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Why is there a shortage of baby formula?

Parents nationwide are starting to panic about the baby formula shortage.

baby drinking out of a bottle

Many thought the shortage would be temporary, but it has been months now.

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Why is there a formula shortage?

Some parents describe the shelves that normally hold baby powder bare and empty, much like the toilet paper shelves in 2020. There have been reports of parents driving two or more hours away just to find food for their baby. There has been some debate between manufacturers and distributors about the formula shortage. Read more about it here.

Chains that normally supply baby formula like Walmart and CVS blame supply issues. They’ve stated that manufacturers are low on ingredients, packing materials, and labor.

Formula makers are claiming that they have the supplies but that stores aren’t stocking the product fast enough. During most of 2021, the out-of-stock rate for baby formula was between 2%-8%. From November 2021 until April 2022, the out-of-stock rate jumped to 31%. It continued to rise 9% until the end of the month. Now, in May 2022, there is a 40% out-of-stock rate for baby formula.

Right now, it is unclear when the shortage will come to an end.

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What should I do in the meantime?

The best advice for how and what to feed your baby will come from their pediatrician. However, many baby formulas in the US are very similar. This means that babies can normally tolerate switching formulas pretty well.

One useful tip is looking on the manufacturer’s website and using their store locator to find formula. It is advised that once you locate a store you also call to ensure it is in stock before you make the trip.

If you do end up needing to switch formulas, it is easier on the baby if you gradually switch from one to the next. You can do this by combining the new formula with the old. Gradually, you’ll add less of the old and more of the new over four days until the transition is complete.  Although this method will probably be easier on your baby’s belly, making a “cold turkey” switch likely won’t harm them.

Once your baby reaches at least 6 months, you can being to supplement the formula with some soft foods.

Breastmilk is also a viable option, even if you can’t produce it yourself. Breastmilk banks offer safe breastmilk, but it tends to be pricey. Doctors don’t recommend casually sharing breastmilk, even between friends.

Some parents have even started looking into making homemade baby formula. It may sound like s decent alternative, but the FDA does not recommend it.

There are too many risks associated with making it yourself, the largest concern is that it could leave to nutritional imbalances and harm your baby. You should always consult your pediatrician first, but if you are in a pinch, consider:

  • Toddler formula (it’s made for toddlers, and infants may not be able to digest it in the same way that older babies can)
  • Cow’s milk (Babies may also have problems digesting cow’s milk, and it also doesn’t contain the proper levels of iron which are much needed for growing infants)
  • Watering down baby formula (poses yet another potential nutritional risk to the infant)

Again, if you have any concerns, your pediatrician will be the best person to advise you.

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