Batavia mom Mandy Lindsey has been using a specialized baby formula for her daughter, who was born two months premature, since her birth just over a year ago.
So when 13-month-old Abby Mae’s formula went on back order in March, Lindsey started to panic. She’s been getting by with help from family and friends across the country who’ve been sending her bottles, but said she expects to run out of the formula in about two weeks.
“We had a good back-up supply, but now I have used all of that,” Lindsey said. “I have no other choice than to find that formula she needs. I would literally go anywhere to get it.”
Lindsey is one of the many parents in northern Illinois who are struggling to find their baby’s formula amid a nationwide shortage, which is leaving many store shelves bare.
The formula shortage is “unprecedented,” McHenry County Department of Health spokeswoman Lindsey Salvatelli said.
Some stores are enforcing limits on the number of cans of baby formula that can be bought, said Kay Chase, the Women, Infants and Children coordinator for the DeKalb County Health Department. She also has 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.”
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.
“It’s horrible having to go into store after store, and when you go in, the shelves are almost bare,” said Lois Repede, who has been fostering newborns with her husband for 14 years. “This is positively the worst. I’ve never had a problem getting the formula I needed until I got this baby.”
Currently, the Carpentersville couple is caring for a three-week-old boy who was born six weeks premature. The child requires a special formula for preemies, which she said is “horribly difficult” to find. She’s been making do, however, thanks to a wide network of family and friends who are picking up bottles whenever they see it on store shelves.
“Supply chain challenges, product recalls and historic inflation” are the three factors leading to the baby formula shortage, Datasembly Chief Executive Officer Ben Reich said in a news release.
The baby formula company Abbott recalled Similac, Alimentum and EleCare that were manufactured in Sturgis, Michigan, in February.
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.
It would take six to eight weeks after the site is restarted for product to hit the shelves, the company said.
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.”
Jennifer Kleckner, the lead outreach specialist nurse with Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital’s Breastfeeding Center, recommends parents consult with their infant’s care provider for the safest feeding options for their baby.
That may include donor human milk or possibly re-lactating in certain circumstances, she said.
“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.”
Barsella also advised against homemade baby formula or diluting the formula to make it last longer.
The best thing parents can do, Barsella said, is to plan ahead and understand how much supply they have and when they’ll need more, and the possibility of having to look in different places to find it. He also said parents should not hesitate to contact their pediatrician to find other options that are best for the baby.
“The major thing parents should know is they’re not alone. There are a team of people who can help to find a solution,” he said. “Use your pediatrician’s office as a resource. Parents shouldn’t panic, although I’m sure they’re feeling some anxiety.”
Lindsey said that she will soon be transitioning her daughter off of baby formula. However, she said she feels for parents who are just bringing their newborns home from the hospital.
“It’s a scary situation to be in. The worst part is for some parents, the children just cannot tolerate the change in formula,” she said. “It’s making an already at-risk population just have to roll the dice and see what works, when many have already been down a long road to find a formula that doesn’t cause issues for their children.”