By Alyssa Schnugg
While stores across the nation, and here in Oxford, scramble to try to keep baby formula on the shelves, Oxford pediatrician Tanya Fitts said there are safe steps parents can take to make sure their babies remain healthy.
The nation’s supply of baby formula took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic and following supply chain issues. However, in February, Abbott Nutrition, the nation’s largest manufacturer of infant formula, recalled products due to possible contamination of cronobacter and salmonella.
Formula doesn’t have a long shelf life and after a couple of months, the shortage hit hard, leaving shelves almost void of formula in many states across the country.
“I’ve heard from parents that most of the stores here in Oxford are doing a pretty good job of having some formula available,” Fitts said.
Fitts warned that parents should never attempt to make formula last longer by watering it down.
“We heard from Le Bonheur (Children’s Hospital) that they have had a few babies brought in who were suffering from malnutrition because their formula had been watered down,” she said.
She also warned against trying to make formula using recipes found on social media, many suggesting the use of milk used to feed baby animals.
“That can be very dangerous,” she said.
Fitts said while there is undoubtedly a shortage, there are other ways parents can get help other than resorting to drastic measures.
“Call your pediatrician right away if you’re really having a hard time finding formula,” she said. “Most pediatrician offices have some stock of samples we can provide in an emergency.”
Fitts said that while it’s important to try to keep an infant on the same type of formula that is suggested by their pediatrician, especially if a baby is on a specialized diet due to lactose issues or allergies, parents can safely use alternative brands.
If your baby was using Enfamil’s soy formula, it’s perfectly safe to use similar soy formula from Walmart, Kroger, Target and Amazon.
“The same company makes the formula for those stores,” she said. “They just put on different labels for each store. So if you use Walmart’s brand, it’s the same as Target’s.”
Special formula made for toddlers should not be used for infants.
“They do not have the same nutritional value as infant formula,” Fitts said.
Fitts reiterated that while using different brands is safe, parents should keep to the same style of formula – Gentle, Soy or regular.
Fitts also said parents should make sure to purchase formula from well-known, reputable companies, especially when purchasing online.
“Babies should be on formula until they’re 1 year old,” she said. “There may be some leeway for an 11-month-old; however, that should be discussed with their pediatrician before making any changes.”
Help is on its way.
On Thursday, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Robert M. Califf said baby formula stock should return to normal around the end of July.
On Sunday, the second shipment of formula from Germany arrived in the U.S. On Sunday. The two shipments have brought in 1.5 million 8-ounce bottles of formula. Once they are inspected by the FDA, they will be distributed.
In another step to address the acute shortages, the F.D.A. announced last week that it would relax some of its regulations to encourage new suppliers to provide formula. The United States normally produces about 98 percent of the formula it consumes, with imports coming primarily from Mexico, Ireland and the Netherlands.
Earlier this week, the Mississippi State Department of Health’s WIC program released a statement that it was working with its legal team and infant formula manufacturers to make sure WIC recipients have access to infant formula.
“The Mississippi WIC Program is currently implementing a plan to offer additional sizes for standard formulas and to expedite the process to change medical formulas on a participant’s prescribed benefits when the participant is unable to find their prescribed item. Once we have all aspects of the plan in place, more information will be made available to WIC participants and vendors,” said WIC in the statement.