With infant formula in short supply across the country, many parents are concerned about how to feed their little ones.
Although misinformation and poor advice circulating on the Internet may suggest that parents make their own formula or dilute it to stretch out their supplies, experts strongly advise against taking such measures.
“Baby formula contains specific proportions of vital nutrients, proteins and vitamins to support an infant’s growth and development,” says Tidelands Health pediatrician Dr. Lucretia Carter, medical director of pediatrics at the health system. “Trying to replicate baby formula in your home, introducing cow’s milk too early or using formulas that don’t meet federal nutritional requirements can cause more harm than good.”
National supply shortages
According to Datasembly, a company that tracks product supplies, the national out-of-stock rate for baby formulas rose to 43 percent during the first week of May. The shortage is a result of supply chain challenges and a recall on one large manufacturer’s baby formula due to contamination concerns.
As supplies have dwindled, parents have been left wondering how to work around the shortage to keep their children safely fed.
Here are some tips from Dr. Carter based on guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Don’t dilute baby formula or try to make your own formula at home. Commercial formula is highly regulated for safety and to ensure that infants receive the proper amount and types of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals.
- Consider switching to a different brand that’s more readily available. It’s OK for most children to switch to other available commercially made formulas. However, parents of children with special dietary or health needs, including allergies, or who otherwise typically consume a specialized formula should consult a pediatrician or other qualified care provider before making any change.
- Speak to your health care provider if you have any questions about your child or the formula options available to you.
- Check smaller stores and pharmacies for formula rather than only grocery or big-box stores.
- Ask neighbors or parents of other children if they have unexpired formula in their cupboards they can provide to you.
- Don’t feed a baby 6 months of age or younger regular cow’s milk. In an urgent situation, it may be OK to temporarily feed whole cow’s milk to children older than 6 months who typically consume regular formula (not a specialty product for allergies or other health conditions). However, this should not become a routine. Before choosing this option, speak to your pediatrician or care provider for advice and guidance, including steps you should take to help ensure your child gets enough iron.
- Buy formula on the Internet, but only from a trusted source.
- Place only the amount of formula in the bottle that your baby eats to avoid waste.
Relactation: What moms should know
In some cases, moms who have recently transitioned to baby formula from breastmilk may consider trying to resume breastfeeding, a process called relactation, says Dr. Eileen Conaway, a board-certified lactation consultant and associate director of the Tidelands Health MUSC Family Medicine Residency Program.
Relactation is more successful if the infant is less than 3 months old, if a mom has recently given birth or if a mother has recently stopped breastfeeding.
“While it’s important for moms to know that relactation may be possible in certain circumstances, it’s certainly not for everyone, and women shouldn’t feel pressured to try,” Dr. Conaway says. “Like breastfeeding from birth, relactation can be difficult. Patients typically need a lot of support from their family, physician and a lactation consultant when trying to relactate.”
Women who want to pursue relactation should contact a certified lactation consultant or breastfeeding medicine specialist for assistance getting started, she says. Any previous breastfeeding difficulties that a woman experienced, such as pain while breastfeeding or difficulty latching, should be addressed before trying to relactate.
Relactating patients should work closely with their baby’s doctor to monitor the infant’s weight gain and growth, Dr. Conaway adds. While some women may be able to start producing breastmilk again, they may not necessarily produce a full milk supply.
“This is a difficult and stressful time for many parents of young children,” Dr. Carter says. “If you have any questions or concerns about your child, please reach out to your pediatrician. We are here to help.”