Beginning last November parents started to feel the effects of an infant formula supply shortage. In March, the issue escalated, when Abbott Nutrition, the company that manufacturers popular brands, including Similac, Alimentum and EleCare, at their Sturgis, Michigan facility, instituted a voluntary recall of a handful of their products when several babies became sick after consuming formula from the facility.
Between recalls, supply chain and staff shortages, increased demand and inflation, parents with little ones depending on these products are scrambling in the face of empty shelves. We spoke with Duane Hougendobler, MD, PPG – Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatrics, about how families can navigate these unchartered waters.
Have you ever experienced something like this in your career?
No, I never dreamed we’d have a situation like this. Honestly, it was the right decision to pull the products to keep infants safe and put out a product parents can trust, but the amount that had to be recalled created huge gaps in the market. This wasn’t something anyone could plan for, but the industry is trying to get back on track as quickly as possible.
What advice can you give parents impacted by the shortage?
If they’re just starting out and can breastfeed, that’s the way to go right now. But we know that isn’t always possible. The shortage is incredibly challenging for those who have already switched over to formula.
It’s important that we don’t fall into panic buying. I ask that people take what they need for a week or two, and avoid hoarding formula. We’re seeing that people are buying up all of the formula they can when they find it, not realizing there are others who need it, too. Some stores are even limiting the amount one customer can purchase for this reason. If we can think of each other and only take what we need, it will help everyone get through this.
You can always check in with your family doctor or pediatrician. Sometimes we get information from reps and could advise on how to get formula.
Are samples available at the doctor’s office?
Samples are not a sustainable option at this time. We’ve had very few products to give out because the focus is really on stocking shelves in stores right now. Physicians’ offices are really secondary for manufacturers.
Is it safe for parents to give their baby whatever formula they can find?
You need to ensure that you are comparing apples to apples. If your baby is on a special formula, don’t use whatever’s out there. There’s a reason they are on the formula they are on. They aren’t all the same, and they aren’t meant to be the same. While there might be some flexibility regarding the brand, you need to keep your little one on the same type of formula. Your child’s physician can help you understand what compares equally to what they have.
We’ll get through this. Lean on your provider and do your part to make sure that everyone has access to nutrition for their infant.