Baby formula shortages in the United States are prompting parents to trade, sell and offer leftover supplies to one another, while President Joe Biden plans to speak to manufacturers and retailers Thursday about the plight families are facing.
The problem is the result of supply chain disruptions and a safety recall, and it has had a cascade of effects: Retailers are limiting what customers can buy, and doctors and health workers are urging parents contacting food banks or doctor’s offices, as well as warning against diluting formula to stretch supplies or using online DIY recipes.
The shortage is hitting low-income families particularly hard after formula maker Abbott recalled the product due to contamination concerns. That recall eliminated many brands covered by the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), a federal program similar to food stamps that serves mothers, infants and children, although the program now allows brand name substitutes.
Jennifer Kersey, 36, of Cheshire, Connecticut, said she had run out of the last can of formula for her 7-month-old son, Blake Kersey Jr, before someone saw her post on a Facebook group and came with some sample cans.
“At first I was starting to panic,” he said. “But, I’m a believer in the Lord, so I said, ‘God, I know you’re going to provide for me, and I started reaching out to people, ‘Hey, do you have this formula?’”
She said she and others in the group are helping each other out, finding stores that may have the formula in stock and getting formula to mothers in need.
“If someone offers me and says, ‘I have these three,’ I say, ‘I’ll take the purple can and then put the other ones on that website.’ I’m not going to accumulate things. I make sure everyone has it.”
Kimberly Anderson, 34, of Hartford County, Maryland, said her 7 1/2-month-old son takes a prescription formula that has been nearly impossible to find locally. She took to social media and said that people in Utah and Boston found the formula, which she paid to have sent to her.
“They say it takes a town to raise a baby,” he said. “Little did I know that my town is spread all over the US as I ping friends/family for their zip codes so I can check their local Walmarts to send them directly to me.”
Erika Thompson, 28, a mother of three in Wallingford, Connecticut, said it has become almost a full-time job for her to find the hypoallergenic formula her 3 1/2-month-old daughter, Everly, should have. She said friends out of state have also been looking for her and sending cans if they find them.
He only has a small sample can left, which he said could last a couple more days.
“You can travel everywhere: countless cities, stores, Amazon, online,” he said. “Honestly, it’s heartbreaking. Certain stores have absolutely nothing and now they limit you. Then what do you do?”
She said it bothered her to read comments online telling her she should have breastfed instead. She said that she couldn’t produce an adequate supply of milk, but that she shouldn’t have to explain it to people.
“It’s not our fault,” he said. “Somebody posted that people should basically have an abortion. No. It is not our fault for having children. Stupid things like that irritate me.”
In Washington, White House deputy press secretary Kevin Munoz said on Twitter that the administration will also announce “additional actions” to address the formula shortage.
Shortages of basic goods have been a problem since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020. Access to medical supplies, computer chips, home appliances, cars and other goods has been affected by factory closures and outbreaks of the coronavirus. viruses, as well as by storms. and other weather-related events.
A safety recall compounded the challenges regarding infant formula.
The UD Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned consumers on February 17 to avoid some powdered infant formula products from a Sturgis, Michigan facility run by Abbott Nutrition, which later initiated a voluntary recall. According to findings released in March by federal safety inspectors, Abbott failed to maintain sanitary conditions and procedures at the plant.
Abbott said in a statement that the recall involved four complaints about an environmental bacteria found in babies who consumed formula from the plant. Two babies became ill, while two died. “After a thorough review of all available data, there is no evidence linking our formulas to these childhood illnesses,” the company said.
Abbott said that, pending FDA approval, “we could restart the site within two weeks.” The company would start by first producing EleCare, Alimentum, and metabolic formulas and then begin production of Similac and other formulas. Once production began, it would take six to eight weeks for baby formula to be available on shelves.
On Tuesday, the FDA said it was working with US manufacturers to increase production and streamline paperwork to allow more imports. The agency noted that supply chain issues associated with the pandemic were part of the problem, and that consumers bought more baby formula in April than in the month before the recall.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week that the FDA was “working around the clock to address any potential shortages.”