How to Help Families Affected By the Formula Shortage

Parenting is hard enough without worrying about how you’re going to feed your baby, and it’s heartbreaking that millions of families in the United States continue to struggle to find formula. The ongoing formula shortage stems from the Abbott formula recall earlier this year along with pandemic-related supply chain and production issues.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) breastfeeding report card, 26 percent of babies in the US are breastfed, which means that a large portion of the population relies on formula to feed their babies. As many as 1.7 million babies receive baby formula through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and low-income families are especially vulnerable at this time.

Hopefully, families will soon see more formula on store shelves: President Biden recently signed the Defense Production Act (DPA), which will increase production by 30 to 50 percent in an effort to meet supply and demand. In Operation Fly Formula, will speed up distribution to retailers and local businesses. The Michigan-based Abbott factory is also reportedly slated to reopen in one to two weeks, though it will take longer for families to feel the impact at a store near them.

As parents continue to navigate the formula shortage, here are some ways — big and small — to come together and help those in need.

Donate any unused, unopened formula

As babies reach their first birthdays and switch to cow’s milk, families often end up with a stash of unused formula at home. Food banks and WIC clinics in general do not accept donations of formula due to safety concerns. But during this unprecedented crisis, experts say handing the formula to other organizations can help.

“It’s fine to donate formula as long as it hasn’t expired and hasn’t been opened,” says Micah Resnick, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, and a member of What to Expect Medical Review Board.

If you have extra formula in your home, make sure it meets the following criteria before giving it to another family:

Research local community programs in your area, scan parenting boards on social media or try contacting an organization like United Way o Baby2Baby. You can also call your pediatrician’s office to see if they can recommend local organizations that accept donations or know of families in need of formula.

Consider giving breast milk

While this is not an option for everyone, if you are currently breastfeeding and/or pumping and have an adequate supply, you may want to look into donating some of your breast milk to an accredited milk bank.

“Donating to a milk bank is a wonderful thing to do, but can be a challenging process,” says Dr. Resnick. “That said, it is very much worth the time and effort if you can do it.”

Donors are usually screened through an online questionnaire, in person or over the phone. Medical history, a consent form and blood tests (usually at no cost to the donor) are also required.

Once utilization is completed and approved, the organization will collect milk from mothers (may provide free milk storage bags), process it, then work with hospitals to distribute it to families in need.

Donating to an unaccredited organization or through social media groups is not recommended, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

If you are interested in donating breast milk or volunteering, you can start by contacting one of these organizations:

Consider donating your time or funds to organizations that help families in need

You don’t need a milk supply to make a difference. You can find the nearest one Community Action Center in your area and see what initiatives and events are taking place to help local families affected by the shortage.

If your time is limited, donate to a food program that provides meals to families in need, such as Feeding Americais another wonderful way to give back.

Spread the word in local social media groups

Local social media groups are useful resources for families, and many people turn to these online forums today for help finding formula.

If you see formula on store shelves, take a photo and share it with these groups to save families the time of traveling from store to store. In addition to social media, you can also share on your local What to Expect group.

Just be careful what you post and make sure you’re sharing safe and reliable content. “Not everything you read on social media forums is true,” says Tina Feeley, MD, MPH, a Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts-based pediatrician and member of the What to Expect Medical Review Board. “For example, I’ve seen in my own social media groups false and potentially dangerous information, like ways to make your own formula,” which is incredibly dangerous and you shouldn’t do it.

Be careful when shopping

The thought of not having enough formula to feed your baby is terrifying. And if you’re going to formula feed or plan to do so once your baby arrives, you’ll obviously want to have a safe and convenient supply in your home.

But experts stress that buying only what you need can help ensure there’s enough for all babies. The AAP urges parents not to stockpile formula, and to buy no more than a 10-day to two-week supply at a time.

Offer compassion

Some parents have to contend with unhelpful comments during periods of deprivation (such as “breastfeeding only”) or judgment for relying on infant formula. Being a voice of kindness and understanding can go a long way in stressful times like these.

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