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My Baby Needs Formula, And I’m Getting Scared She Won’t Have It

baby formula
Image CreditMike Mozart/Flickr

I’ve never considered myself a particularly anxious mother. Maybe that’s why I have five kids. I’ve always understood that life happens, mistakes will be made, things can get messy, and you have to go with the flow.

But now I’m faced with the possibility of not being able to feed my infant, and that makes me nervous. In case you haven’t heard the news, there is a baby formula shortage in America. In my wildest dreams, I never could have imagined that parents would be scrambling to find sustenance for their babies in the year 2022 in the United States.

But it’s happening across the nation, and I’m one of the mothers who is now being forced to wonder: What happens if I can’t feed my child?

My youngest is 8 months old and reliant on formula for her primary source of nutrition. She has two teeth and an immature digestion tract, so she’s hardly going to be eating steak for dinner (with the price of steak these days, none of us is going to be eating it anytime soon, but that’s a subject for another time). She needs formula at this stage of her life, and it’s my job as her mother to provide it for her.

Rumblings of Shortage

I first noticed something was off a couple of months ago, when my local grocery store shelf of formula wasn’t as stocked as it normally was. But then I started hearing rumblings of a formula shortage on social media.

A few weeks later, my monthly Amazon shipment was delayed, with no indication of when I could expect it. Since I was running low, I tried to add some to my Costco Instacart order. They were out, my shopper messaged me. I finally found some at Target and bought several weeks’ worth.

Last week, I was at my local grocery store checking my email in line at the register when I got a notification that my Amazon shipment was no longer delayed — it was canceled entirely. I picked up the last can of our brand of formula in the store as my final purchase.

When I tweeted about my experience, I got several replies from other parents experiencing the same thing. Some parents haven’t been as lucky as I have been at finding formula within a few miles of my home, even if I had to search for it. Families have reported driving three or four hours just to hunt down formula to feed their babies!

There is a baby formula shortage, and even if parents weren’t sharing their stories online, the numbers speak for themselves.

Out of Stock Nationwide

According to analysis from Datasembly, 40 percent of top-selling baby formula products were out of stock at retailers across the United States as of April 24. That’s up from 11 percent in November of 2021. Six states — Tennessee, Texas, Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota — hit shortages of more than 50 percent. Why is this happening?

Aside from one manufacturing plant being shut down since mid-February, the only other answer seems to be infamous supply chain issues. The Biden administration and other officials have been largely silent about the formula shortage. Finally, on Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki addressed the issue, claiming it is a “priority for the FDA.”

But she did not explain why it is happening, why producing enough formula to feed the nation’s babies isn’t a top priority, or provide any sort of timeline for when parents can expect shelves to be fully restocked with their infants’ sustenance. The only thing she did do is possibly scare moms and dads further by saying, “I don’t believe there’s a national stockpile of baby formula.”

She didn’t exactly inspire confidence that this administration is doing anything effective to fix this disaster.

What Alternatives?

What’s a mom to do when she can’t find the formula she knows her baby needs in order to get adequate nutrition? Switching between formulas in order to use “what’s available” isn’t always an option. Any parent who has had a formula-fed baby knows that when you find one that makes your little one happy, you stick with it. (Except for the ones with magical unicorn babies, but we don’t talk about them.)

While some moms can, I can’t start breastfeeding again — that train left the station months ago. I know there are ways to purchase breastmilk from other lactating mamas, but it’s incredibly expensive, and I’m happy to leave that for the babies who truly need it.

So here I sit, an anxious, freaked-out mom for the first time, wondering if I’ll be able to find formula next time I go to the store. Wondering what the problem is, and why isn’t it being addressed and fixed? Is it a supply problem? A labor shortage? Why won’t they tell us?

Why are babies, the most vulnerable among us, being put last? Whatever happened to the supply chain to cause this growing crisis needs to be solved, and it needs to be solved now. The babies need to eat, and parents have had enough to worry about in the last two-plus years. They shouldn’t have to worry about being able to find formula too.