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Formula shortage stressing families

Recall, supply chain issues to blame

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the name of a milk bank and to clarify information about using a milk bank.

While the baby formula shortage is a national issue, local families, day care centers and agencies are feeling the impact.

The current shortage was caused in part by a safety recall, said Mark O’Neill, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which oversees the Women, Infants and Children program.

The recall of several major bands of powdered infant formula made by Abbott Nutrition added to supply chain problems caused by labor shortages from the COVID-19 pandemic. Abbott is one of only a handful of companies that produce the vast majority of the U.S. formula supply, so the recall wiped out a large portion of the market.

“Unfortunately, the timing of the recall has exacerbated the shortage already occurring due to existing supply chain issues,” he said.

The shortage is making it difficult for parents, whether participating in WIC or not, to find formulas in stores.

Bright Ideas Childcare and Preschool in Altoona has seen at least one family affected by the baby formula shortage.

Director Nicole Crum said one family got their formula from a supplier that made a specialty type without milk, but now has to buy from another brand because they were out of inventory.

A lot of babies and children have dietary issues, she said.

“For babies that have gastric issues, having the right type of formula is important,” Crum said. “It is really difficult to get specialty types of formula now.”

While the center does have formula to provide for the babies in its care, Crum said most of the infants are fed breast milk or their parents bring in formula for their child.

It’s not just formula that is in low supply, Crum said, as she is also seeing supply chain issues with baby food related to the lack of available formula.

“With the shortage of formula, some parents are trying to wean their children off formula early and give them baby food instead, which is causing a shortage for that, too,” she said.

Because there is a national supply chain shortage, there is not much agencies can do, but they are continuing to find ways to help, said Matt Uhler, United Way of Blair County executive director.

“The best we can do is to use alternatives to formula if available to allow those that only can use formula to get what they need,” Uhler said. “As a community, we need people to help donate any extra formula they have to local food banks.”

Alison Keating, leader of the local La Leche League, said there are two breast milk banks in the state, Mid-Atlantic Mother’s Milk Bank and The Mother’s Milk Bank at Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania.

Donor milk at CHOP is only available to patients, but at Mid-Atlantic Mother’s Milk Bank, it is available to outpatient babies by prescription or hospital order, according to its website.

There are also informal milk donation banks, such as Human Milk 4 Human Babies and Eats on Feets.

These organizations offer connections for families in need of milk, but all responsibility rests on the family using the milk to be in contact with the donor and ask questions. Guidelines for safe milk sharing are offered on the websites, Keating said.

She said relactation, a process of restarting breastfeeding, is also an option women can take advantage of to feed their babies.

“Relactation works better closer to giving birth; the longer you wait the harder it is, but it is possible,” Keating said.

According to La Leche League’s website, the process is started by expressing the breast at least 12 times per day for 20 to 30 minutes, including at night.

“Doing this gives the message to the body that you want to do that,” Keating said.

She advised that this takes time and is not an immediate solution if a baby needs food now.

“Relactation is possible, it needs support and monitoring to make sure the baby is fed while supply is being re-established,” Keating said.

She understands that going to five stores and not finding any formula in the stores is really scary, but this should be a call for more to consider breastfeeding.

“Those who want to have children in the future might want to consider breastfeeding,” Keating said.

She said anyone interested in breastfeeding can learn about it during pregnancy, and invites them to attend a La Leche meeting or take a class at the hospital to learn how milk is made and how to meet breastfeeding goals.

According to O’Neill, WIC and the state Department of Health are working closely with local agencies to advise families searching for formula on product availability and exchanges as information becomes available.

Mirror Staff Writer Cati Keith can be reached at 814-946-7535.

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