Baby formula is in short supply throughout the U.S. as some states face shortages up to 50%.
According to Abbott Laboratories (ABT), one of the biggest manufacturers of baby food, it will take an estimated 6-8 weeks for more formula to reach shelves after the company was recently forced to recall its product following two infant deaths.
In the meantime, parents have found themselves desperate for a replacement, with some even going so far as to try to make their own. This is strongly discouraged, however.
“It’s not recommended to DIY your own formula,” Jessica D'Argenio Waller, senior editor at Motherly Health + Wellness, said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “That can bring on risks of improper nutrient imbalance or contamination.”
Aside from potential health risks, homemade formula (and formula from outside the U.S.) also isn’t regulated by the FDA.
“We've heard reports from people from our audience that mothers and parents are sharing links to buy European formula from overseas, but the issue with that is that it's not regulated by the FDA,” D'Argenio Waller said. “So you worry about shipping and storage considerations, label issues, and other things. You don't necessarily know what you're getting and where it's coming from.”
'It causes a lot of anxiety'
An estimated 40% of formula supplies were out of stock in U.S. grocery stores as of April 24, according to Datasembly.
The White House has directed the FDA to import more baby formula to address the shortage. Politicians also called on the Biden administration to invoke the Defense Production Act to ensure more formula is manufactured.
“It's really stressful,” D'Argenio Waller said. “I think it causes a lot of anxiety when you can't find the food you need to feed your baby. Parents are dealing with this nationwide. It's everywhere. It's not limited to just states, but to certain states. But we ran a poll on our Instagram and found that 38% of our respondents said that the formula shortage has impacted them in some way.”
Some experts recommend trying substitutes like toddler formula, while others have pushed for breastfeeding or purchasing breast milk.
This comes with its own issues, though, as not every woman is able to breastfeed, especially if they are adoptive mothers who haven't actually given birth. Additionally, mothers may have already weaned their children off of breast milk.
According to the CDC, one in four parents breastfeed exclusively up to six months. It is not recommended to give babies cow’s milk until they’re at least 12 months old.
“It's definitely recommended to switch to any brand you can find, at this time, as long as it's tolerated by your infant,” D'Argenio Waller said. “But the issue with that is if you haven’t tried a formula before, you don’t know if it’s going to be well-tolerated by your baby. So I would reach out to your pediatrician first thing and see what they have in stock and see what they can recommend for you.”
Another challenge facing parents seeking baby formula is price gouging. According to CBS News, one parent who sought formula online found a normal 27-ounce can that usually costs about $40 selling for $129.
"I booked a delivery for formula that was $90 for just one can, even through the original prices for them is like $40," Mariam Rizvi told CBS.
The White House warned against price gouging and has called on the FTC and states attorney general to crack down on the practice.
Price gouging has “been pretty widespread,” D'Argenio Waller said. “We've heard from moms who have said that they've had to really reassess their budget and make some cuts elsewhere, so that they can afford formula for their infants. They've also had to drive 45 minutes to an hour and cross state lines to check multiple stores. So gas prices are really playing into this crunch as well. The thing is people just need more access to formula, so whatever the government can do to help formula get into the hands of parents is great.”
Stores like Walgreens, Target, and CVS have also started limiting the amount of baby formula each customer can buy.
“I think it's going to be still really stressful,” D'Argenio Waller said. “Parents are already finding empty store shelves when they go. They're already calling friends and family to look for them in other states and ship it across state lines. I hope that parents can reach out to their pediatricians and get access. I know for specialized formulas, you can get a note from your doctor to get the specific formula that your baby might need. But yeah, it's just going to be trying to reach out to see if you can get donated breast milk from friends. Some parents are trying relactation, which is where you restart breastfeeding after your child has already been weaned, but it's not an option for everyone. And it's really challenging to do.”
Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.