Families are resorting to desperate measures to feed their children amidst a crippling nationwide infant formula shortage.
With shelves often empty, many are making frequent trips to grocery stores and keeping a vigilant eye on Amazon for available cans — sometimes priced three times higher than usual. Others have resorted to frantic pleas on social media.
Relief seems near. President Joe Biden announced steps Monday to increase formula imports from overseas and reopen the Abbott Laboratories formula manufacturing plant in Michigan that temporarily shuttered in February, sparking the crisis. Nestle, the owner of Gerber baby food, also said Tuesday that it is rushing air shipments of cans from the Netherlands and Switzerland.
But babies need to eat sooner than that. If you’re looking for formula right now, here are a few tips.
Start online, specifically on Facebook. Arianne Dellovo created the “The Formula Fairies of Greater Boston Area & Southern NH” Facebook group last Thursday. It’s managed by a cadre of moms — Dellovo, Elizabeth Splain, Kate Joslin, Shana Keane, and Susie Vanseth — who help connect families with supply.
Parents post what kind of formula they need and their general location, or they alert group members of which grocery stores currently have formula in stock. When a parent voices their need in the group, Dellovo and her crew add their name to a running list. Throughout the day, they tag these parents in relevant posts. It takes the load off busy, working families, Dellovo said, who may not have time to constantly scour Facebook for food.
“We want to be the eyes for them,” she added. “It’s a grass-roots triage, if you will, powered by the goodwill of moms and non-moms.”
On Facebook, there’s also the national group Baby Formula for Sale and, in Connecticut, Find My Formula CT. (Of course, tread lightly because users have reported some sellers that turn out to be scams or gouge formula prices.)
Swampscott mom Keiko Zoll created Freeformulaexchange.com for families looking outside of social media. On the website, families can either request or donate specific formulas. It requires users to quickly create a free account with their contact information, language preferences, and brand requirements. (They also must specify whether they will be giving away an open formula can, or whether they’d be OK with receiving one.) Then parents can browse a master database that lists all the people who have signed up on the site.
Since launching late Friday, Free Formula Exchange has received 3,000 requests for formula and 300 donations, according to Zoll. Success stories likely number in the dozens, though Zoll has not kept count.
“I want to help parents operating in crisis mode,” she said.
No luck there? Try your pediatrician or local hospital. They may have samples of formula available for families facing a critical shortage. Or perhaps, a milk bank. The Mothers’ Milk Bank in Newton, which collects excess breast milk donations, has seen a spike in interest since formula first ran low.
Normally, most of the bank’s stock is purchased by hospitals — after multiple screenings and pasteurization — for to babies in neonatal intensive units. But when supply allows, “(we’ve) been able to support parents with small amounts of donor milk who are coming forward and we want to be helpful and supportive in that way,” executive director Deborah Youngblood told WDHD. It’s not cheap though. An eight ounce bottle costs more than $14.
If you’re struggling to find your go-to formula, consider a similar substitute, Boston Children’s Hospital pediatrician Christopher Duggan suggested in an e-mail. The North American Society For Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition published a list earlier this month with substitutions for formulas that have been recalled. Infants who take Similac Alimentum powder should try Gerber Extensive HA, Pregestimil, or store-brand formulas from Walmart, Target, or Kroger.
Health care providers encourage parents to consult pediatricians before making the switch.
No matter how short families be on formula, Dr. Navneet Hundal, a pediatric gastroenterology at Mass. General Brigham, do not dilute the mixture by adding more water, or attempt to make your own. Doing so can cause a spate of medical consequences, including possible neurological damage.