Nutritional baby formula can be found in the Sauk Valley — though the brand selection isn’t as varied.
“There is formula out there,” said Lisa Wiggins, director of maternal and child health at the Lee County Health Department. She said she and her counterparts at Whiteside County Health Department have been making calls to stores to track availability.
That’s backed up by independent reporting by the Gazette and Telegraph, which visited stores in the area and found formula for sale. Some stores had empty spots in their displays, but none of the stores visited were depleted of stock. One store even sold formula at a discount.
While the effects of a national shortage — the result of a recall of a major brand and hiccups in the supply chain — are less keenly felt in this area, there are still concerns.
Mostly, Wiggins hopes families don’t make decisions based on misinformation, especially things being suggested on social media, such as thinning mixtures to stretch supplies or even making their own from scratch.
Wiggins wants to dissuade anyone from making homemade formula based on recipes passed around social media. Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics issued strongly-worded warnings against doing so, saying these recipes do not meet nutritional needs and can even have adverse effects on infant health.
She acknowledged that some families might feel they are in a bind if their doctor has prescribed one of the brands that aren’t available, such those affected by the voluntary recall issued by Abbott for Similac, Alimentum and EleCare that was manufactured in February at its Sturgis, Michigan, facility.
In that case, moms should contact their doctors and see if they can get the prescription changed to an available brand.
Once a new prescription is obtained, the health department will work to correct EBT cards issued by Women Infants Children nutritional program, she said.
WIC is a nutrition program for low-income women who are pregnant, recently had a baby, or are breastfeeding, and for children up to age 5.
The WIC program lists formula brands that are unaffected by the recall: Enfamil Infant, Enfamil Gentlease, Enfamil Reguline, Enfamil ProSobee and Enflamil AR.
Across northern Illinois
In McHenry County the shortages are called unprecedented and in DeKalb County stores are rationing sales.
Kelly Kaleta of McHenry, whose newborn, Carter, was born prematurely at five pounds, three ounces, can’t locate the formula prescribed by her doctor: Similac Neosure.
“It’s literally nowhere to be found,” Kaleta said. “We can’t even order it online. My husband had to travel all the way to Chicago, and he bought the last five in the store.”
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 of Carpentersville, 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.”
Repede’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.
Abbott said in a statement Wednesday that it could reopen the impacted Abbott 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.
Pregnancy care centers in McHenry County, such as 1st Way Life Center in Johnsburg, also are starting to have trouble keeping a consistent supply, Director Judy Cocks said.
“This is just the beginning,” Cocks said. “New clients are calling out of the blue because they’re desperate. I expect that’ll just continue. … It’s frustrating for all. And it’s very sad. We’re really up against it.”
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.
The best thing parents can do, Barsella said, is to plan ahead.
“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.”
Stay-at-home mom Nicki Young, who lives with her husband near Johnsburg, said she has struggled to find the formula she needs for her five-month-old son, Jack, who she suspects is lactose intolerant.
“I get 22 ounces a week but that’s not lasting,” Young said. “I’m not panicking yet, but it’s weird. I understand it’s part of the shortage of material and shipping, like anything else we can’t find.”