Here’s What You Need to Know about the Formula Shortage

As you may have heard recently, there is a major shortage of baby formula right now. This means that many parents are struggling to find food for their babies. If you are an adoptive parent wondering what to do, then you’re in the right place.

We’re an adoption agency, so there is not much that we can do directly. But, what we can do is provide information about additional options and inform you about recent developments in the shortage.

What to Do If You Can’t Get Formula

Many of the parents struggling with the shortage are those in need of specialized formulas. Poorer families are also facing a severe impact. Almost half of all U.S. baby formula is purchased through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which is designed to provide aid for low-income families.

The formula shortage is also disproportionately affecting Black women. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2019, rates of breastfeeding are lower for Black infants than for white infants. Also, Black women are likelier to live at or below the poverty line. The lack of federal requirements for paid maternity leave makes this issue more problematic.

With these demographic limitations in mind, we know that baby formula is hard to come by right now. So, we want to provide a couple of alternatives.

Although the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strongly advise against making homemade formula or diluting your current formula, there are ways to induce lactations. Speak with your physician about medications that you can take to help produce breast milk. You can also contact a lactation consultant at one of your local hospitals or clinics.

There are also milk banks throughout the country. These banks screen, collect, pasteurize and store breast milk for parents who cannot provide milk for babies on their own. You can check out the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, which includes 28 non-profit member banks in the U.S., to find a milk bank near you. It’s worth noting that you should avoid using non-screened sources for breast milk, such as friends or neighbors.

What to Know About the Re-Opening of Abbott

The baby formula shortage started back in February when Abbott Laboratories underwent a federal investigation that forced the company to close a manufacturing facility in Sturgis, Michigan. Four babies, after taking the company’s formula, developed rare bacterial infections, and two of those babies later died. As a result, there was a recall of the products. Combined with the supply chain shortages due to COVID-19, there is a major setback in production.

So, how does the temporary closure of one company cause this monumental of a formula shortage? Four companies produce 90% of the baby formula market in the U.S., and Abbott accounts for almost half of that market alone. This level of near-monopolization in the industry has had an adverse effect.

On May 16, Abbott and the FDA reached an agreement to reopen the Michigan facility. The FDA will need to confirm that Abbott meets all of the initial requirements. An independent expert will ensure that Abbott’s operations are in line with legal regulations, as well.

For example, the facility will have to implement a sanitation plan, an environmental monitoring plan, employee training programs and test the formula. If any contamination is reported, then Abbott would have to halt production again. Once the manufacturer is approved to open again, it will take between eight to 10 weeks for new products to arrive in stores.

What Is the U.S. Government Doing About It?

A staggering 98% of baby formula in the United States is produced domestically. This leaves a mere 2% for imported shipments of formula. Because of this, the government is launching Operation Fly Formula, which is meant to increase imports of formula from overseas. It will use military-contracted and commercial planes to transport the baby formula.

On May 22, the first of these flights arrived in Indianapolis, and it imported roughly 35 tons of baby formula from Germany. This particular shipment is hypoallergenic and will be fed to babies who can’t drink cow milk. According to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, it’s enough to feed 9,000 babies and 18,000 toddlers for a week. It’s the first of several shipments that the Biden administration is importing by invoking the Defense Production Act.

In simple terms, the government is using this law to require the suppliers of necessary ingredients to send their goods to formula-manufacturing facilities before other customers. Although the DPA was initially created as a wartime law at the start of the Korean War and used heavily during the Cold War, the U.S. government is now using it to prioritize getting baby formula back in stores.

*** While you wait for baby formula to hit the shelves again, speak with your doctor if you are having difficulties breastfeeding. Also, be sure to visit the Human Milk Banking Association of North America if you are unable to breastfeed your baby in these dire times. You can also contact us online whenever you need us. We would be more than happy to help you in any way that we can.