Baby formula shortage affects local families

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Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the U.S. economy has experienced severe product shortages. From retail, to health care, and food items, American consumers are having  a hard time finding items they use on a daily basis. 

Infant formula has joined the list of items that are running low across the country. The national shortage has left shelves at stores like Walgreens, Target, and Walmart empty, forcing parents to travel to nearby cities to search for formula.  The shortage can be attributed to supply chain issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and a voluntary recall on specified formulas by Abbott Laboratories. The Chicago based company is one of the largest formula manufacturers in the U.S., and the maker of many well known brands including Similac, Pedialyte, Alimentum, and Elecare. Abbott issued the recall due to bacteria found at a Michigan facility.

The company released a statement on Friday, addressing the voluntary recall and its plans to help mothers enrolled in the WIC program. “Since the recall, one of our priorities has been to mitigate the supply issues. In particular we’ve been focusing on production in our Cootehill, Ireland, facility to serve the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) consumers. Abbott has been working with the USDA and WIC agencies and paying rebates on competitive products in states where Abbott holds the WIC contract, when Similac is not available. Abbott will continue to pay rebates for competitive products through August 31. This means program participants will continue to be able to obtain formulas, free of charge whether it is Similac or formula from another manufacturer.”

The baby formula shortage has left local mothers fearful and stressed as the shelves at some local stores remain empty. A local nurse who wished to remain anonymous, shared stories of parents that are unable to find the right formula, and even mothers being shamed for choosing not to breastfeed. “This shortage has created a couple of scary scenarios for moms, most of whom are already stressed. The recall originated from something that is a risk associated with formula feeding, but for most parents it’s not even on their radar. We trust these companies with the safety of our babies. Once they identified the issue and started the recall, most parents’ trust in Abbott was shattered. Similac is back on shelves, but parents are apprehensive,” said the nurse.

“As a nurse I’m fielding questions from parents concerned about this. I’m seeing parents crying in formula aisles because they can’t find what they need and they aren’t sure how they’re going to feed their baby. That’s heartbreaking to see. I tell parents all the time to check every store they can think of, even truck stops sometimes, and speak with managers if your formula isn’t on the shelf. Maybe it’s in the back waiting to be stocked, or maybe there is a truck coming in tomorrow afternoon with your formula on it. It never hurts to ask,” the nurse added.

The nurse shared this advice for expecting mothers, “If you can, try to breastfeed. No, not everyone can do it, but our community has lactation consultants that can help you navigate the steep learning curve that comes with breastfeeding your first baby. This is not to shame moms who formula feed in any way, shape, or form. It’s to help moms avoid what I’m seeing in the community. All companies have stepped up production to try to cope with demand. The formula on the shelves now is safe. Do your due diligence with respect to driving to stores to find it. You can also buy online from Amazon. Contact WIC and or your pediatrician if you can’t find your formula so they can help you find a compatible alternative. Do not make your own formula. And please do not water your formula down.”

As of today, a full stock of baby formula can be found at the following stores:

  • Sam’s Club, located at 2174 Martin Luther King Blvd.
  • Rouses Market, located at 561 Grand Caillou Road
  • Rouses Market, located at 204 North Canal Blvd.

Jennifer Nicklas, the Director of LDH’s Bureau of Nutrition Services, said that families who have been unsuccessful in finding a preferred brand of infant formula should turn to other brands, including store-branded formula, to ensure babies are getting the nutrition they need. Families also need to exercise caution in choosing substitutes for their babies.

“We understand the frustration families are feeling if they’re not able to find a brand their baby has become accustomed to, but it is very important that we focus during this shortage on keeping babies well-fed with appropriate substitutes,” Nicklas said. “Families should not substitute cow’s milk, goat’s milk or plant-based milk for infant formula, or water their formula down. Families with questions about other substitutes should contact their pediatrician.”

LDH is suggesting the following tips for families who are dealing with the infant formula shortage.

  • For most babies, it is OK to switch between standard formula brands including generic store brand. For specialized formulas, talk with your pediatrician.
  • Don’t hoard: the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends buying no more than a 10-day to two-week supply for formula.
  • Food pantries, charitable organizations, and local formula representatives may also be able to help. WIC clinics can help connect families to local food banks.
  • Check smaller stores and drug stores and not just the big stores.
  • Use store websites to search for formula products before you go to the store, and use the pickup option if it is available. If you can, buy formula online from well-recognized retailers or pharmacies. Louisiana SNAP is accepted at the following retailers: Amazon, Walmart, Sam’s Club Scan and Go, Sprouts Farmers Market. For infants/children on WIC, visit the Louisiana WIC website for available substitutions. If you are using your WIC EBT card to purchase formula, you can find WIC-approved grocery stores here.
  • Never water down formula to stretch it out – this can lead to babies not getting the nutrition they need.
  • Never make homemade baby formula. This is not safe and the formula does not meet a baby’s nutritional needs.
  • Do not give your baby cow’s milk, goat’s milk, or plant-based milk. These can be low in protein and minerals and babies’ digestive systems will not be able to tolerate them.
  • When switching to appropriate formula substitutes, give your baby time to adjust to a new formula. It is normal for babies to be fussy or gassy at first.
  • Check formula cans for expiration dates and dents or punctures. Do not purchase the formula if it is expired or if the can is damaged.

If you have concerns or questions, contact your pediatrician. For more information on the WIC program, go to or call 1-800-251-BABY (2229).