Do’s, don’ts and other tips for coping with infant formula shortage

Parents trying to find baby formula are sometimes having to work at it.

Supply chain issues, and a recall that began in February, are affecting availability, and an expert from Children’s National Hospital has advice for parents who are trying to cope.

“It’s a really challenging time for consumers and parents who are trying to feed their children,” said Dr. Danielle Dooley, the medical director of community affairs for the Child Health Advocacy Institute at Children’s National Hospital. “And we have received a number of questions about how to extend the infant’s supply of formula — everything from whether families should dilute the formula to whether they should make their own formula at home.”

Dr. Danielle Dooley (Courtesy Children’s National Hospital)

“It is never recommended that you dilute an infant formula and that’s for several reasons,” she said.

Babies need the full concentration and nutritional content of formulas in order to grow and develop properly, Dooley said. Watering down formula can alter the electrolyte imbalance in the formula and potentially cause serious problems in an infant, such as seizures.

“The other thing we don’t recommend is switching your infant to a toddler formula, or to whole milk,” she said.

What about homemade formulas? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises parents and caregivers not to make or feed homemade formula to infants. “Homemade infant formula recipes have not been evaluated by the FDA and may lack nutrients vital to an infant’s growth,” the FDA’s website states.

Dooley recommends against resorting to European brands that are not held to the same regulatory standards required by the FDA, and she advises against looking for formulas on unverified websites for the same reason.

“You should really stick with the large web retailers like Amazon, Target, CVS and others,” she said. “We recommend sticking with U.S.-produced and U.S.-based formulas.”

Also, unless an infant is on a highly specialized formula, it’s OK to try a new brand.

“Don’t hesitate to try the generic store brand or another brand that may be available,” Dooley said.

Some search strategies Dooley is hearing about from families include:

  • If shelves are empty, ask customer service or the pharmacy whether some supplies are in storage or behind the counter.
  • Ask store managers about when new supplies are expected to come in.
  • Actively engage with neighborhood listservs that might send notifications about finding supplies.

“The other strategy that people are trying to do is only buy what they need for a couple of weeks’ supply,” Dooley said. “People are really trying to be cognizant of the shortage and only buy what they need for a couple of weeks at a time so that there will be formula available to other families who will also need it during that time.”

Another thing worth considering: Check supplies at home you may have quit using because of the recall, but haven’t gotten around to throwing away yet.

“If you go to the manufacturer website and the FDA website, you can see the specific Instructions on how to identify whether formula you may already have in your house is part of the recall,” she said. “And that’s really important to do, because you may actually have some cans that are usable at home.”

Finally, if you’re struggling to find or pay for formula, Dooley emphasizes that you contact your pediatrician’s office or the local WIC office.

“So that we can help you safely navigate that issue for you and your family,” Dooley said.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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