A national baby formula shortage has left many families desperate for ways to feed their infants. Some spend hours a day driving from store to store, searching for formula. For parents of babies and children who depend on formula, this is a nightmare.
What should you do if you’re struggling to feed your baby? Registered dietitians and infant-feeding experts at UVA Children's — Patti Perks, Olivia Obertello, and Tegan Medico — answered our questions. We also checked the latest advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Virginia Department of Health. Here’s our guide to weathering the infant formula shortage.
What to Do If You Run Out of Formula
Try these ways to expand your search for formula.
Check drugstores and small stores.
They may have formula available when big stores don’t.
Purchase from well-known retailers.
Check social media groups.
Run any advice by your pediatrician.
Switch to another formula brand.
Most babies can be switched to any formula brand, including store brands. But if your baby is on extensively hydrolyzed or amino-acid based formula, talk with your pediatrician or primary care provider about alternatives.
Can You Use a Formula Substitute?
If you use WIC benefits for formula, check this substitution chart.
Here are some other options.
You can use premature formula for your full-term baby safely for a few weeks. Only use this if there’s no other choice. If do go this route, only use Neosure or Enfacare.
You can feed babies 6 months or older whole cow’s or goat’s milk for a brief time when you're out of formula. Don't use with babies under 6 months old. Feed no more than 16-20 oz. per day. Ask your pediatrician about iron for your baby and feed folate-rich foods like rice, avocado, spinach, and beans.
Use toddler formula as a last resort. If you have no other choice, toddler formula can be used safely for a few days in babies close to 1 year old.
Baby Formula Shortage: What NOT to Do
Don’t water down formula to make it last longer.
Your baby needs a specific balance of nutrients. Watering down can cause serious health issues, including biochemical shifts that can be life-threatening.
Don’t make your own formula.
These don’t have all the nutrition your baby needs and are linked to infant deaths.
Don’t use raw (unpasteurized) milk.
Bacteria in raw milk can harm your baby.
Our experts also advise you not to use:
- Plant-based milks, like soy, oat, coconut, or almond
- Imported formula (unapproved by the FDA)
- Unpasteurized donor breast milk from someone you don't know
Why Not Just Breastfeed?
The infant formula shortage makes some people ask: Why don't parents just switch to breastfeeding? However, the answer isn’t that simple.
Some mothers can't breastfeed. For example, a mother going through cancer treatment may not be able to safely breastfeed.
Some babies can't have breastmilk. Some children need special formulas due to a metabolic condition or protein allergy. These children can’t have cow’s milk, either.
Children on feeding tubes need formula, too. Breastfeeding is not an option for these kids.
For those who may want to and can move from formula to breastmilk, the process can take weeks. At UVA Health, we have lactation support that can help. But it's not a quick fix.
Questions About Feeding Your Baby?
If you’re out of formula and not sure what to do, ask your pediatrician.
What Caused the Infant Formula Shortage & How Long Will It Last?
It started with global supply-chain issues. Then Abbott Nutrition, a major baby food manufacturer in the U.S., issued a recall and closed a plant.
On Monday, the FDA reached an agreement with Abbott to reopen in about 2 weeks. That would add more formula to store shelves in 6-8 weeks.
How can you help? Keep a supply of no more than 10 days to 2 weeks on hand. That will make it easier for other families to find the formula they need.
I am so curious about not making your own formula. When I ask my friends who had babies in the 60’s etc we all used Pet milk formula. In my case it was because my husband was stationed on an island in the Aleutians and formula was iffy about being flown in whereas the Commissary always had Pet evaporated milk. My doctor gave me the Pet milk formula to use. I realize formula is better but what about all the babies who used home made formula back then? They seemed to have grown up healthy.