No parent wants to worry about whether their child can eat or not, but more parents are struggling with this thought every day.
The largest baby formula shortage in history has been affecting the lives of parents for months now, and doesn’t seem to be getting better. Not only is baby formula one of the only things some infants have for food, it provides all the essential nutrients they need just with one bottle.
“Infant formula is formulated to mimic breast milk, so the macronutrient contribution, carbohydrates, fats and proteins are similar to breast milk,” said OSU nutrition specialist Deana Hildebrand. “The proteins, like breast milk, are easier to digest by the infant because their digestive system is still developing.”
Regular milk found in stores like cow and goat milk isn’t recommended for children until they are about 11-12 months old, and developmentally ready. The formula made for infants is a scientific process that puts everything the baby needs into one bottle, in the right measurements.
“A cup of milk doesn’t have the same amount of calories as a cup of formula or breastmilk,” said OSU Extension assistant nutrition specialist Jenni Klufa. “You want usually 20-22 calories per ounce for infants to tolerate and to grow correctly.”
A recall on formula in February sparked shortages in households as parents were forced to throw away formula from a certain manufacturing date. Parents around the nation are struggling to find the formula their child needs for their health and development, as there is an inconsistency of where the formula they need is readily available
“It depends on the region you’re in, not all places are having the same shortages,” Klufa said. “If you are normally feeding your child Gerber, and contact Gerber, they might be able to tell you where a shipment is arriving in Oklahoma and what day that will be and things like that so you can prepare a little bit ahead.”
Some parents have turned to other options as solutions for not finding their formula on the shelves, but the reality is there isn’t anything like the formula and breast milk given to infants that helps them develop the way they need to.
“They’re developing and growing at such a rapid rate that there really isn’t any alternative,” Klufa said. “Breast milk and formula have the correct amount of calories per ounce that infants need to maintain their growth.”
While some offer making your own formula at home as a solution, Klufa and Hildebrand both say it’s a very dangerous option.
“Making formula is a science, and experts do that. Making it at home is incredibly risky, not only food safety issues, infants don’t have a well developed immune system so they’re more likely to get sick from things made in the home, but also that calorie per ounce content is huge,” Klufa said. “It’s so easy to mess that part up.”
Watering down formulas can also lead to issues, such as nutritional deficiencies, which could mean they don’t grow and develop how they need to. Short term, it could cause foodborne illnesses that cause vomiting and diarrhea.
Most infants rely on formula, but can still be breastfed if formula cannot be found. “Breast milk is sufficient all the way up to one year of age,” Hildebrand said. “I know a lot of moms have to go back to work or to school, but work with their employer to have a break, time to pump.”
Another option depending on the age of the infant is complementary foods, such as soft cooked vegetables, softer fruits, cooked beans or scrambled eggs along with formula if you are giving less to save supply. Usually infants around six months can be introduced to these foods, with peditrications permission.
When an infant is about a year old, pediatricians can start recommending regular milk, such as cow or goat milk. However, each baby is different and may not be ready for that developmentally at 11-12 months.
“I think the best thing for any parents who are using formula is to plan ahead,” Hildebrand said.
Before taking any of these steps, speak to your child’s pediatrician about what is best for them. To find more resources during this shortage, visit www.hhs.gov/formula/index.html