Please Do Not Make Homemade Formula—Here’s What to Do Instead During the Baby Formula Shortage
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You’ve heard mumblings of supply chain shortages for a while now, but more recently, those issues, plus mass recalls, have led to a critical baby formula shortage among nearly all brands including Similac, Gerber, Enfamil and more nationwide. This is a big deal. About 75 percent of babies in the U.S. are given formula within their first six months. So what are parents and caretakers in this precarious situation supposed to do? “First—breathe,” pediatrician Dr. Allie Effron of Greater Cleveland Pediatrics wants anyone reeling with the shortage to hear. Still, any parent or caretaker who’s dealt with the stress and anxiety that comes with feeding in that first year knows this is easier said than done. So, hopefully getting some straightforward answers from pediatricians on what to do (and not do) during this formula crisis will be a little help. 

Do: Look for the generic or equivalent version of your go-to brand

All infant formulas in the U.S. are highly regulated to meet basic nutritional requirements, says Dr. Effron. This means that although you may have a go-to brand, it is likely that you will be able to use a very similar substitute. “Some families have found their favorite brand in an alternative formulation, such as ready-to-feed or liquid concentrate.” Similarly, she tells us, you may find a generic equivalent to your favorite formula—even specialized formulas, such as “gentle” or “hypoallergenic,” are packaged by multiple brands and generics that may be identical, or nearly-identical, to the original! (For example, Sam’s Club’s Member’s Mark is also sold as Parent’s Choice Premium Infant, Up & Up Infant, and Mama Bear Infant and more.)

Don’t: Make homemade formula

Unfortunately, this is not a project you should DIY. Dr. Effron doesn’t want to sound too alarmist, but after seeing babies admitted to the hospital for seizures and anemia, she warns that as tempting as it may be for families to to create “homemade formulas” as an alternative nutrition source, the results can actually cause more harm: “Unfortunately, this comes with significant risks as infants have unique nutritional needs and still-developing kidneys. An improper formula recipe risks not only nutritional deficiencies, but also electrolyte imbalances that can lead to seizures, coma, and even death.”

Do: Try mom n’ pop shops

You might have luck checking smaller, independent grocery stores and pharmacies, says Dr. Effron. “These stores often still have stock when the masses rush the larger stores.”

Don’t: Hoard formula

Found a stash of Enfamil at that indie pharmacy? Squash that scarcity model instinct to buy it all because this only stresses the system more. Get what you need, and then let your network know what’s available.

Do: Reach out to parent groups and social media

“Tap those Facebook mom groups!” says Dr. Effron. Crowdsourcing what formula is available and where can save you precious time and energy during this already stressful time. So if you poo-pooed that local Moms of [Where You Live] before because you couldn’t take Ashley P. going off on how Ashley W. let her kids pee in the bushes, now’s the time to plug yourself back into the network. Who knows? Ashley P. might just have a stash she’s trying to unload.

Don’t: Stretch or dilute your formula

Adding more water or other liquids to “stretch” the formula may seem like a wise idea when you’re trying to ration (hell, people probably even do this when supply is plenty since prices are so damn steep), but “‘stretching formula,’ or altering the recommended powder to water ratio, can lead to the same severe complications and must be avoided,” says Dr. Effron.

Do: Transition types of formula if need be

“The good news is that most babies can transition safely from one formula to another,” Dr. Victoria Regan, pediatrician and VP of the Women's and Children's Services at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston explains. She says that while some babies may be pickier and not drink as much, it’s likely that within a week their appetite will usually be back to normal. This does not apply if your baby requires a special prescribed formula. (In that case, be in contact with your pediatrician.)

Don’t: Substitute with non-human milk

Another temping “alternative,” but do not reach for the almond milk. Says Dr. Regan: “It is very important not to try and substitute non-human milk (cows, nut, oat, goat, etc.) in place of infant formula as it lacks important nutrients for an infant’s physical and neurological development.

Do: Be in contact with your pediatrician, et al.

Psst: Per Dr. Effron: “Don’t forget to reach out to your pediatrician, midwife, doula or OB office, as many may still have sample cans of formula available.” These are also the resources to return to if you’re confused about transitioning from one type of formula to another, or if you find yourself in the worst-case scenario. In this case, your child’s pediatrician might make a personal recommendation based on their age, health and other factors. “This may include options such as transitioning to cow’s milk for an older infant or sourcing donor human milk for younger infants.”  

Don’t: Buy from third-party vendors

Again, Dr. Effron says parents should also exercise caution seeking formula from third-party vendors online. “In addition to inflated prices, there have also been reports of non-formula fillers, such as flour, being sold in place of the real thing!” Please also speak to your doctor before using a toddler formula, as these rarely provide appropriate nutrition for infants. 

Long story short The advice Dr. Effron keep returning to is as follow: Reach out to your community! Loop in your medical team with any concerns, and connect with other parents to share information and tips on local resources.

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