What You Need to Know About the Baby Formula Shortage

The U.S. government is working with manufacturers to make up for the shortfall.

With supply chain issues wreaking havoc at the grocery store, we’re seeing food shortages around the United States. Though lower availability of eggs, chicken and even pet food have been difficult for shoppers, those issues cannot compare to the baby formula shortage.

According to Datasembly, 40% of the country’s popular brands of baby formula were out of stock the last week of April. This means parents around the nation have to go from store to store to find formula—and turn to parent groups on Facebook for info.

Why Is There a Baby Formula Shortage?

Like other manufacturers, baby formula suppliers were affected by supply chain issues and delays as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Out-of-stock rates began to rise sharply last July and reached 31% by April 2022. The rate currently stands at around 40%, and new parents are struggling to make up the shortfall. Retailers like CVS, Target and Walmart have started imposing limits on purchases of baby formula, allowing customers to buy no more than three or four products per transaction. Prices of formula have also spiked nationwide.

A baby formula recall earlier this year by Abbott Nutrition also contributed to the baby formula shortage. Abbott produces several well-known brands of formula including Similac and Alimentum.

What’s Being Done About It?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been working with baby formula manufacturers to optimize production. The agency is also collecting data about in-stock rates at regional levels to figure out where people need formula most.

On May 18, President Joseph R. Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to speed up the production of baby formula in the U.S. The President also approved Operation Fly Formula, which directs the U.S. Department of Defense to use their aircraft to bring baby formula from other countries to the U.S. On the same day, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill approving $28 million in emergency funding to the FDA to ensure that these new supplies of formula are safe.

In the meantime, if you can figure out how much formula your baby needs, it may help you calculate when you’ll need to shop for formula next.

What If I Don’t Have Enough Formula Right Now?

If you’re one of the many Americans who can’t find formula to feed your baby, you’re likely feeling unsure where to turn. As parents of littles ourselves, Taste of Home staffers can relate.

To help offer options and provide relief, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend taking the following steps:

  • Call your healthcare provider: Your pediatrician’s office may keep formula samples in the clinic that you could pick up. If they have run out of their sample supply, the clinic staff may have recommendations for where to shop locally. And if you are concerned about affording formula right now, ask your pediatrician about resources such as the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program.

  • Request special formulas: If your child needs a metabolic formula for health reasons, talk with your pediatrician. Abbott has a small supply of Similac PM 60/40 metabolic formula that can be requested by pediatricians and shipped to your home.

  • Call manufacturer hotlines: If you cannot find formula, call the manufacturer for recommendations. Abbot’s consumer hotline is 1-800-986-8540, or consult Gerber’s MyGerber Baby Expert to talk with a nutrition expert.

  • Shop around: If it is financially possible for your family, shop for baby formula online or from smaller grocery and drugstores. When shopping online, stick with online grocers and pharmacies, as opposed to online auction sites.

  • Check social media: If you’re a member of any parent groups on social media, check those feeds for updates and recommendations for stores that are currently stocking formula. If you’re looking for breast milk donations, consult the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

  • Do not make your own: The home-brewed formula recipes floating around the Internet are not safe. It is very difficult to make sure the nutrient concentrations are correct and that no contamination has occurred in the process.

  • Do not water it down: Watering down formula in order to stretch out your supply is dangerous and can lead to serious health problems in babies.

  • Do not hoard it: Once you find baby formula, it’s natural to want to buy as much as possible. If you can, limit your shopping to a 10-day to 2-week supply. This will help to ease the shortage.

  • Substitute brands if you can: Most babies are able to switch formula brands without issues. If your child is on a special amino acid-based formula or extensively hydrolyzed formula, ask your pediatrician if there are any safe substitutions.

Short-Term Formula Substitutions

Babies under one year old require baby formula or breast milk to grow and develop. However, in emergency situations, it may be safe to use other types of milk in older babies for a very limited time.

If your baby is older than six months and is drinking regular formula, you may be able to substitute cow’s milk for up to one week. Look for organic whole cow’s milk and stay in touch with your pediatrician. Cow’s milk is low in iron and cannot provide all of the nutrients that a baby needs.

Plant milks are usually not recommended for children under one year old. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies who are close to 12 months old may be able to drink soy milk that has been fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Alert your pediatrician if you need to substitute with soy milk and do not use longer than a few days. Avoid other plant milks like almond milk because they are very low in protein and nutrients.

If your child requires a special formula because of allergies, ask your pediatrician about which substitutions are safe. The North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition has a comprehensive list of formula substitutions that are safe to make.

What’s Next?

The latest efforts by the government and formula manufacturers are expected to ease the shortage and restock grocery shelves. That good news does not ease parents’ concerns today, though. Reach out for support to your healthcare providers, state agencies and fellow parents.

Amrita Thakkar, Taste of Home Assistant Digital Editor, contributed to this article.

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Carrie Madormo, RN
Now a freelance health and food writer, Carrie worked as a nurse for over a decade. When she isn't hunched over her laptop with a baby in hand, you will find her cooking her grandmother’s recipes, lacing up her running shoes or sipping coffee in the bathroom to hide from her three young children.