UW Medicine pediatrics expert shares tips on navigating baby formula shortage

Families continue to struggle with the nationwide baby formula shortage, which may take months to fix. In the meantime, a pediatrics professor at UW Medicine has some strategies to keep your children healthy.

Abbott Nutrition closed their Michigan baby formula manufacturing plant in February, after a federal investigation into possible bacterial infections in infants. In March, Abbott issued a voluntary recall of several baby formula products due to Cronobacter contamination.

This, paired with the supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to a critical shortage of baby formula in the U.S. Abbott will reopen their Michigan plant, but it will be weeks before that product reaches store shelves.

According to UW Medicine pediatrics professor Dr. Beth Ebel, there are ways to navigate this shortage and keep your kids growing.

Firstly, Ebel warns against diluting baby formula, as it can deprive infants of nutrients, leading to weight loss, developmental delays and death. For children under 6 months old, though, there are few alternatives for formula.

"If you have a baby under six months, that baby needs formula and there really isn't a good substitute for it," said Ebel. "So, I would suggest that you, in addition to checking with friends and family, if you're really stuck, talk to your pediatrician or your child's doctor."

Pediatricians may have access to off-market supplies, Ebel says, and smaller, local stores may still have stock while larger retailers have been cleared out. Mothers are also encouraged to seek maternity care if they want to resume or begin breastfeeding, or contact an established breast milk bank in the community.

If nothing else, Ebel notes it is perfectly safe to switch formulas.

"There's no God-given reason why a Similac user can't use Enfamil – totally fine," said Ebel. "You're welcome to switch those formulas. That's fine."

For babies over six months of age, Ebel said a stopgap solution is to use whole cow's milk for a short time. It provides adequate nutrition for your children, but will require an iron supplement or iron-rich foods.

Where to find baby formula in Puget Sound amid nationwide shortage

Parents of infants across the U.S. are taking to social media pleading for media coverage and political action while posting pictures of empty store shelves, as the country's baby formula shortage continues to get worse.

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"You could get by with whole cow’s milk for a period of time," said Ebel. "Cow’s milk doesn't have enough iron in it, so you may want to talk to your pediatrician about getting a little vitamin supplement and also thinking about iron-rich foods to add if you're getting through [with this method]."