Parents of Premature Babies Struggle Amid Formula Shortage
For moms like Anna Grymes, 38, the weight of it all feels relentless.
“You’re trying to bond with your baby and do all of the things that mothers feel pressure to do in the beginning. You are sleep deprived. Your hormones are racing through your body. And now you have this fear of: ‘How am I going to feed her?’” said Ms. Grymes, who gave birth in March at 35 weeks gestation. She now spends hours every day pumping milk and scouring store shelves for the specialized formula her daughter drinks.
None of this — not the NICU stay, not packing her baby up and racing to whatever store she hears just got a formula shipment in — is what she had in mind before she gave birth. Ms. Grymes, who is a single parent and works full-time, is tired. One day, she drove to five separate stores near her home in Jacksonville, Fla., and came up empty-handed — worrying all the while that she may have exposed her baby to the coronavirus while simply trying to track down her food.
Other mothers, like Shaquesha George, 33, have simply given up on finding specialized formula for the time being. Her baby was born seven weeks early and has a cow’s milk allergy that causes upset stomach. Ms. George adores her daughter and adores motherhood, but her first few months as a parent have been punctuated by moments of profound stress — like in February when she heard about the baby formula recall and realized her daughter was drinking from an affected can of Similac Alimentum.
Navigating the Baby Formula Shortage in the U.S.
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A growing problem. A nationwide shortage of baby formula — triggered in part by supply-chain issues and worsened by a recall by the baby food manufacturer Abbott Nutrition — has left parents confused and concerned. Here are some ways to manage this uncertainty:
Finding formula. If your baby’s formula was not affected by the recall, but is still not available, you can try calling local stores to ask when they expect to get it back in stock. You may also be able to buy it online. If your baby is on special formula, reach out to your doctor’s office: They might have samples in stock.
Picking a new formula. If you typically use a name-brand formula, look for its generic version. Alternatively, seek a new formula that matches the ingredients listed in your usual one. If your baby is on a special formula for health reasons, check with your pediatrician before switching.
Transitioning to a new product. Ideally, you will want to switch your child gradually. Start by mixing three quarters of your usual formula with one quarter of the new one and gradually phase out the old product. If you can’t transition gradually because you’ve run out of your usual formula, that’s OK, although you might notice more gassiness or fussiness during the transition.
What not to do. If you can’t find your baby’s usual formula, don’t make your own — homemade formulas are often nutritionally inadequate and at risk of contamination. Don’t try to “stretch” your formula by adding extra water, and don’t buy it from unvetted online marketplaces like Craigslist. For a baby less than 1 year old, don’t use toddler formula.
“I completely freaked out,” said Ms. George, who rushed her daughter to the hospital near her home in Louisville, Ky.
Months later, despite diligent efforts, she has been unable to consistently find Enfamil Nutrimagen, the hypoallergenic formula their pediatrician recommended. So she gives her daughter a cow’s milk-based option. The pediatrician said it is fine for now, but after all that her baby has been through in her first months, Ms. George hates to watch her squirm in pain as she tries to process the dairy.
“As a mom, you want to make sure your child is able to eat. It’s hard when it’s really out of your hands as far as getting formula,” Ms. George said. “It’s very emotionally draining.”
In the absence of meaningful support, or a clear sense of when this will all end, parents have done what they can, establishing formula exchanges and local online groups that help them swap and locate cans.