The Real Reason We're Experiencing a Horrifying Baby Formula Shortage

·8 min read
Photo credit: Christopher Pearce - Getty Images
Photo credit: Christopher Pearce - Getty Images


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  • Supply chain issues, labor shortages and the recent formula recall have exacerbated the current infant formula shortage in the United States.

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved infant formula from Bubs Australia, British formula company Kendamil and Nestle NAN SupremePro under the agency’s recent increased flexibilities, which is set to provide millions of cans of formula to the U.S. beginning in June.

  • It will take as early as July for shelves to be fully stocked with infant formula, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf.

  • Families who are having trouble finding formula can consult their pediatrician and visit hhs.gov/formula for more resources.

Parents are in panic as the ongoing infant formula shortage worsens. What started with challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened in recent weeks after the large infant formula recall, with 40% of baby formula supplies out of stock according to a report from Datasembly.

Experts in the Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab spoke with pediatricians, registered dietitians and public health officials about the consequences of the shortage and solutions for parents who are in urgent need of nutrition for their baby. Here is everything you need to know about the shortage, including when certain formulas will be back in stock and whether or not you should transition to a different formula that is currently available.

Why is there a baby formula shortage and how long will it last?

Supply chain issues, labor shortages and the recent formula recall are some of the reasons why there is a serious formula shortage currently in the U.S., says Tanya Altmann, M.D., F.A.A.P., Founder of Calabasas Pediatrics and best-selling author of What to Feed Your Baby.

While there isn't a definite answer on how long the baby formula shortage will last, White House representative Christen Linke Young, Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council for Health told Good Housekeeping that ensuring infant formula is available for families across the country is a top priority and that government officials are working across the administration to get that done. "We have been working around the clock to do everything in our power to put formula on shelves across the country and make sure that families can access it."

Young shares that President Biden spoke with a number of retailers and manufacturers in the industry about the work that has been going on in partnership with agencies across the government and announced a package of actions to accelerate getting more products on shelves. "We are invoking the Defense Production Act, which will expedite us getting supplies for infant formula manufacturers in the U.S." She also says that the FDA is offering a streamlined process for imported formula that come from foreign facilities with favorable inspection records, and that just yesterday the President announced the use of defense department contracted airplanes to address transportation barriers from manufacturing facilities abroad that have met Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety standards.

The FDA recently approved infant formula from Bubs Australia, British formula company Kendamil, and Nestle NAN SupremePro under the agency’s recent increased flexibilities. Specifically, Bubs Australia plans to provide at least 4.6 million 8-ounce bottle equivalents of formula, and Kendamil has committed to ship 3.7 million 8-ounce bottle equivalents of formula to the U.S. beginning in June.

"We are also working to crack down on 'bad actors' who are engaging in predatory pricing and price gouging," Young says, noting that the White House is working with the Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission to go after these bad actors and make sure that families are not being taken advantage of during this time. Young also adds that the White House is moving regulatory barriers that can get in the way of seamless distribution of formula across the country, and that manufacturers are really stepping up to produce supply.

What can parents do who are affected by the shortage?

"This is such a tough time for parents right now. I can't imagine adding this level of stress on an already stressful time," says Stephanie Middleberg, M.S., R.D., Founder of Middleberg Nutrition and best-selling author of The Big Book of Organic Baby Food and The Big Book of Organic Toddler Food.

Both Middleberg and Dr. Altmann recommend contacting your pediatrician's office to see if they have any extra formulas around or if they have any advice should you need to switch to another formula. Your local Women Infants and Children Program (WIC) office may also have suggestions on places to look. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends trying smaller stores and drug stores, which may not be out of supply when the larger stores are. Young says that other resources are available at hhs.gov/formula for parents who are having trouble finding formula.

"If you need to transition to a new formula, ideally try to find one made with a similar protein source like cow's milk protein or goat milk protein, and transition slowly," Middleberg recommends. "But if you can’t given the current shortages, then it’s completely okay. There may be some gassiness as you transition and then it will normalize." She says to keep a close eye on your child and let your pediatrician know immediately if things get worse or don’t improve. "If your baby is on a specialty formula and it’s not available, call your pediatrician about alternatives."

Dr. Altmann offers a few additional tips for parents going through this difficult time that can provide temporary solutions until infant formula is regularly back in stock:

  • DO NOT make homemade infant formula as it won’t meet a baby’s essential nutritional needs and can even be very dangerous.

  • DO NOT add extra water to stretch your formula supply as this can dilute the nutrition and lead to major health problems.

  • If your routine formula is not available, it is okay to switch brands. It can take a baby a few days to get used to the new formula, so be patient. If your baby is on a special formula because of allergies, sensitivities, or issues with a previous formula, always talk to your pediatrician before switching.

Is it safe to make homemade infant formula?

As search for homemade baby formula recipes spike online, experts warn that this trend can pose serious health risks to infants. "Homemade infant formula won’t meet your baby’s essential nutritional needs and can even be very dangerous to their growth and development," Middleberg says. "Babies’ nutritional needs are very specific in the first year of life and homemade infant formulas run the risk of containing too little or too much of certain vitamins and minerals including iron, calcium and protein."

Can I give my infant toddler formula?

The AAP says that although toddler formulas are not generally recommended for infants, if you absolutely have no other choice then toddler formula is safe for a few days for babies who are close to a year of age. "If your baby is almost one and eating a variety of solid foods, ask your pediatrician about using a toddler formula," Dr. Altmann advises. She recommends a Clean Label Purity Award-certified brand which has been independently tested for more than 400 contaminants and toxins. "You will also want a formula that has been fortified with vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc, calcium and Vitamin D and contains no added artificial sweeteners, growth hormones or GMOs, like Aussie Bubs, which is manufactured in Australia and available in the U.S."

Photo credit: SOPA Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: SOPA Images - Getty Images

Can I give my baby cow's milk or plant-based milk?

"There is no adequate alternative or substitute for the nutritional value that breast milk or formula provides to infants," Middleberg notes. She says that both breast milk and formula contain the optimum levels of electrolytes, protein, vitamins and minerals that babies need. "The protein levels in cow’s milk is too high and creates an excess load and burden on the young kidneys of an infant which could readily cause significant impairment and damage."

But for parents who are in a pinch, the AAP recently updated their guidelines to say that if your child is older than 6 months of age and not on a specialty formula, you can feed them whole cow's milk for a brief period of time until the shortage is better. They stress that this is not ideal and should not become routine, but that it is a better short-term solution than diluting formula or making homemade formula.

When it comes to milk alternatives, the AAP says that soy milk may be an option for babies close to a year of age for a few days in an emergency situation, but recommends looking for kinds that are fortified with protein and calcium. In general, it's important to avoid almond milk or other plant milks that are often very low in protein and essential minerals.

How long does baby formula last?

Never use formula after the “Use By” date on the container, which is required by FDA regulations to be there. The FDA sets strict regulations on this date for formula, and the date is determined by the manufacturer, packer or distributor of the product based on product analysis through its shelf life, tests, handling, storage, preparation and more.

Should I purchase infant formula from abroad?

Since infant formula is one of the most highly regulated foods in the U.S., the FDA has strict standards for monitoring and inspecting formula manufacturers. Both Bubs Australia and Kendamil have now received FDA approval and will be sending large shipments to the U.S. starting in June, as well as recent approval given to Nestle NAN SupremePro.

According to the AAP, there are concerns with buying other imported formulas online for a variety of reasons including lack of FDA regulation, shipping and storage concerns, labeling differences, and formula recall notice delays.

In a very urgent situation, Dr. Altmann says you can consider buying formula abroad from a reputable retailer such as Chemist Warehouse in Australia. "You'll also want to ensure that it meets the nutrient requirements of the U.S. Infant Formula Act for an iron-fortified infant formula, and check to see the formula is compliant with their own government regulations," Dr. Altmann advises.

*This article was updated on June 2, 2022 to incorporate breaking news on additional steps taken by the President and the White House to address the current formula shortage, as well as updated guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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