Woman scooping baby formula from container

Child Health | 6 months ago

Baby Formula Shortage: What You Need to Know to Help Keep You and Your Infant Safe

Atrium Health Levine Children’s experts are sharing what you need to know about the national formula shortage.

Editor’s note: The White House has announced it’s making moves to import infant formula (that meets U.S. health and safety standards) from overseas to get it on the shelves faster. This update is reflected in question 4 below.

The shortage of infant formula is stressful for parents and their little ones. Amy Cunningham, lactation consultant at Atrium Health Levine Children’s South Lake Pediatrics and Atrium Health North Charlotte OB/GYN in Huntersville, and Lyn Nuse, MD, senior medical director of pediatric primary care at Atrium Health Levine Children’s, share important information about what you need to know to keep your baby safe and nourished. 

Q1: What should parents do?  

A1 | Dr. Nuse: Talk with your pediatrician and ask if they are able to get you a can from the local formula representatives or one of the charities that has some. Your local WIC office may also be able to suggest places to look. 

Check smaller stores and drug stores, which may not be out of supply when the bigger stores are. 

While buying formula online can be more expensive, that is a potential resource for parents to consider until store shortages ease.

For most babies, it is OK to switch to any available formula, including store brands, unless your baby is on a specific extensively hydrolyzed or amino acid-based formula. Confirm with your pediatrician. 

Check social media groups. There are groups dedicated to infant feeding and formula, and members may have ideas for where to find formula.  

Q2: Can you feed your under 1-year-old infant cow's milk or other milk substitutes? 

A2 | Dr. Nuse: If your child is older than six months of age and usually consumes regular formula (not a specialty product for allergies or other special health needs), this may be an option. In a pinch, you could feed them whole cow's milk for a brief period of time until the shortage is better. This is not ideal and should not become routine. One reason is because cow’s milk doesn’t contain the recommended amount of iron. Before switching, discuss it with your pediatrician. 

Q3: Can I make homemade formula using ingredients from the store?

A3 | Dr. Nuse: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly advises against homemade formula. Although recipes for homemade formulas online may seem healthy or less expensive, they are not safe and do not meet your baby's nutritional needs. Infant deaths have been reported from use of some homemade formulas.

Q4: Are imported formulas from other countries safe to use? 

A4 | Cunningham:

The White House has announced it’s making moves to import infant formula (that meets U.S. health and safety standards) from overseas to get it on the shelves faster. However, we do not recommend parents directly order international formulas because its quality and safety cannot be guaranteed.

Q5: Can I dilute my baby’s formula with more water to make it last a little longer?

A5 | Dr. Nuse: We recommend you always mix formula as directed by the manufacturer. By adding more water than recommended, you are diluting the calories and nutrition that your child receives, which can cause nutritional imbalances and lead to serious health problems.

Q6: Can I go to a milk bank? 

A6 | Cunningham: There isn’t a milk bank in the Charlotte area. The one in the Raleigh/Cary area provides milk priority to local NICU babies, but it is available for purchase with a prescription from your doctor. It is self-pay, meaning it’s not covered by insurance. 

Q7: What if I can’t exclusively breastfeed my baby? 

A7 | Cunningham: Luckily, we have been able to help some patients with formula samples who have not been able to find formula. Most of us, as lactation consultants, have been trained in how to help moms optimize their milk supply. We have different ways we can help them increase that milk production, so they don’t have to use that bridge of formula during this time. If you are breastfeeding or doing a combination of breastfeeding and formula, reach out to your lactation consultant with questions and concerns. 

Q8: Will Atrium Health provide formula donations? 

A8 | Dr. Nuse: Hospitals across the country have seen effects of the current limited availability of baby formula. While we have a lower supply of samples on hand, we have been able to meet the needs of our Atrium Health Levine Children’s patients to date. We encourage anyone with questions or concerns to contact their pediatrician.