A shortage of baby formula in the U.S. is prompting parents to exchange, sell and provide surplus supplies to each other, and President Joe Biden plans to speak with manufacturers and retailers on Thursday about the struggles families face.
The problem is the result of supply chain disruptions and safety recalls, with a range of effects: Retailers restrict what customers can buy, doctors and health workers urge parents to contact food banks or doctors’ offices, in addition to warnings against watering down formulas to prolong supplies or Use online DIY (do it yourself) recipes.
The shortage is especially stressing low-income families after formula maker Abbott recalled it over contamination concerns. The recall wipes out many brands covered by the Women’s, Infants, and Children’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program (WIC), a federal program such as food stamps that serve mothers, infants, and children, although the program now allows branded alternatives .
Jennifer Kersey, 36, of Cheshire, Conn., said she had prepared the last can of formula for her seven-month-old son, Blake Kersey Jr, after someone posted a Facebook group The group saw her post and brought a few sample jars over.
“At first I started panicking,” she said. “But, I’m a believer in the Lord, so I said, ‘God, I know you’ll supply me, and I’m just starting to reach people, ‘Hey, do you have this formula?'”
She said she and others in the group were helping each other find stores that might have formula and deliver it to mums who need it.
“If someone said to me, ‘I have these three,’ I’d say ‘I’ll take the purple jar and put the rest on that site.’ I’m not hoarding stuff. I make sure everyone has them. “
Kimberly Anderson, 34, of Hartford County, Maryland, said her 7.5-month-old son was taking a prescription drug that was nearly impossible to find locally. She turned to social media, saying people in Utah and Boston had found the formula she paid to ship.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child,” she said. “When I look up friends/family for their zip codes, I hardly know that my village spans the entire US so I can check their local Walmart and have them ship directly to me.”
Erika Thompson, 28, a mother of three in Wallingford, Conn., said finding the hypoallergenic formula her 3.5-month-old daughter Everly must have has become almost a full-time job. Out-of-state friends have also been looking for her, she said, and if they found a can, they would ship it.
She only had a small sample jar left, which she said could last a few days.
“You can travel everywhere — countless towns, stores, Amazon, online,” she said. “Honestly, it’s heartbreaking. Certain stores definitely don’t, and now they limit you. So what do you do?”
She said it was frustrating to see comments online telling her she should breastfeed. She said she couldn’t produce enough milk, but she shouldn’t be explaining that to people.
“It’s not our fault,” she said. “Someone posted that people should basically have abortions. No, it’s not our fault to have kids. Stupid stuff like that makes me mad.”
In Washington, White House Assistant Press Secretary Kevin Muñoz tweeted that the administration would also announce “additional action” to address the formula shortage.
Shortages of basic goods have been a problem since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020. Supplies of medical supplies, computer chips, household appliances, cars and other goods have been damaged by factory closures, virus outbreaks, as well as storms and other climate-related events.
Safety recalls add to the challenges surrounding infant formula.
The UD Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on February 17 warned consumers to avoid some infant formula products made at the Sturgis, Michigan facility operated by Abbott Nutrition, which subsequently initiated a voluntary recall. Abbott failed to maintain sanitary conditions and procedures at the plant, according to findings released by federal safety inspectors in March.
Abbott said in a statement that the recall involves four complaints about environmental bacteria found in infants who ate the plant-based formula. Two babies got sick and two babies died. “After a thorough review of all available data, there is no evidence that our formula is associated with these infant diseases,” the company said.
“We can reopen the site within two weeks,” Abbott said, pending FDA approval. The company will first manufacture EleCare, Alimentum and Metabolism formulas, then Similac and others. Once production begins, it takes six to eight weeks for infant formula to hit shelves.
On Tuesday, the FDA said it was working with U.S. manufacturers to increase production and simplify paperwork to allow more imports. The agency pointed to pandemic-related supply chain issues as part of the problem, with consumers buying more infant formula in April than the month before the recall.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week that the FDA is “working around the clock to address any potential shortages.”