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Formula shortage has parents, pediatricians, and crisis care nursery concerned

What to do, and what NOT to do
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Posted at 6:00 AM, May 10, 2022

CLEVELAND — Bare shelves at stores across Northeast Ohio and across the nation.

Walmart, Target, Giant Eagle, Meijer — retailers all dealing with a baby formula shortage impacting our littlest lives.

Josephine is just five weeks old, formula is her only source of sustenance.

And for mom Autumn Kappus, these bare shelves have added even more stress to those sleepless newborn days.

“You walk in the store and it is totally empty - so you panic because she’s five weeks old, you know? How are you going to feed your baby?” Kappus said.

It’s the question thousands of parents have been asking after a massive recall by Abbott Nutrition earlier this year, which makes formulas like Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare.

Inflation and supply chain issues have only made the shortage worse.

According to Datasembly, the “out of stock” rate for formula in April hit 31%.

Kappus spent hours on the phone calling around to find formula for Josephine, driving store to store to stock up for a week at a time.

“I worry, you know, I have the means - a car, a telephone - to drive around and go everywhere, but what about somebody who doesn’t have the means?” Kappus said.

Like those who come to Providence House, a crisis care nursery in Cleveland, seeking safety for their babies.

At times, the nursery can be home to a dozen babies, all needing formula.

Providence House had to get rid of about 85% of the formula donations it received over the holidays due to the recall. Ever since donations have been significantly down.

President and CEO Natalie Leek said the last time they saw this type of formula shortage was during Hurricane Katrina, when diaper and formula donations went south to help relief efforts.

“We’re just like, ‘Where are we gonna go, how are we gonna get this?’” Leek said. “These children are relying on us, their parents are relying on us to provide the care they need.”

The shortage is also causing some parents to take desperate measures, like diluting formula by adding more water or switching to regular milk before baby is a year old.

Dr. Lauren Beene is a pediatrician with University Hospitals.

She said not using formula exactly as it’s meant can result in brain damage or be life-threatening for babies.

“I would also not ever recommend making your own formula at home, that’s come up as well in clinic and that can be dangerous,” Beene said.

Beene said her best advice is if your baby is on a standard formula - don’t be afraid to switch to a store brand if that’s all you can find.

“Your baby might not immediately love it if it’s not what they’re used to, but from a medical perspective, it’s safe to change formula brands,” she said.

And if you’re struggling, ask your pediatrician’s office or sign up for WIC, so they can help you get what you need.

Kappus said Josephine switched formulas, switched brands and is thriving now. But as every parent knows, the worrying never stops.

“It’s scary because you don’t know,” Kappus said. “We have a month but you don’t know what next month is going to bring.”

We checked with the state and local WIC offices as well - they tell us they are impacted by the shortage but are working with manufacturers to get families what they need.

There are a couple of different options to find a WIC clinic close to you.

If you'd like to donate to Providence House, they say they are grateful for unopened cans of formula dropped off. You can also purchase gift cards, or use their Amazon wish list at provhouse.org/wishlist

Late Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the FDA is "working around the clock" to address the formula shortage.