Doctors help parents navigate baby formula shortage

Baby formula on the shelves at The Baby's Place in Wausau, Wis.
Baby formula on the shelves at The Baby's Place in Wausau, Wis.(WSAW)
Published: May. 9, 2022 at 8:22 AM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Stores are still struggling nationwide to keep baby formula on the shelves. Manufacturers said they’re producing at full capacity and making as much formula as they can. But, it’s still not enough to meet the current demand.

A family nurse practitioner with Marshfield Clinic Health System, Leah Meidl said when the recall was first announced, many parents and families were calling to address many concerns and questions.

“We had lots and lots of parent phone calls, concerned parents, about is my formula recalled, what do I need to do? What are the next steps? So we have great staff and nurses and things like that, that were taking a lot of those calls and talking with parents and telling them next steps and going over lot numbers with them and that sort of thing, and just kind of helping them navigate this,” Meidl explained.

Now, she said the focus is still on helping families and parents navigate the shortage but focusing more on finding which baby formal parents can switch to. She said as long as babies are not on a prescribed formula, overall, formulas are the same. Those parents have the option to switch from name brand to generic or even store brand.

“Luckily, formula, as long as they’re on regular formula, not a specially prescribed formula, or a hydrolyzed formula, overall, they’re very similar,” she said. “There’s always going to be a few differences that might make the stool a different color, or might make them poop a little less frequently, or maybe there’ll be acting a little differently for just a couple of days, while their belly gets used to that new formula. But overall, they’re very similar. So as long as it’s not a specialty formula, they should be OK to switch to a different brand that would be similar.”

She has also had questions about switching back and forth to different types of formula, like if the baby is used to gentle or sensitive.

“The younger the baby, the more they might notice a difference with the baby. I definitely have had some families, I’ve had to navigate with real little ones trying to figure out what’s going to work and not make them fussy, and that type of thing. If the baby is older, it’s probably not going to make a huge difference to switch from a gentle or something like that, to just the regular type of formula,” Meidl explained. “After they’re on it a good week, two weeks, their tummy should get used to it and everything should be squared away.”

Doctors also emphasized not to scoop less formula when making a bottle to make the formula last longer.

“You definitely want to mix exactly as instructed on the label with that one scoop of formula to two ounces of water, if you add more water to try to make it go farther, you’re actually going to deny baby of very important vitamins and minerals, and fats, and especially the fat they need, they need all of those things to help their brain grow and help them grow,” she said.

She said 12 months of age is the best time to switch to cow’s milk.

“So until that time, the proteins in milk are harder to digest, and it can really kind of wreak havoc on their little digestive system. So unless they’re just about 12 months old, or turning 12 months tomorrow, definitely not a good idea to switch to cow’s milk instead of infant formula.”

Meidl also explained that another option could be the ‘ready to feed formulas’ because they are sterile products and not part of the recall.

“They do not have any bacteria in them. The powdered formula can potentially have bacteria because it’s not sterilized. But it really is not an issue to go from one to the other, if you’re able to get the liquid. And then the next time you’re not, and you switch between powdered and regular or powdered and liquid, that’s fine, too.”

She advised soon-to-be-parents no to stock up on baby formula, because the baby may not be able to tolerate the formula that’s bought, in addition to expiration dates.

“I think at this time, especially with the formula shortage, it’s best not to have a whole bunch on hand, especially if for some reason maybe your baby can’t tolerate that type of formula. And you have to switch to something different. So just having some but not too much on hand before the baby’s born, and making sure to keep a close eye on those expiration dates and things.”

She said to contact your baby’s doctor if you have any questions regarding switching to a new formula.

The Baby’s Place in Wausau which is located in The Neighbor’s Place has seen an increase in its inventory, however, the executive director for The Neighbor’s Place, Donna Ambrose, said they are making efforts to address the issue on a daily basis.

“We get our baby formula from the Feeding America food bank. And they’ve been having a difficult time getting baby formula because of the shortages. So we literally are checking their online inventory periodically throughout the day, every day, and grabbing what we can as we can,” Ambrose said. “It’s hit and miss because of supply and demand because the formula manufacturers have formula, but now they don’t have the cans to put the formula in. So it’s just an ongoing thing and like the brand Similac, the most popular brand, Gerber was the alternative method. Gerber can’t keep up with demand because now people are buying more Gerber so it is just going to be ongoing so we just try to address it daily.”

She said it’s been challenging keeping the brand most desired on their shelves, like Similac.

“The brands that are most desirable are the ones that we can’t get for obvious reasons because of supply and demand... But we do have charts that we’re sharing with our families so that they know what a comparable brand formula is. So if we don’t have what they’re looking for, we probably have a comparable brand,” Ambrose explained.

She explained that there are ways people can help those struggling to find what they are looking for.

“Normally, I would tell people, I wouldn’t encourage somebody for the food pantry, for example, buy a can of soup like one can. But this is different. So because of the shortages, because there are limited supplies with all the retailers, I would suggest to people, even if you don’t have a baby, if you want to help, if you’re at a store and you see a can on a shelf, pick it up, buy it, bring it here donate it, then we can share it with those families. Because that one can be that one can that somebody needs.”

She also said to offer those parents who are having to drive from store to store, to fill their tank with gas, or buy a gas gift card.

“Imagine a family, a mom, somebody who’s struggling to find that formula, you go to the store, there’s only one can now I’m driving across town to another store to hopefully get maybe two cans, the cost of gas is adding to that stress level and that strain for that family. So gas cards are another way,” Ambrose explained.

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