Baby formula is the latest product that’s becoming increasingly hard to find.
For months, securing baby formula for parents has been a struggle, as supply-chain setbacks have gradually taken a toll, but those problems were compounded when Abbott Nutrition — a company that makes three major formula brands Similac, EleCare and Alimentum — recalled products in February.
Abbott asked consumers to return products due to contamination concerns at a Michigan plant that it said could cause a rare, but high-risk, infection. “If your infant is experiencing symptoms related to Cronobacter or Salmonella infection, such as poor feeding, irritability, temperature changes, jaundice, grunting breaths, abnormal movements, lethargy, rash, or blood in the urine or stool; contact your health care provider to report their symptoms and receive immediate care,” the company said in its recall announcement.
The percentage of out-of-stock rates for baby formula started climbing last July, but saw a sharp increase last November, according to Datasembly, a retail data company. Last month, 31% formula products made by different brands were out of stock nationwide, an 11% increase since November. And in a few major metro areas — Minneapolis, Des Moines and San Antonio — more than half of baby-formula products were out of stock.
‘Inflation, supply chain shortages, and product recalls have brought an unprecedented amount of volatility for baby formula.’ — Datasembly founder and CEO Ben Reich
“Inflation, supply-chain shortages, and product recalls have brought an unprecedented amount of volatility for baby formula,” Datasembly founder and CEO Ben Reich said in a statement. “We expect to continue to see the baby formula category being dramatically affected by these conditions.”
To manage inventory, both CVS and Walgreens issued restrictions on purchases — limiting them to three products at a time, and said they are working with vendors and suppliers to secure more products.
Buy Buy Baby, Walmart Target and Abbott Nutrition did not respond to MarketWatch’s request for comment.
Baby formula, or infant formula, has a shelf life of up to one year if the products are unopened. However, once opened, they should be used up within one month, according to Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and within 24 hours if mixed with water. Usually used in place of or in combination with breastfeeding, it provides most nutritional needs of babies.
In the face of the shortage, Google searches for alternatives to baby formula or DIY recipes spiked this week. But pediatricians and professional trade groups — including the American Academy of Pediatricians — strongly advised against making your own.
‘Although recipes for homemade formulas circulating on the internet may seem healthy or less expensive, they are not safe and do not meet your baby’s nutritional needs.’ — Steven Abrams, a board-certified pediatrician
“Although recipes for homemade formulas circulating on the internet may seem healthy or less expensive, they are not safe and do not meet your baby’s nutritional needs,” Steven Abrams, a board-certified pediatrician and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote for a Healthy Children column.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning last year that some babies had been hospitalized suffering from hypocalcemia (or low calcium) because of homemade recipes. “Homemade infant formula recipes have not been evaluated by the FDA and may lack nutrients vital to an infant’s growth,” it said.
Aside from insufficient nutrients, homemade formula also carries the risk of cross contamination, Abrams warned.
Buying baby formula online from overseas is also not advised, as imported formula is not reviewed by FDA and consumers cannot be sure that proper shipping and storage policies were adhered to. Mixing more water to conserve powder is also a no-no — as it will likely result in a nutritional imbalance.
Babies under 12 months old have specific needs for nutrients. “The first year of life is a key time for your baby’s brain and body to grow,” Abrams wrote, adding that even missing those nutrients for a few days could have long-term effects on their development.
Experts say that parents should always turn to their own pediatrician for help before making new decisions about feeding their baby. For most babies without dietary restrictions, Abrams said that switching brands should be fine.
The Infant Nutrition Council of America has the following advice for parents who urgently need baby formula. “In emergency situations, local food pantries, churches, shelters and hospital emergency rooms may provide small amounts of infant formula that will be supplied based on need,” it said. “Contact Feeding America or dial 2-1-1 to be connected to a community resource specialist who can help you find local resources. If you have questions or concerns about feeding your infant, please contact your baby’s doctor.”