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 infants in the U.S. are breastfed, which means 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 start to see more formula on store shelves: President Biden recently signed the Defense Production Act (DPA), which would ramp up production by 30 to 50 percent in an effort to meet supply and demand. With Operation Fly Formula, distribution will be expedited to retailers and local businesses. The Abbott factory based in Michigan is also reportedly set 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 transition to cow’s milk, families often end up with a stash of unused formula at home. Food banks and WIC clinics generally do not accept formula donations due to safety concerns. But during this unprecedented crisis, experts say donating formula to other organizations can be helpful.
“It is great to donate formula as long as it is not expired and unopened,” says Micah Resnick, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, and member of the What to Expect Medical Review Board.
If you have extra formula in your house, make sure it meets the following criteria before giving it to another family:
Research local community programs in your area, scan parent boards on social media or try reaching out to an organization such as United Way or Baby2Baby. You can also call your pediatrician’s office to see if they can recommend local organizations that are accepting donations or know of families in need of formula.
Consider donating breast milk
Although this is not an option for everyone, if you are currently breastfeeding and/or pumping and have enough supply, you might look into donating some of your breast milk to an accredited milk bank.
“Donating to a milk bank is an amazing thing to do, but can be a challenging process,” notes Dr. Resnick. “That said, it is very much worth the time and effort if you are able to do so.”
Donors are usually screened via an online questionnaire, in-person or over the phone. Medical history, a consent form and bloodwork (generally at no cost to the donor) are also required.
Once intake is completed and approved, the organization will collect milk from mothers (free milk storage bags may be provided), process it, then work with hospitals to distribute it to families in need.
Donating to a non-accredited 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’re interested in donating breast milk or volunteering, you might start by reaching out to one of these organizations:
Consider donating your time or funds to organizations that help families in need
You don’t need milk supply to make a difference. You can locate the nearest 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, donating to a food program that provides meals to families in need, such as Feeding America, is another wonderful way to give back.
Spread the word on local social media groups
Local social media groups are helpful resources for families, and many people are turning to these online forums now for help locating formula.
If you spot formula on store shelves, take a photo and share it in these groups to save families the time of having to travel from store to store. In addition to social media, you can also share on your local What to Expect group.
Just be careful about what you post and make sure you’re sharing safe and reliable content. “Not everything you read on social media forums is true,” notes Tina Feeley, M.D., M.P.H., a pediatrician based in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts and member of the What to Expect Medical Review Board. “For example, I have seen on my own social media groups false and potentially dangerous information, such as ways to make your own formula,” which is incredibly dangerous and you should never do.
Be mindful when shopping
The thought of not having enough formula to feed your baby is terrifying. And if you formula-feed or are planning on doing so once your little one arrives, it’s understandable to want to have a safe and comfortable supply in your house.
But experts stress that buying only what you need will help ensure there’s enough for all babies. The AAP has urged parents not to hoard formula, and to buy no more than a 10-day to two-week supply at a time.
Some parents have had to grapple with unhelpful comments during the shortage (such as “just breastfeed”) or judgment for relying on baby formula. Being a voice of kindness and understanding can go a long way in stressful times like these.
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