Baby formula shortage hits DeKalb County; experts weigh in on why you shouldn’t make your own

“By far, one of the scariest things I have been through in my entire life,” said Cortland mom Hannah Boor.

The baby formula shelves on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, at a Woodstock store. Because of a recall and supply chain problems, baby formula has become hard to find.

First-time mother Hannah Boor of Cortland describes struggling to find baby formula for her 2-month-old daughter Iris as “by far, one of the scariest things I have been through in my entire life.”

“I have called multiple doctors asking if I could switch her formula to something that’s easier to find, and they tell me that she can switch, but only to another formula that is not on shelves still,” Boor said. “It’s scary to have to call every location of every grocery store hoping and praying to find even a bottle of pre-mixed milk for her at times.”

Boor has even turned to friends of friends, looking to find baby formula and to learn when a store restocks their supplies.

“A lot of people are buying the premature fortified formulas for babies not born premature, and it’s even harder to find her formula anywhere,” Boor said.

Datasembly, which tracks baby formula stock at more than 11,000 stores, found that the nationwide out-of-stock percentage is 43% for the week ending May 8.

In a press release, Ben Reich, CEO of Datasembly, attributed the baby formula shortage to three factors: “supply chain challenges, product recalls and historic inflation.”

The baby formula company Abbott recalled Similac, Alimentum and EleCare that were manufactured in Sturgis, Michigan in February following the deaths of two infants and two more becoming sick.

Abbott said in a statement Wednesday that it could reopen the impacted plant in as soon as two weeks if the federal Food and Drug Administration gives its approval. The company would begin production of EleCare, Alimentum and metabolic formulas first and then begin production of Similac and other formulas.

Kay Chase, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) coordinator for the DeKalb County Health Department, said that over the past month, her office has received phone calls from concerned parents when baby formula cannot be found on store shelves.

WIC is a nutrition program for low-income women who are pregnant, recently had a baby, or are breastfeeding, for children up to age 5.

“We haven’t gotten any phone calls this week,” Chase said. “However, store shelves are less stocked than they normally are. Parents usually call us when they see supplies getting low. They worry about limited quantities and being able to feed their babies.”

Chase said that some stores are enforcing limits on the number of cans of baby formula that can be bought. She has also seen people selling cans of baby formula, even the ones distributed for free by WIC, for a profit on social media and eBay.

“It’s horribly sad to see the hoarding, price gouging and reselling that’s happening,” Chase said. “Formula is the primary form of nutrition for babies for the first year of life. Babies need the formula to be healthy, grow and have proper nutrition.”

Chase said that if families are seeing empty store shelves, are running low on baby formula or do not know where to find the supply or brand they need, they can call the WIC office at 814-748-2402.

Families needing breast milk to feed their babies can visit Family First Women & Children’s Healthcare, 560 Hauser Ross Drive, Suite 425, in Sycamore. Family First partnered with the Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes to serve as a breast milk dispensary, where pasteurized donor breast milk can be purchased.

Up to 10 4-ounce bottles can be purchased at a time from the Family First dispensary without a prescription. Each 4-ounce bottle costs $20. For a larger need of breast milk, families can contact the milk bank and have the milk shipped directly to their home with possible insurance coverage. Appointments are not needed to stop by the dispensary, which will be open to the public.

The milk has a shelf life of up to a year in the freezer. Directions of how to store, thaw and feed your baby the milk is included with each purchase.

Dr. Karen Federici, owner of Family First, has advice for parents about what can help during the shortage of baby formula.

“It’s fine to switch brands because any brand of infant formula can be used,” Federici said. “You can also ask friends and family in different cities and states to purchase formula for you. However, avoid diluting formula, which can be dangerous, and I would not recommend making your own formula using recipes found online.”

Jennifer Kleckner, the lead outreach specialist nurse with Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital’s Breastfeeding Center, also advises against making homemade baby formula.

“I am seeing a great deal of homemade baby formula recipes being shared on social media and I find it very alarming,” Kleckner said. “This is not a safe option for infants. Parents should consult with their infant’s care provider for the safest feeding options for their baby. These options may include donor human milk or possibly re-lactating in certain circumstances.”

Dr. Adam Barsella, a Northwestern Medicine pediatrician who practices in St. Charles, said he has worked with new parents to find alternatives, including using a generic version of a similar formula and shopping online.

“People are hesitant to switch formulas because maybe they’re worried the baby will spit up more or have abdominal pain, but there won’t be a lot of harm to the child by switching formulas,” he said. “The generic formulas are similar to the brand formulas, and they have to have certain safety and quality metrics if they’re on the market. I think sometimes generic anything has a negative stigma, but I almost always recommend generic in medicine because they’re almost exactly equivalent to the branded product.”

Boor’s advice to other parents is to remember that the baby formula shortage will one day end.

“It’s extremely scary, but it can’t last forever,” Boor said.