Baby formula shortage leaves parents searching, turning to milk banks

Many new parents are scrambling to find formula to feed their babies amid a shortage, and driving up demand for donated breast milk.

First, a nationwide shortage of powdered baby formula, followed by a major formula recall, have left store shelves bare and parents worried about their infants.  

"It is very stressful because you are worried about whether your child is going to be able to have the proper nutrition," said new mom Desara Earle Robbins.

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Robbins says she's had to search high and low for formula for her baby.

"A lot of the large retailers, they are out of stock, even online. So that forces us to go into stores and you may find a can or two here and there," said Robbins.

Supply chain issues were already slowing down shipments of formula, when Abbott had to recall Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare powdered infant formula after two babies died and several became sick. Hospitals and NICU's are seeing the shortage, too.

"We have ready-to-feed in the NICU, and we use a lot of donor milk from the Mother's Milk Bank at Austin," said Tammy Sullivan, MSN, RNC-NIC, Manager of the NICU at Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital. "We also happen to be a donor depot, parents can bring milk here."

They worry about how parents are managing at home.

"It is a worry, because we don’t want them diluting the formulas or something like that, trying to make the formula go further, because then we’ll see nutritional deficiencies," said Sullivan.  

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More parents are turning to milk banks, where donated human milk is pasteurized. But donations declined in the pandemic.

"The difficulty is our donors declined by 30% over 2021. So we’re now feeling that pain at a time of formula recalls. Because of the knowledge of what a difference human milk makes for babies who are fragile, we have a 10% increase in demand," said Kim Updegrove, Executive Director of Mother's Milk Bank at Austin.

Updegrove is urging nursing moms to donate.

"Every healthy lactating mother has the ability to be a supermom, to pump a little extra and save some lives. We’re asking them to contact us today," said Updegrove.

Here are tips from healthcare professionals:

  • Try breastfeeding, consult a lactation specialist,
  • Ask your pediatrician for possible supplies or alternatives,
  • WIC recipients can ask WIC for alternatives,
  • Try buying both online, and in smaller stores and pharmacies, which may have supplies.
  • Try liquid formula.
  • They warn to never try making formula yourself.

Mother's who wish to donate milk can contact Mother's Milk Bank.