By Dr. Colleen Townsend
The infant formula shortage in the United States highlights the need for individuals, communities, organizations and the government to work in concert to ensure access to basic necessities. The United States is one of the most well-resourced countries in the world and has developed very wealthy companies and communities.
However, the shortage of infant formula reveals the precarious nature of our successes and our blind spots in caring for some of our most vulnerable citizens. While all families in each socio-economic class who use infant formula are impacted by this shortage, lower income families are more profoundly disadvantaged. The increased costs of formula and the resources needed to purchase formula, such as time and gas, are challenging across the board. A middle- or high-income family can temporarily adjust the family budget in other areas to accommodate this increase. For lower income families, these higher costs of formula and the longer drive to a distant retailer worsen the impact of the formula shortage.
While many families start breast-feeding right after delivery, many are unable to continue breast-feeding once parents return to work. Nutrition is an important factor that affects newborn and infant development, and due to the infant formula shortage, infants reliant on formula are negatively impacted. By working together, we can ensure that individuals and communities can access the resources that are available and ride out this crisis, supporting each other with practical information and a sense of shared responsibility. As regulators and government agencies work to increase the supply of infant formula, there are tips to improve access to infant formula for many families. Please talk with your baby’s medical provider for key feeding information during this time.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:
• DO NOT make your own formula at home and DO NOT water down formula.
• DO NOT feed your baby goat’s milk.
• When your usual brand is not available, it is OK to switch to an available formula instead.
• Talk to your baby’s medical provider about safe and similar specialty formulas if your baby needs a special diet. They may be able to request specific specialized formulas when there are special dietary needs.
• Limit formula purchases to no more than 10-14 days of supply at a time. This will decrease the shortages and help more families regularly access what is needed.
• Consider purchasing from smaller retail stores and or pharmacies rather than large retail chains.
• Talk with the medical provider about plant-based milks (like soy milk) that may be OK for your baby. There are many different plant-based milks and not all are healthy for all infants.
• If your baby is more than 6 months old, cow’s milk may be used for up to seven days. Please talk with the medical provider about the need for iron supplements or how to increase iron in the baby’s solid foods if they are more than 6 months old.
• Toddler formula may be used for a few days for infants who are nearly 1 year old.
• Most infants over 12 months old do not need formula. Talk to your medical provider about changing to cow’s milk if your baby is over 1 year and does NOT have special diet needs.
Please use these tips to help you find the formula resources you need for your baby. Everyone can play a role in ensuring all families have access to the infant formula they need. For more information and resources, visit MyFamily.WIC.ca.gov.
Colleen Townsend, M.D., is the regional medical director for Partnership HealthPlan of California, a partner of Solano Public Health.
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