ounces of cow’s milk a day. If you have to use cow’s milk before one year old, encourage iron-rich foods such as beans (mashed), ground beef and soft shredded chicken, iron-fortified baby cereals, and scrambled eggs. Goat's milk formula can be safe for children under 1-year-old if you cannot find traditional formulas, but talk to your pediatrician before starting it. Bring the formula or a picture of its label to show your child's doctor. Also, avoid plain goat's milk and unpasteurized cows' milk as these are also unsafe.

The most important concern with giving cow’s milk to an infant over six months is making sure they get enough iron to prevent anemia. Be sure to include plenty of iron-containing solid foods in their diet while using whole cow's milk. You may also talk with your pediatrician about giving your baby an iron supplement.

Can I use plant-based milk instead of baby formula if needed?

Milk alternatives are not recommended for babies under a year or infants with certain medical conditions requiring specialized formulas. Be especially careful to avoid almond milk or other plant-based milk as these are often low in protein and minerals.

What is the shelf life of baby formula?

Check the "use by" date on infant formula, which FDA regulations require to be on each container. Until that declared date, the formula will contain no less than the amount of each nutrient on the product label and will otherwise be of acceptable quality.

Please remember: don't hesitate to talk with your pediatrician if you have any concerns about your baby's health and nutrition. Also, if your child has special health needs, check with their doctor about medically appropriate and safe feeding alternatives.