Navigating the baby formula shortage crisis
Babies need appropriate nutrition in their first year of life. They grow and develop very quickly during this time and need the right balance of nutrients to meet all their needs. Breast milk contains the nutrients they need. Infant formulas mimic breast milk and also meet babies’ needs.
Why is there a baby formula shortage?
There are a few reasons for the current baby formula shortage. Supply chain issues make it difficult for manufacturers to get the ingredients, packaging, and help they need to make the formula. Shipping challenges make it hard for manufacturers to get their formula onto store shelves. A formula recall earlier this year is also part of the reason for the shortage. It’s not clear how long this shortage will last, but efforts are being made to address it.
If you can’t find infant formula
- Check with your child’s pediatrician. They can help answer any questions you may have about alternative infant formulas and your baby’s nutritional needs. They may also have some samples that they can share with you.
- Check with local agencies. These may include your local WIC office, area food banks, and SNAP program. You can also call the United Way’s 211 helpline for ideas on other places to check for supplies of infant formula.
- Check small stores and pharmacies. These locations may have a supply of infant formula when the big stores do not.
- Be careful when shopping online. Purchase from well-recognized sites. Avoid buying formula through individual sellers or online auctions (such as buying from an unknown seller on eBay). These outlets may sell expired or lower-quality products. Do not buy infant formula online from overseas. The FDA has imported safe infant formula from overseas. Imported infant formula that is not FDA-approved may not meet U.S. nutritional and safety standards.
- Consider available formulas. It’s OK to switch most babies to another available infant formula, but talk with your pediatrician if you are unsure. You may notice a few things if you switch brands. Your baby may get an upset stomach, act a little fussy, or have a change in their bowel movements as they adjust to the change. Do not switch infant formulas if your baby is on a hypoallergenic infant formula (Alimentum/Nutramigen/Elecare). No store-brand options are available for these specialty formulas.
- Create a trusted group of local parents. Members of the group can share formula and information about places that have a supply of formula.
- DO NOT make your own formula. Recipes for homemade infant formulas may seem like an option during this shortage, but they are not safe and do not meet your baby’s nutritional needs. Homemade infant formulas can pose serious health and safety concerns.1
- DO NOT add extra water to “stretch” your supply. Watering down infant formula can lead to serious health problems. Always mix infant formula as directed by the manufacturer.
- DO NOT switch to cow’s milk.2 Cow’s milk is difficult for babies under 1 year old to digest, as it has too many proteins and minerals for your baby’s kidneys to handle. It also does not have the right amount of nutrients your baby needs. Cow’s milk can stress your baby’s body and lead to health problems.
- DO NOT use milk alternatives. Plant-based milks are low in protein and minerals. These and other milk alternatives are not recommended for children under 1 year old.
- DO NOT use recalled or expired formula. Health agencies agree that parents and caregivers should not buy or use infant formula after its use-by date. Make sure to also check that there are no dents, puffy ends, or rust spots on the can.
- DO NOT use toddler formulas. These formulas do not meet the nutritional needs of children under 1 year old.
.The only time to consider giving toddler formula to a child under 1 year old is if it is close their first birthday and there are no other options that are available. Even then, you should discuss this option with your pediatrician beforehand and plan to only give toddler formula to that child for a few days.
- DO NOT stockpile. If you find a large supply of infant formula, limit the amount you buy so that others in need can buy it for their babies.
UPMC Health Plan resources for your family
UPMC Health Plan has resources to support your family’s health. Our maternity health coaches can provide support, education, and resources to help increase your chances of having a healthy pregnancy, a healthy baby, and a healthy postpartum recovery. We also offer pediatric preventive services to help your children grow up healthy.
1 U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Infant formula: Safety do’s and don’ts. May 31, 2022. Accessed June 2, 2022. fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/infant-formula-safety-dos-and-donts
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cow’s milk and milk alternatives. Reviewed May 20, 2022. Accessed June 2, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/foods-and-drinks/cows-milk-and-milk-alternatives.html#:~:text=At%2012%20months%20old%20(but,of%20nutrients%20your%20baby%20needs.