MINNEAPOLIS — Some infants in America are going hungry because of a baby formula shortage. Stores just can't keep it in stock and mothers are getting desperate.
Cassie Mullens was thrilled to be a mom again when baby Maddox was born seven weeks ago. But, the little guy has infant reflux, meaning he needs a special, sensitive baby formula.
"As if like having a newborn isn't like a full-time job in itself. Now trying to find formula has become like a full-time job," Mullen lamented.
Mullens lives in a suburb outside Minneapolis, a city whose baby formula supply was 55% below the expected supply in the first week of April. She said she's checked grocery apps hourly to try finding formula.
"The bad thing is the stores, like the systems can't even keep up with how fast the formula is flying off of the shelves," Mullens said. "It’s super stressful and time consuming unfortunately."
Michigan mom Jordan Rocheleau has driven over 100 miles in all directions in search of food for her nearly 4-month-year-old daughter, Nala.
"I found this very nice mother in a different state who has started shipping me formula," Rocheleau said.
According to an analysis by Datasembly, nearly 40% of popular baby formula brands were sold out across the U.S. at the end of last month. Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Missouri, Texas and Tennessee were hit the hardest, with over 50% of formula out of stock at the end of last month.
"Everybody’s petrified. Like, just scared that we're not going to be able to feed our kids," Rocheleau said.
The problem? There are supply chain issues. And a major baby formula brand, Abbott Nutrition, was recalled two months ago. Over 1.2 million infants receive formula benefits through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and Abbott is the exclusive supplier for more than half of the program’s agencies in the U.S., according to Brian Dittmeier, senior director of public policy at the National WIC Association, who sent a statement to Fortune.
"The last thing we all want is to starve our kids," Rocheleau said.
Dr. Gigi Chawla, chief of general pediatrics at Children’s Minnesota, said families have been struggling.
"That’s actually the biggest fear that I have as a pediatrician, is that families will take matters into their own hands," Chawla said.
She said babies could have long-term health effects if parents try to dilute the formula to make it last longer. Families who dilute the formula can cause an imbalance in the salt balance, caloric density and vitamins and other nutrients. Some families have tried making their own formula using recipes online, which is also seen as dangerous. Standard preparation of cow’s milk, goat milk, oat milk or almond milk does not have the same caloric density that’s needed. Kids could have issues with anemia, low blood or low iron if families try to substitute the needed formula.
"I do worry they don't have the same caloric density, nutrients, vitamins, minerals that are needed to sustain growth," Chawla said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki addressed the supply shortage this week, saying the Food and Drug Administration has been working on the issue, pushing formula manufacturers to increase production, optimize their supply lines and prioritize product lines that are of greatest need.
Many pediatricians note breast banks could also be an option. They collect, screen, process and dispense milk donated by nursing moms for other babies. Chawla encouraged parents not to get breast milk through a friend or family member without going through a breast milk bank first.