empty supermarket shelves with a sign reading "due to limited supplies, baby formula is limited to 4 per customer"

US parents swap and sell baby food amid shortage

A shortage of baby food across the US has forced frenzied parents into online bartering and selling groups to keep their babies fed.

President Joe Biden has stepped up his administration’s response, with executives from Gerber and Reckitt to discuss how to increase production and how his administration can help, and with leaders from Walmart and Target on how to replenish shelves and regional differences. in access formula, said the White House.

The U.S. government plans to keep an eye on possible price increases and to work with trading partners in Mexico, Chile, Ireland and the Netherlands on imports, even though 98 percent of baby food is made domestically.

The problem is the result of supply chain disruptions and a safety recall, and has had a cascade of effects: retailers are limiting what customers can buy, and doctors and health professionals are urging parents to contact food banks or doctors’ offices, in addition to warning against watering down the formula to stretch supplies or use online DIY prescriptions.

The deficit mainly weighs on lower-income families following the recall by formular Abbott, amid concerns about contamination.

The recall wiped out many brands covered by WIC, a federal food stamp program that serves women, infants and children, although the program now allows branded substitutes.

Ashley Maddox feeds her five-month-old son Cole with formula bought from a Mother in Need Facebook group. AP: Gregory Bull

Mr. Biden’s administration is working with states to make it easier for WIC recipients to purchase formulas of varying sizes that may not currently cover their benefits.

According to the White House, about half of infant formula nationwide is purchased by participants using WIC benefits.

Clara Hinton, 30, of Hartford, Connecticut, belongs to that group.

She has a 10-month-old daughter, Patience, who has an allergy that requires a special formula.

Mrs. Hinton, who has no car, took the bus to the suburbs, went from town to town, and finally found the right formula at a newsagent in West Hartford.

But she said the store refused to take her WIC card, not the first time that happened.

Ms Hinton said her baby recently ran out of formula from an already opened can she received from a friend.

“She has no formula,” she said.

“I just put her on regular milk. What should I do? Her pediatrician made it clear that I shouldn’t do that, but what should I do?”

a woman feeds her daughter with a bottle in front of a door with a picture of Mickey Mouse
Elizabeth Amador goes from store to store trying to find the specific baby food her child needs. AP: Rick Bowmer

In Utah, Elizabeth Amador, fellow WIC cardholder, goes from store to store every day after she finishes her job at a call center in Salt Lake City, desperate for a particular formula her nine-month-old daughter needs.

She recently only had one can, but had four cans on Thursday.

She said she won’t stop her cumbersome daily routine until she knows the shortage is over.

“It sucks, you know, because of the high gas prices,” said Ms. Amador.

Some parents also use social media to bridge supply shortages.

Ashley Maddox, a 31-year-old mother of two from San Diego, started a Facebook group Wednesday after she couldn’t find a formula for her five-month-old son Cole at the naval base commissioner.

“I hooked up with a girl in my group and she had seven cans of the formula I need that were just sitting in her house and her baby no longer needed it,” she said.

“So I drove off. It was about a 20 minute drive and picked it up and paid her. It was a miracle.”

She said there was already a stigma attached to being a non-breastfeeding mother and the group has become supportive.

“Not being able to have that formula is scary,” she said.

Jennifer Kersey, 36 of Cheshire, Connecticut, said she had her last can of formula milk for her seven-month-old son, Blake Kersey Jr, before someone saw her post on a Facebook group and came over with some sample cans.

She said she and others in the group help each other, find stores that might stock the formula, and take it to moms who need it.

“At first I started to panic,” she said.

“But I’m a believer in the Lord, so I said, ‘God, I know you’re going to take care of me,’ and I started reaching out to people, ‘Hey, do you have this formula?'”

Kimberly Anderson, 34, of Hartford County, Maryland, said her seven-month-old son uses a recipe that is nearly impossible to find locally.

She turned to social media and said people in Utah and Boston had found the formula she paid to ship.

“They say it takes a village to raise a baby,” she said.

“I didn’t realize my town is all over the US as I ping friends and family for their zip code so I can check their local Walmarts to ship them directly to me.”

Toddler milk offered online

Parents desperate for infant formulas on retailer websites such as Amazon and Google are presented with products intended for toddlers, including toddler goat milk powder and plant-based milk powders.

One banner ad on Amazon offers “organic non-GMO formula for babies and toddlers,” but a closer inspection of the product’s image shows it’s only intended for children over 12 months of age.

Other toddler milk ads appear on Amazon’s website on out-of-stock baby food pages.

Toddler milk cans are often very similar to infant formula, but the ingredients are different, with toddler milk sometimes containing more sugar and calories, said Frances Fleming-Milici, UConn’s director of marketing initiatives at the Rudd Center, who has studied toddler milk packaging. Toddler milk also doesn’t meet FDA standards for formulas.

“It’s not like buying a pair of shoes. This is a little more serious,” Ms. Fleming-Milici said.

dr. Navneet Hundal, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said she and other pediatricians have been struggling with the formula shortage for months.

Formula companies have stopped handing out samples to pass on to parents, she said.

She advises new parents to talk to their pediatrician to see if there are other brands of formulas they can safely feed their newborns.

“This now rules our clinical practices,” she said.

Shelves in a supermarket turn out to be partially empty with some baby food
The recall of powdered formula products produced at a facility run by Abbott Nutrition followed a safety inspection conducted on sick infants. AP: Michael Conroy

Safety call after infant death

A safety recall compounded the challenges.

The Food and Drug Administration warned consumers on Feb. 17 to avoid some powdered baby food products from a Sturgis, Michigan, facility run by Abbott Nutrition, which subsequently initiated a voluntary recall.

According to findings released by federal safety inspectors in March, Abbott failed to maintain sanitation conditions and procedures at the plant.

The FDA launched its investigation after four babies became ill with a rare bacterial infection after consuming a factory-made formula.

All four were hospitalized and two died.

Chicago-based Abbott said in a statement, “There is no evidence linking our formulas to these teething problems.”

Samples of the bacteria collected from the babies did not match those at the company’s factory, Abbott noted.

Abbott said that, pending FDA approval, “we could restart the site in two weeks.”

The company would first produce EleCare, Alimentum and Metabolic formulas and then begin production of Similac and other formulas.

Once production started, it would take six to eight weeks for the baby food to hit the shelves.

On Tuesday, the FDA said it was working with US manufacturers to increase their output and streamline paperwork to allow for more imports.

ABC/wires

Posted updated

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