The baby formula shortage, which began during Covid, got even worse following a February recall from Abbott Labs of Alimentum, Similac and EleCare formulas after five infants who used the formula contracted a Cronobacter sakazakii infection. One of the infants died as a result.Since then the national out-of-stock levels jumped nine percentage points from 31 percent to 40 percent between April 3 and April 24, according to an analysis from Datasembly, which tracked baby formula stock at more than 11,000 retailers.
In the week ending April 24, CBS News reports, 40 to 50 percent of the top-selling baby formula products were out of stock at stores across the country, Datasembly reported.
For the week of April 3, at least 12 states faced out of stock rates higher than 40 percent, including Connecticut, Delaware, Montana, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Washington, Datasembly reported.
During the same time period Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota suffered 50 to 51 percent shortage, Missouri a 52 percent shortage, Texas 53 percent and Tennessee a whopping 54 percent shortage. In order to preserve their inventories national retailers like Walgreens and CVS are now limiting customers to just three baby formula products per purchase, and at Target.com consumers can only buy up to four pieces of a given baby formula product at a time – leaving parents scrambling as nearly three-quarters of babies in the United States are on formula for their first six months.
The situation is even worse for those whose children are put on a specific formula either because they have allergies or due to their nutritional needs.
Ashleigh Olsen, also of Jacksonville, Florida, said her 9-month-old is limited to a specific formula she orders straight from the manufacturer as her son could face an allergic reaction to others. But there is no word on when it will be available again.
‘Luckily I stocked up last time. So today when I opened my last can, that kind of lit my fire a little bit,’ Olsen said.
And in the Midwest, Kassidi Hillard, who has a 2-month-old who needs Similac Pro-Advance, told WDRB she has ‘looked at every store in Indiana and here (in Kentucky) and haven’t found her formula at not one store.
‘It’s kind of stressful, cause if you can’t find formula, it’s like they can’t eat nothing else,’ Hillard said. ‘They can’t have baby food, they can’t have hard food, they can’t have what we eat so it’s really, it’s not an easy thing to go through.’
In Texas, Emily Pyeatt, 22, wrote on Facebook that she recently went to eight stores in search of formula for her 8-month-old.
‘This is the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced,’ she wrote on March 30. ‘How are we supposed to feed our children when there’s NO FORMULA ON THE SHELVES?’
She later told the Washington Post that as she was down to her last three cans, she has been easing her son onto more solid foods, as she does not produce enough milk to breastfeed.
‘It was a very heartbreaking decision to stop, and I think it’s upsetting for someone to say that,’ Pyeatt said, adding: ‘I pray for the women who have babies who are not old enough for solid food.’
Danielle Arzola, 27, also of Texas, told the Post that when she tried to switch formula brands, her 6-month-old got sick, and she now has to drive all over town to find the brand she needs. She has even resorted to buying formula from people in other states.
The company announced in March it has not found any Cronobacter sakazakii in any samples of the formula it sends out, and conducts tests on a regular basis.
But it did say it found evidence of the bacteria in a ‘non-product contact area’ at its Sturgis, Michigan plant.
Now, baby formula producers are working to once again ramp up production.
‘We know that this recall has further exacerbated an industry-wide instant formula supply shortage,’ Abbott Labs told the Washington Post in a statement.
‘We are doing everything we can to address it,’ the company said, including ramping up production of Similac, air-freighting in products from Europe and working with health care providers to identify alternative formulas.
In the meantime, experts say, parents should not dilute their baby’s formula, try to make their own formula at home or try to replace it with cow’s milk.
Doing so is ‘not nutritionally comparable with breast milk or infant formula,’ according to Brian Dittmeier, senior director of public policy at the National WIC Association, and could cause nutrient deficiencies that can have a ‘profound impact on an infant’s growth and development.’
He said any parents who are struggling to find formula can contact their local WIC agencies and food banks for help locating some in their communities.
The Infant Nutrition Council of America is also encouraging parents to keep a 10-day to two week supply of formula at home – but is urging them not to stockpile products as the shortage continues – and experts say there is no end in sight.