Baby Formula Shortages


Finding the perfect baby formula for your little one can be challenging even under the best of circumstances. But the recent Abbot formula recall coupled with pre-existing pandemic baby formula shortages has made things even more difficult than usual.

In case you’re not familiar with the recall, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently pulled certain powdered baby formulas — including lots of Similac, Alimentum, EleCare and Similac PM 60/40 products — made in a Michigan facility by Abbott Nutrition. The agency issued the recall due to a possible contamination with Cronobacter, a bacterium that can cause severe foodborne illness. So far, the FDA has received four reports of infants who were hospitalized after using the recalled products. Two of them later died. 

Stores have removed the affected products from their shelves, but even parents who don’t use the recalled formulas are struggling to find their go-to brands in stock right now. Here’s what you need to know, plus what pediatricians recommend you do to find the nutrition your baby needs. 

My baby’s formula wasn’t recalled, but I’m having trouble finding it anyway. Why?

You’re not imagining things: The global pandemic has created supply chain issues across a slew of different industries, including baby formula. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has since urged parents to buy no more than 10-day to two-week supplies of formula “to help ease the impact of shortages.”

“Getting formula at this time has been a little tough with both COVID and the recall from the Abbott products,” says Emily Wisniewski, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician with Mercy Family Care Physicians in Baltimore, Maryland.

Finding the right formula was tricky to begin with under pandemic conditions. Now, the Abbott recall has sent parents who would have purchased the recalled products to other brands already facing production strains. As a result, there are shortages across the board. 

Don’t panic, though: There is formula out there, you may simply need to look a little harder than you typically would. “When I go to the stores, I’ve seen that 90 percent of the formulas are still available,” says Daniel Ganjian, M.D., a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. 

Tips for coping with the formula shortage

It’s hard to consider using something new when you’ve already found a formula that works for you and your baby, but a little leeway is important in the face of a shortage. “At this time, we would just recommend families being a little bit flexible,” Dr. Wisniewski says. 

Pediatricians specifically recommend doing the following to help you find formula that works for your family:

Try a similar version from a different brand

Dr. Wisniewski says this is one of her top choices when it comes to looking for a new formula.

“If you can find a similar product in a different brand, this would be my starting point when you have to switch formulas,” she says. “Your baby is getting something that is probably very similar to what they were already on.”

Switch to the liquid or ready-made version of your usual formula

Many powdered formulas also have a liquid or ready-made version — they’re just pricier than the DIY kind, says Katie Lockwood, M.D., a primary care pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Since they’re more expensive, and therefore not as popular, it’s less likely that they’ll be out of stock. Plus, you’ll save yourself time since the formula is pre-mixed. But if it’s too much of a stretch budget-wise, you’ve still got other options.

Try a similar version from the same brand

You may be able to find formula from the same company you’ve relied on, just in a slightly different version. “Often, formula companies have different versions of the same formula, such as a version for reflux or one that approximates breast milk,” Dr. Lockwood says. “The main components of these formulas are similar, and so making this switch isn’t a big deal for an infant.” 

Try the generic version of the kind you normally use

“Generic versions, oftentimes, are very similar,” Dr. Ganjian says. 

Dr. Wisniewski agrees: “Most formulas are very, very similar with just slight changes that most babies don’t even notice.” Labels on generic products will often state which brands they’re similar to in order to help guide you.

If your baby is accustomed to a hypoallergenic formula, though, you’ll just want to swap it for another hypoallergenic one — especially if your child has reactions to regular formula, Dr. Ganjian says. 

Stick with the same brand, but just make sure it’s not recalled

If your baby’s formula is manufactured by Abbott Nutrition but isn’t included in the recall, it’s fine to use.

“Don’t want you to waste or throw away products that are good, especially given how expensive formula is and how hard it is to find,” Dr. Wisniewski says. Still, she stresses that it is “super important” to check every can to see if it’s part of the recall.

Call around

Just because one store in your area is out of your go-to formula doesn’t mean that they all are.

“You can oftentimes try and call other stores if you have to,” Dr. Ganjian says.

Talk to your pediatrician

If you’re still stuck, place a call to the doctor’s office. ”We sometimes have formula samples we can give out, or we may know local stores that have formula in stock,” Dr. Lockwood says.

Should I try European formulas or others I find online from overseas?

If you can’t find your regular formula here, it’s tempting to look toward European baby formula as a solution. But doctors warn against this.

“Formulas overseas are held to different standards and are not FDA-approved,” Dr. Lockwood points out. “Ratios of certain micronutrients can also be different. We do not recommend formulas from overseas.”

“I don’t recommend formulas from other countries,” Dr. Ganjian agrees. “They don’t have the same oversight.” 

If you really want to try something that’s similar to European formulas, though, you can look into Bobbie and ByHeart. These European-style brands are both manufactured in the U.S. and meet FDA standards. 

Overall, doctors recommend consulting with your pediatrician if you’re having trouble finding formula for your baby or can’t figure out a good substitute. “If you need to make a formula change, we can help guide you,” Dr. Lockwood says.

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