Baby formula shortage: Cincinnati pediatrician offers suggestions for parents looking for help

·4 min read

About 43% of baby formula is out of stock at retailers across the country and parents are feeling the effects of the shortage in Cincinnati.

The shortage is driven by the closure of a manufacturing plant in Sturgis, Michigan, owned by Abbott Laboratories, which produces multiple baby formula brands. Abbott voluntarily recalled infant formula products after four babies being fed with the company's formula developed bacterial infections, two of whom died.

Limited options for formula has led some anxious parents to search for alternatives. The Enquirer spoke with pediatric neonatologist Dr. Jae Kim, who is the co-director of the Perinatal Institute and director of the Division of Neonatology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, to sift through suggestions circulating on social media and answer some frequently asked questions.

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Pending court approval, Abbott could reopen its Sturgis, Michigan facility in two weeks. However, it will take another six to eight weeks for its formula to reach stores, the company said.
Pending court approval, Abbott could reopen its Sturgis, Michigan facility in two weeks. However, it will take another six to eight weeks for its formula to reach stores, the company said.

Can you make your own baby formula?

At-home formula recipes, like one viral recipe that calls for evaporated milk, have spread on social media as parents struggle to find formula on shelves. However, Dr. Kim and the Food and Drug Administration advise against making your own formula.

"Even the name, 'formula,' tells you that it's a formulation. It's done very precisely. You can't just get, say, dairy milk and use that as a substitute," Kim said.

Babies who are fed with at-home formula recipes run the risk of not getting the nutrients they need or getting an infection, especially if they're under 6 months old.

"Newborns do not have mature immune systems and they're more prone to getting an infection, so you've got to be that much more cautious," Kim said.

Is generic brand formula OK?

Yes. "Generic formulas are made by very reliable companies, so if you go Target or Walmart, their infant formulas are just as good and to the regulatory standard," Kim said.

What about a goat milk baby formula recipe?

Despite some Facebook claims, goat's milk is not necessarily better or worse for babies than cow's milk.

"The allergic tendency between cow and goat milk is pretty similar," Kim said. "The reason you don't give babies cow's milk is that it's just not designed for human babies, so you run the risk of not meeting all the right nutritional requirements."

Giving babies who are under 1 year old any animal milk can cause inflammation of the gut or an allergic reaction, including goat's milk.

The FDA does not recommend that parents make their own formula recipes.
The FDA does not recommend that parents make their own formula recipes.

Can you give plant-based milk to babies?

Kim does not recommend replacing infant formula with plant-based milks, like soy or almond milk, because they are not nutritionally sufficient.

Can you dilute formula?

Diluting formula even for a short period of time is harmful. Watering down formula to make it last can cause babies to starve because they're not getting enough nutrients day-by-day, Kim said.

"Diluting formula can give enough water support for a baby, but it's giving them less calories and nutrients," he explained. "So, even within a week, you would run into some serious problems."

Where can I donate breast milk?

The OhioHealth Mothers' Milk Bank in Columbus accepts breast milk donations.

"The donor milk community has been really active and encouraging moms to donate more milk so that all babies can have that as an extra resource," Dr. Kim said.

Find more information at ohiohealth.com/locations/womens-health/mothers-milk-bank.

What other resources are there?

Kim advises parents to reach out to their primary care doctor or pediatrician if they're having trouble finding formula. He also recommends using the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine for trusted information.

The North American Society For Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition also has a list of compatible formulas if you aren't able to find the formula your baby takes. Find the list at naspghan.org/recent-news/naspghan-tools-for-hcps-affected-by-formula-recall/.

What is causing baby formula shortage?

In February, Abbott Laboratories, which produces multiple baby formula brands, closed its manufacturing plant in Sturgis, Michigan, and voluntarily recalled infant formula products after four babies being fed with the company's formula developed bacterial infections, two of whom died. The recall and pandemic-related supply chain issues have led to a formula shortage nationwide.

What's being done to solve the baby formula shortage?

Abbott said it found no link between its formula and the infant deaths and on Monday, the company announced it had reached an agreement with the FDA that would allow its Sturgis facility to reopen.

According to FDA officials, the Michigan factory could reopen in two weeks if a court approves the agreement. However, in a company statement, Abbott said it will take six to eight weeks after reopening the facility for formula to hit the shelves.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Baby formula shortage: Cincinnati pediatrician offers dos and don'ts