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Pediatrics weigh in on baby formula shortage

Delaware Public Media

A shortage of baby formula is creating a nationwide crisis.

Allergies, adoption, and metabolic conditions, are just a few of the reasons why some parents rely on formula to feed their infants as opposed to breastfeeding.

But supply chain issues from the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdown of Abbott Nutrition in February is leaving many store shelves dry, and Dr. Jim Franciosi, pediatric gastroenterologist at Nemours Hospital for Children, said is leaving mothers feeling shamed.

“There’s been some bullying, shaming about, ‘well why don’t you just breastfeed or use donor milk?’," Dr. Franciosi said. "And people can have different illnesses and conditions and that’s true for babies and for mothers and I think we need to be sensitive to that.”

He says babies who can’t tolerate breast milk can most often tolerate substitutes, but parents should be careful.

“Now there’s a resurgence of people making their homemade formula," Franciosi said. "And these homemade formulas, you have to be careful about what's in that and following that guidance. There actually have been babies now who have been admitted to the hospital with electrolyte problems, low calcium.”

President Joe Biden met with Walmart and Target last week to discuss how to stock shelves, and with manufacturers Reckitt and Gerber, who ramped up formula production by 50% in March and April.

Abbott released a statement on Friday that they will continue to pay rebates for competitive products through August 31.

For now, Dr. Aimee Molineaux, registered dietician and licensed nutritionist for Nemours, says there are other options.

“Check around your local area, even check in with WIC and see if they have a good lead on where some formulas are," Molineaux said. "Your local health department, some faith based organizations and food banks have availability of formulas that you may not know about.”

Dr. Molineaux emphasizes that parents should consult a doctor before turning to any kind of home recipes or milk alternatives, and formula should never be diluted with water, as that can cause electrolyte, calcium, and other nutritional deficiencies.

The shortage could last until August before production ramps up again.