Parents urged to use caution in dealing with baby formula shortage

ELLSWORTH — Put down the goat milk and the plant-based milk and the cans of evaporated milk and anything else you might have heard could be made into baby formula.

Parents, caregivers, government officials and store managers everywhere are dealing with a nationwide baby formula shortage.

“Nobody should be making their own formula,” said Dr. Sheena Whittaker, a pediatrician at Maine Coast Pediatrics and vice president, senior physician executive at Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital. “It is highly scientific and medically based. It’s really quite the science.”

The shortage, which has prompted certain retailers to limit formula purchases, has been attributed in part to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) closing a formula manufacturing facility in February after the deaths of two infants who drank formula that had been contaminated with bacteria. But, U.S. trade policy and issues from the COVID-19 pandemic have also been cited as factors.

Infants need proper nutrition not just so they grow well but so their brains are healthy and they’re safe, Whittaker said.

“Babies need a very specific formulation of carbohydrates, electrolytes and protein,” Whittaker said. “What we’re trying to replicate is breast milk.”

“I am hearing from patients that they’re having a hard time finding formula,” Whittaker said.

A common question is what formula to use if a parent can’t find the formula they’re used to buying.

If you have been using a cow milk-based formula, find another cow milk-based formula and the same for a soy-based formula, the pediatrician said. “The brand name doesn’t matter. All of the formulas are manufactured to have the same nutrition. That’s the big thing for people to know.”

“In a real pinch,” for babies over 6 months of age, parents could feed them cow’s milk for one week, Whittaker said. But only one week, no longer, she emphasized.

Also, a note of caution about diluting formulas.

“It’s important to have the right concentration of formula,” Whittaker said.

“Under 2 months [of age] you shouldn’t even be adding extra water,” the physician said. “It upsets their electrolytes balance, and they can go into shock. I’ve seen babies in the ICU for this. No pure water under 2 months of age, no diluting formula.”

Whittaker said babies over 6 months of age can have food introduced to their diets, which will help.

Parents in need of formula should call their pediatricians because doctors’ offices have a lot of formula samples and have been trying to reach formula manufacturers to get more samples.

“If they’re really stuck, they should call us,” Whittaker said. “We can help them with what steps to take next.”

Also, stop clearing the shelves of formula when shipments do arrive.

“Buy two weeks worth at a time to slow the shortage down,” Whittaker said. “They shouldn’t be buying a couple months worth.”

Speaking of shelves, Tradewinds Marketplace Store Manager Josh Theriault said the store has been ordering baby formula.

“Most of what we order does not come in,” Theriault said. “Certain items are just unavailable.”

Some babies receive formula through a federal program called WIC: Women, Infants and Children. The local WIC office said last week that it has formula.

“In Ellsworth, we have not had an issue at our center yet,” said Heather Barton-Lindloff, WIC nutrition manager. “However, in Washington County, we had trouble finding formula for a family, and it was necessary for them to switch to another brand. And we are finding it more challenging each day.”

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.
Jennifer Osborn

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