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Is There a Baby Formula Shortage?

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With the current supply chain issues and labor shortages, some parents have discovered that baby formula is nowhere to be found at their local store. That's definitely a scary-sounding development, but there's no reason to panic (or stockpile). Here's what what to know about the formula shortage, and what to do if you can't find your brand.

Is There a Formula Shortage?

Across the country, parents have been reporting formula shortages in their local store, whether it's for Gerber, Enfamil, Similac, or other brands. The reason isn't exactly easy to pinpoint. According to The Wall Street Journal, chains like Walmart and CVS blame supply issues; manufacturers are currently running low on ingredients and packing materials, as well as labor.

On the other hand, formula makers say they have enough supplies, but retail stores aren't stocking the products fast enough (which could also be due to staffing issues). The Wall Street Journal points out that stores might also have trouble determining how much formula to stock, due to the large amount of relocations that took place during the pandemic. The severity of the shortages varies largely based on location.

Adding to the problem, formula shortages have led parents to stockpile, which creates even less inventory in stores and online. It's hard to blame parents for this behavior though; many babies rely solely on formula during their first several months of life. Also, some babies need specific types of formula to cope with allergies, sensitivities, or digestive issues—so swapping brands isn't always easy. It's natural for parents to panic when they can't find their baby's food on the shelves.

How to Handle a Formula Shortage

If you're facing a formula shortage in your area, stay calm. It's possible that there's been a run on formula at your local store, but that doesn't mean you won't find your go-to product anywhere. Remember that drug stores and baby supply stores also carry formula. Check the manufacturer's website for the store locator and call first to check stock before you visit.

You can also order infant formula directly from the manufacturer or retailers like Amazon for home delivery. Online subscriptions could be another option. Or, if you're really struggling to find formula, you might consider switching brands (more tips on that below).

Once you find formula, don't hoard. Buy a reasonable amount, being respectful of others who are in the same boat.

Half Empty Shelves of Baby Formula with Purchase Limit Signs

What to Do If You Need to Switch Formulas

If you can't find your usual brand, that's OK. Follow this advice:

Call your pediatrician. The pediatrician may have suggestions for which formulas are similar to your usual brand or what to look for on the label.

Feel confident about the switch. Remember that all infant formula on store shelves—whether store brand, name-brand, organic, or conventional—is safe for babies, meets strict FDA regulations, and contains the exact formulation of nutrients that babies need to grow, says Bridget Young, Ph.D., a certified lactation counselor and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester.

Transition gradually if possible. If you have some of your usual formula left, combine it with the new formula over the course of four days, gradually adjusting the ratios (start with more of your usual formula and less of the new formula at first, tapering off the usual formula until the day four bottles are all new formula), advises Dr. Young. Prep the formulas separately before combining and be sure to use the scoop that came with the formula, since scoop sizes may vary. But if you have to make the switch all at once, that's OK too. "It's completely safe to switch a baby cold-turkey," she says.

  • RELATED: Parents are Going to Extremes To Import European Formula, Here's Why
  • Give it time. Your baby may have symptoms, such as gas or loose stools, at first—more so if you have to switch abruptly. Dr. Young recommends waiting 10 days on a new formula before deciding it's not working (obviously any red flags such as blood in the stool or trouble breathing are signs to stop feeding with that formula immediately).

    Avoid hypoallergenic or amino-acid-based formulas unless your baby needs them. Babies who require these formulas cannot drink other kinds, so please save these formulas for those who truly need them, says Dr. Young.

    These Infant Formula Alternatives Aren\’t Safe

    The following are not safe substitutes for infant formula:

    What Else You Can Do

    Focus on food. You should continue feeding with formula until age one, but babies older than six months can start getting more nutrition from solid foods too. "This is a great time to prioritize high quality, nutrient-dense foods," says Dr. Young. Even new eaters can have pureed meat, pureed avocado, or baby cereal with a teaspoon of olive oil or butter stirred in. "When you provide more nutrients and calories from food, your baby will likely drink less formula."

    Reach out to your pediatrician or local hospital. If you're in a desperate situation, Dr. Brown says that pediatricians usually get samples of formula (so do some hospitals), so reach out. If you're eligible for WIC or SNAP benefits, both may have infant formula as well. Other places to check: Women's shelters, food banks, and faith-based organizations that provide food assistance.

    Consider breast milk. If you can't breastfeed, breast milk banks can provide safe, pasteurized breast milk (though it can be expensive). But "informal" breast milk sharing—such as between friends and neighbors or via donors found online—is not recommended for health and safety reasons.

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