- The shortage of infant formula in the United States has triggered a crisis among parents.
- The demand for the product far exceeds the supply at the moment.
- Parents told Insider they struggled to feed their children.
When Kelly Bernarducci read that the formula she gave her premature baby had been recalled, she checked the lot number of the boxes in her kitchen.
“Everyone was part of the encore,” she said.
Days before the discovery in February, the mother from Ossining, New York, had taken her daughter, Logan, born six weeks earlier, to the hospital with acute digestive problems.
The 33-year-old mother told Insider she was worried that Alimentum, the formula she was using, might have caused Logan’s difficulties. It was one of three powder brands recalled by their manufacturer, Abbott Nutrition.
The company took the drastic measure after the Food and Drug Administration found one of Abbott’s facilities to be unsanitary.
The FDA advised consumers not to use the powder form of Alimentum, Similac or Elecare following reports of bacterial infections in children who consumed them. Two of the products have since been linked to the deaths of two babies.
“I called Logan’s gastro specialist, who said it made a lot of sense as to why she was having trouble,” Bernarducci said of her baby’s illness. “It was as if we had poisoned her.”
She told Insider that Logan’s gastroenterologist didn’t confirm her suspicions, but she believes the recalled formula was to blame for her daughter’s health issues.
But Bernarducci now faces another problem. There is a shortage of the replacement formula recommended by Logan’s doctor. “He’s been so hard to find,” Bernarducci said. She worries more and more that she won’t be able to meet Logan’s nutritional needs in the future.
Bernarducci is one of hundreds of thousands of parents the US shortage has affected so far.
Supply chain issues and recalls of some brands caused the shortage
Manufacturers are struggling to source key ingredients and packaging. They also had difficulty recruiting staff for their factories due to labor shortages. The situation has gotten so bad that stores such as CVS and Walgreens have placed limits on how much formula customers can buy at one time.
The crisis is of particular concern for parents whose babies have food allergies or need to be tube fed.
Alison Zanella, who lives near Detroit, told Insider she couldn’t find enough formula to feed her 5-year-old son, Dominic.
Zanella said Dominic suffered from a rare form of neuromuscular disease. As a result, he must be fed formula four times a day via a gastronomy tube attached to his abdomen. The kindergarten child is also allergic to foods such as dairy products, eggs, wheat, peanuts and tree nuts. The combination of his genetic condition and his allergies means he can only tolerate one type of formula. The Neocate brand is among those affected by the shortage.
Zanella first became aware of the problem in March when the family’s medical supply company announced that the formula was indefinitely out of stock.
“It took us completely by surprise,” she said. “We’ve had issues in the past with shipping delays, but this was very concerning as we only had two days left of formula.”
She contacted Dominic’s gastroenterologist for help. According to Zanella, a nurse told her that at least 120 other patients were in the same position and that they should put Dominic at the bottom of the list for any formula that became available.
“I said to the nurse, ‘So what am I supposed to feed her?'” Zanella recalled. “And she said, ‘Sugar water and Pedialyte. I panicked inside.”
But Zanella was determined to find a solution. She contacted Dominic’s nutritionist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, who managed to arrange a shipment of a similar formula to send to them. “It’s a bigger hospital, so they have more resources,” Zanella said.
Dominic is fine with the new formula, but, according to Zanella, his doctors believe the change may have caused a recent bout of stomach issues. “They said they would try to take it completely out of the formula,” she said. “But no one knows if it will work.”
Parents wonder how they will feed their babies
Lia Daley, whose 5-month-old son DJ can only be fed hypoallergenic formula, is also worried about the shortage.
The formula she started using after DJ was diagnosed with a milk allergy was among the products recalled by Abbott Nutrition. She tried some alternative brands, but said her son suffered from stomach problems.
“His reflux was very bad to the point that he was choking,” Daley said. “He was having trouble breathing and we were really scared. It was very hard to see.”
Then DJ’s pediatrician switched him to a specialized formula called Nutramigen. Daley, of Dobbs Ferry, New York, told Insider that DJ’s foodie issues quickly eased.
However, as Nutramigen is in short supply, the mum had to scour the shelves of local pharmacies and grocery stores in a desperate attempt to find the product. She visited a number of stores in her area to try and locate even a box or two of the powder.
“There’s way more demand than supply,” Daley told Insider. “It’s incredibly stressful. When your baby has a milk allergy, you rely a lot on the formula that he’s doing well on.”
It’s not just parents of children with allergies or other special needs who are struggling to cope with the shortage.
Jessica Booth, from Long Island, New York, said her 5-month-old daughter, Angelina, doesn’t have any special dietary requirements, but she still can’t find enough bottles of Similac 360 Advance Line, the formula her baby is used to.
“It’s stressful enough being a new mom, whether it’s your first, second, third child or whatever, but it’s an added layer of stress,” said Booth, who has been researching the product for a long time online and at stores such as Target. .
The 34-year-old freelance writer used to supplement Angelina’s formula with breast milk to make it last longer. But, she says, she had to stop pumping because she wasn’t producing enough milk and the process had become painful.
Booth said she couldn’t find any information on the manufacturers’ websites as to when the formula shortage might be resolved.
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” she said. “I just want to be able to know that I can feed my baby.”