Baby Formula Shortage: What to Do and What Not to Do to Feed Your Baby
Updated: Aug 9, 2022
A shortage of baby formula is currently affecting the United States, and making parents and caregivers scramble to feed their babies. So what should you do if you run out and can't find any more of your preferred product? Here is a list of dos and don’ts to help you keep your baby healthy and fed during this formula shortage.
DISCLAIMER: Each child has their own development timeline and specific needs. The content below is general information and for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional one-on-one advice. You are responsible for supervising your child’s health and for evaluating the appropriateness of the information below for your child. Please consult your healthcare provider regarding support or advice for your child's well being and health. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen here.
Why is there a Formula Shortage?
The shortage of infant formula in the United States has been persisting for the past two years, since the outbreak of COVID-19. But it has worsened over the last two months due to supply chain issues and a recall on powdered baby formula issued by the U.S.Food and Drug Administration in February.
What to Know About the 2022 Formula Recall
In mid-February, 2022, Abbott Nutrition voluntarily recalled certain powdered infant formulas due to consumer complaints of infection with two different bacteria, Cronobacter sakazakii or Salmonella Newport. This recall centered on commonly used therapeutic formulas for infants and children - Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare. While these formulas are specialized and used only under medical supervision, their removal from the market meant that alternatives needed to be found.
At the end of February, 2022, Abbott Nutrition also recalled one lot of Similac PM 60/40 powdered formula (Lot # 27032K80 (can) / Lot # 27032K800 (case) manufactured in Sturgis, Michigan. This recall was made after a report of the death of an infant with a Cronobacter sakazakii infection who consumed Similac PM 60/40 powdered formula from this lot. That entire Abbott plant has been shut down for over two months as a result, limiting not only the recalled formulas but other formulas made at the Sturgis plant.
Abbot Nutrition products included in the Feb. 2022 recall. (FDA)
>>Download the FREE Quick-Start Guide to Solids to learn WHEN, HOW, and WHAT to feed your baby when starting solids.
How to Know if the Baby Formula You have at Home is Included in this Recall
For the Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare powdered formula products recalled on February 17 look for this information on the package:
First two digits of the code are 22 through 37, AND
on the container contains “K8,” “SH,” or “Z2,” AND
Use-by date is 4-1-2022 (APR 2022) or later.
Specific images showing which Abbot Nutrition products are included in the Feb. 2022 recall. (FDA)
For Similac PM 60/40, review these codes on the bottom of the package to find out if the product you have is included in this recall:
Lot # 27032K80 (can)
Lot # 27032K800 (case)
You can also enter your product’s lot code on Abbott Nutrition’s website to see if it is part of the recall. Another option is to check the full list of recalled products on FDA’s consumer advisory page. Or call the company at 1-800-986-8540 to help you.
What TO DO to Feed Your Baby During this Formula Shortage
Be flexible with brands. All formulas meet the same nutrient guidelines. It is called “formula” for a reason! For most babies, it is OK to switch to any available formula, including store brands, unless your baby is on a specific extensively hydrolyzed or amino acid-based formula such as Elecare (no store brand exists). Ask your baby’s physician about recommended specialty formula alternatives available for your baby.
Consider using a private label (store) brand. When it comes to infant formula, there is no evidence that one brand makes for a healthier baby than another. If you have been using well-known name brand formulas, consider using a store brand or private label formula. Some parents are concerned that store brand formulas are low-grade or nutritionally inferior products. That is not the case! Every private label formula meets all FDA and Infant Formula Act requirements. They are made using good manufacturing processes using the ingredients used in brand name formulas. More than 60 retail stores have their own private label brands. Perrigo, a company which has been making formula for over thirty years, has put together a handy chart to help parents find alternatives.
Switch to the liquid or ready-made version of your usual formula. Many powdered formulas also have a liquid or ready-made version — they’re just a bit pricier than the DIY kind. Since they cost more, they tend not to be as popular, so it's less likely they'll be out of stock. If you are able to buy a ready-made variety, there's an added bonus: You'll save yourself some time and effort since the formula is pre-mixed.
Use store shopping apps and online resources. These can be useful for searching stores that are outside your immediate area, but within reasonable driving distance. Formula is sold in many places, including grocery stores, pharmacies, boutique stores, and other baby-focused stores. Instacart, ThriveMarket, Anycart, Shipt, are some of these resources.
Order formula online. If you can afford it, buy formula online until store shortages ease. Two infant formula brands (Bobbie and ByHeart) are available only or almost exclusively online. You won’t find them in stores. Purchase from well-recognized distributors and pharmacies rather than individually sold or auction sites. Do not import formula from overseas, since imported formula is not FDA-reviewed.
Check smaller stores. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends checking smaller stores and drug stores instead of the big retailers (like your local "mom and pop" shop or). They may not be out of supply when the bigger stores are.
Check social media groups. There are groups dedicated to infant feeding and formula, and members may have ideas for where to find formula in your area. And you may meet another parent with extra in stock. Make sure to check any advice with your baby’s physician.
Search for charities or food assistance programs. You might qualify for benefits such as WIC, SNAP or TANF — programs that provide families with vouchers, Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT), or cash for buying formula. These assistance programs have income requirements, however, given the shortage, some may be more willing to expand eligibility, depending on the area or circumstance. Families that don't qualify for benefits may be able to access formula and other infant supplies through local food banks. Visit FeedingAmerica.org or call 211 to connect with a specialist for help. United Way’s 2-1-1 is another resource, dial 2–1-1 to be connected to a community resource specialist affiliated with United Way who may be able to help you identify food pantries and other charitable sources of local infant formula and baby food.
Introduce solid foods as soon as your baby is ready for it. With the baby formula shortages, now more than ever it’s important to introduce solid foods as soon as your baby is ready — when baby is around 6 months of age and has met all the milestones for solids —- in order to gradually decrease the need for commercial infant formula. Make sure to maximize your baby’s first foods by providing foods that are good sources of important nutrients for baby’s growth and development, such as iron-rich and high-calorie foods. Here is another of our posts to help you decide when your baby is ready to start solids.
You can give your baby a safe start to solid foods! This on-demand workshop will provide you with the knowledge and confidence you need to wean well.
Get professional help if you get stuck. If you can't find formula, call your pediatrician to see if they have any in stock. Pediatricians often get samples of different formulas and may be able to help out. If your baby is refusing a new formula, talk to your health provider for ideas of how to safely make it more appealing.
Be patient with possible tummy troubles. Babies may or may not experience digestive issues with changing formulas. Don’t necessarily expect tummy troubles to happen. Infant formula marketers have misled parents for many years by promoting switching formula to prevent or treat even the mildest of digestive changes. Don’t fall for this marketing. Most mild digestive concerns resolve with time and not formula switching. It is safe for healthy babies, even those with mild digestive concerns like gas, to change brands. But if you see signs that the formula doesn’t agree with your baby, such as blood in the stool, vomiting, or diarrhea after introducing a new formula, call your baby’s provider.
Ask your friends and family to help. Many parents are getting help from friends and family members to look in their local stores, especially non-chain grocery stores. Try even the ones who live out of state. They can always ship it in case they find it. If money is getting tight because you need to buy a more expensive brand, don’t hesitate to ask for help from loved ones.
Use strategies to help increase milk production. If you are partially breastfeeding, you may try different safe strategies to help increase milk production to need less commercial infant formula. A lactation consultant can help you with this. Here is a few of my favorite LC accounts -
Consider relactate or re-establish milk production. If your baby is exclusively formula fed, you may consider discussing with a lactation consultant how you may be able to relactate or re-establish milk production so you can partially or exclusively breastfeed your baby, and reduce the need for formula.
Search for milk banks in your area. Milk banks collect breast milk from mothers who have more than their babies need, then screens, pasteurizes, and tests it, and, finally, dispenses it to premature and fragile infants in need, either in hospitals or homes. I have donated breast milk to a milk bank in the past, and they have a very rigorous donor screening process that includes a phone interview, medical history, and blood tests. Search on the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) website for banks in your area. This organization accredits more than 30 nonprofit milk banks in the United States and Canada.
Think of others when buying formula. Don't buy formula in bulk that you don't need. By hoarding up on it, you're obviously affecting a lot of other people. To help ease the supply issue, the AAP advises buying no more than a 10- to 14-day supply of formula at a time.
What NOT TO DO to Feed Your Baby During this Shortage
Do not feed your baby any recalled powdered formula. If you have any recalled powdered formula, immediately stop feeding it to your baby and return it for a refund at the store where you bought it. You can also return it to Abbott Nutrition.
Do not use it if you can’t find the product’s information. Do not use Similac, Similac PM 60/40, Alimentum, and EleCare powdered formula products for which you can’t find the code on the formula’s package. Don’t take the risk!
Do not buy formula online that comes from outside the United States. This formula could be counterfeit—for example, it may have fake labels to misrepresent the quality or identity of a formula, the product may not have the proper nutrients or ingredients to feed your baby, or it might have a fake label with a wrong use-by date.
Do not buy formula from online unknown suppliers. Always steer clear of buying formula from online distributors like Facebook Marketplace, eBay and Craigslist, as well as from unknown suppliers, as there's no way of telling whether the seller's product is safe and sanitary (i.e. packaged and stored properly, no ingredients added, etc.), whether you're getting the actual product you think you're getting, or whether the distributor is reliable, reputable and above-board. There have been reports of fake formula being sold online with phony labels that give inaccurate expiration dates, ingredients and nutritional information.
Do not water down formula to help it stretch or “go further.” While it may be tempting to do this, it is not a safe thing to do. Watering down formula is dangerous! Infant nutrient needs are high for their smaller size. Even small deficits can cause health problems. Formulas are made with a precise balance of ingredients, including electrolytes and minerals, which can be dangerous to babies when altered. Always follow label instructions or those given to you by your pediatrician when preparing formula for your baby.
Do not turn to homemade formulas. 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. Infant deaths have been reported from use of some homemade formulas. Commercial formulas are FDA-regulated to be made specifically for a developing infant's needs and that is very hard to recreate at home. Do not make your own formula or purchase homemade formulas because this increases risk for contamination and improper nutrition for their infant. Homemade formulas often do not contain the correct types of nutrients that infants need for their growth and development.
Do not use toddler formula as a substitute for regular formula, unless otherwise instructed by your baby’s physician. Toddler formulas are not recommended for infants. However, if you absolutely have no other choice, toddler formula is safe for a few days for babies who are close to a year of age, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Discuss this with your baby’s physician before offering it.
Do not substitute cow’s milk for an infant formula, unless otherwise instructed by your baby’s physician. Cow's milk is not recommended as a main beverage for infants under the age of one year. Before your child is 12 months old, cow's milk may put baby at risk for intestinal bleeding. It also has too many proteins and minerals for your baby's kidneys to handle and does not have the right amount of nutrients your baby needs. The AAP, however, states that whole milk from a cow (not the non-fat stuff) is OK to feed a baby who is older than 6 months of age and is usually on regular formula (not a specialty product for allergies or other special health needs), "for a brief period of time in a pinch." That is, it's better than any other alternative -- including homemade formula. Again, this should only be done in consultation with your baby’s physician.They also state that if you do this (per recommendation of your baby’s physician) to try to limit cow’s milk to no more than 24 ounces a day. Additionally, AAP recommends including plenty of iron-containing solid foods in their diet while you are using whole cow's milk. You may also talk with your pediatrician about giving your baby an iron supplement.
Do not use plant-based milk or other cow’s milk substitute instead of baby formula, unless otherwise instructed by your baby’s physician. Milk alternatives are not recommended as a main beverage for babies under a year of age or infants with certain medical conditions requiring specialized formulas. Fortified (with protein and calcium) soy milk may also be an option "for a few days in an emergency" for babies who are close to 1 year old, the AAP says, but change back to formula as soon as possible. Be especially careful to avoid almond milk or other plant milks as these are often low in protein and minerals. Discuss this with your baby’s physician also.
Looking for more resources to help you raise a healthy and happy little eater? Try our FREE FOOD LIBRARY for inspiration of first foods to offer to your baby!
Some More Information for WIC Participants
If you get infant formula through the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, do not throw the formula out. Instead, you should take it to the store for a refund and exchange or call the company at 1-800-986-8540 to help you. WIC recipients should be able to obtain a different brand of similar formula. Call your local WIC clinic for more guidance. Also see:
When will the Baby Formula Shortage be Over?
Because multiple issues have contributed to the current shortage in infant formula in the US, unfortunately, it isn’t clear how long these shortages will continue.
The US Food and Drug Administration announced an update on its work with formula manufacturers to increase production. The FDA also said it isn't opposed to parents reaching out to Abbott to receive "life-sustaining" specialty formula from the facility where products have been on hold because of the recall, but Abbott will release these products on a case-by-case basis, depending on individual needs.
Abbott said it is working with health care professionals and state agencies to offer alternative formulas when possible. The company also said it's prioritizing liquid ready-to-feed formula products, and bringing in formula shipments from an FDA-registered plant in Europe. Other formula manufacturers are "meeting or exceeding" capacity levels to meet the demand, according to the FDA.
Move Forward with Confident and Joyful Feeding
Being unable to find formula to feed a child is an incredibly stressful reality for many parents and caregivers right now. No parent should have to sacrifice feeding their baby no matter how they choose to feed. I hope this list of dos and don’ts will help you navigate this unfortunate formula shortage, and help you continue to move forward with confident and joyful feeding.
Happy Eating & Feeding,
As always, discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider. This post and this site is not meant to be a substitute for medical advice. The materials and services provided by this site are for informational purposes only.
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (2022a, February 17). Abbott Voluntarily Recalls Powder Formulas Manufactured at One Plant. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved May 17, 2022, from https://www.fda.gov/safety/recalls-market-withdrawals-safety-alerts/abbott-voluntarily-recalls-powder-formulas-manufactured-one-plant
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (2022b, May 16). Questions & Answers for Consumers Concerning Infant Formula. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved May 17, 2022, from https://www.fda.gov/food/people-risk-foodborne-illness/questions-answers-consumers-concerning-infant-formula#10
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (2022c, May 17). FDA Investigation of Cronobacter Infections: Powdered Infant Formula (February 2022). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved May 17, 2022, from https://www.fda.gov/food/outbreaks-foodborne-illness/fda-investigation-cronobacter-infections-powdered-infant-formula-february-2022#622f1cc391bf6
Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA). (2022, May 16). Fact Sheet: Helping Families Find Formula During the Infant Formula Shortage. HHS.Gov. Retrieved May 17, 2022, from https://www.hhs.gov/formula/index.html
Parents and caregivers should not feed their baby recalled formula. (2022, May 12). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved May 17, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/cronobacter/outbreaks/infant-formula.html
Product Lookup. (n.d.). Abbott Nutrition. Retrieved May 17, 2022, from https://www.similacrecall.com/us/en/product-lookup.html
What should I know about the infant formula recall? (n.d.). HealthyChildren.Org. Retrieved May 17, 2022, from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/tips-tools/ask-the-pediatrician/Pages/What-should-I-know-about-the-infant-formula-recall.aspx
With the baby formula shortage, what should I do if I can’t find any? (n.d.). HealthyChildren.Org. Retrieved May 17, 2022, from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/tips-tools/ask-the-pediatrician/Pages/Are-there-shortages-of-infant-formula-due-to-COVID-19.aspx