Since early May 2022, grocery stores and pharmacies across the United States have been scrambling for supplies of infant formula, an essential food for babies up to six months old who don’t receive breast milk. A major Abbott Nutrition formula production plant closed in January and, although it is back in operation, forecasts show the formula shortage could last well into 2022.
University of Minnesota School of Public Health Epidemiologist Ellen Demerath, Ph.D.an expert on how early childhood factors affect growth rate and body composition, explains why this shortage is so difficult for new parents, what options they have and what lessons we learn from a chain problem supply of such importance.
Q. Why is infant formula so scarce now?
Demerath: It is a combination of supply chain shortages resulting from the COVID pandemic and the abrupt closure of one of Abbott Nutrition’s infant formula manufacturing plants due to the discovery of bacteria. harmful. Abbott is the largest of the only three major formula manufacturers in the United States, with a 40% market share.
Abbott’s Michigan plant resumed production on June 4, but will not reach full capacity for two months. A quick online search for infant formula at Minnesota pharmacies shows that most products aren’t available on the shelf. It has been predicted that supplies could be somewhat limited until the end of 2022.
Q. Why do babies need formula? Can’t they drink other forms of milk? And why can’t parents make their own formula?
Demerath: Infant formulas are created to meet the unique nutritional needs of babies and are a good alternative for those who do not have adequate resources and support to breastfeed, who do not have the spare time to begin breastfeeding or who have no workplace facilities to enable them to pump milk. Approved infant formulas contain the essential vitamins, minerals and fats babies need to be healthy.
Infants cannot drink pure cow’s milk because it is too high in protein for infants’ developing kidneys and because it is too low in sugars for human infants who have a particularly high need for sweetened milk to support rapid brain growth. Parents should not make their own formulas by mixing other milks with added ingredients. The proper number of calories and nutrients per ounce must be within strict limits to ensure that the baby will grow properly. For these reasons, homemade formulas are not recommended.
Q. Why don’t parents just breastfeed their babies?
Demerath: Certain medical conditions can impair lactation and many social factors make it difficult to breastfeed after leaving the hospital. Breastfeeding takes time initially, with parents having to feed their baby every 2-3 hours for weeks. Parents need time off from work and other household responsibilities to get their milk supply where it needs to be to meet 100% of their infant’s needs. Many families do not have the resources at hand and feel compelled to use formula, despite its very high cost.
If you’re not breastfeeding, it’s hard to start. Lactation is primarily a matter of supply and demand. If the infant does not suckle or if the milk is not expressed in another way, the production decreases quite rapidly, a few days after birth. After about a week without nursing or pumping, the supply will be almost nil. This is why a person cannot simply start breastfeeding again. It’s possible to start breastfeeding again after using formula to feed your baby, but it involves a time-consuming process of very frequent pumping and sucking in order to get milk production going again. It can be successful, but without access to adequate lactation support and the time to do this intensive work, it will be very difficult and often not successful.
Q. Are there options for parents during this shortage?
Demerath: Yes, there are a number of viable options.
- For families that use both breast milk and formula, consider switching more of your baby’s diet to breast milk. To increase your breastmilk supply, you can breastfeed your baby more frequently or add pumping sessions between feedings. Pumped milk can be stored in the refrigerator and frozen for later use.
- Consider changing the brand/type of formula you use. Most babies will do just fine with different brands of infant formula, including store brands, as long as they are the same type, such as cow’s milk, soy, hypoallergenic, or elemental. Try to introduce small amounts of the new formula at a time by mixing it with your usual formula. Slowly increase the amount of the new formula over time until your baby gets used to it.
- Consider using foreign formulas. In June 2022, the FDA began providing information on regular and special nutritional needs formulas shipped from foreign manufacturers that it will temporarily allow for sale in the United States to increase supply. It is estimated that this will increase the supply of infant formula by 6 million cans this year. A list of approved foreign preparations can be found on the FDA website.
- If you need a hypoallergenic or medical specialty formula, talk to your pediatrician or other healthcare provider about acceptable substitutes. Depending on the formula they need, they may be able to submit a Specialized Formula Rush Request.
- It is not recommended to share breast milk with friends or buy it on the internet, but you can discuss with your pediatrician or other health care provider the use of breast milk from a milk bank breast milk, preferably a milk bank accredited by Human Milk Banking. North American Association.
- Do not use homemade formula and do not dilute your formula or use formula after the use-by date. Please don’t buy more than you need. This only exacerbates the shortages.
Q. What is the most important lesson to be learned from this shortage?
Demerath: Breast milk is the optimal food for babies and it is free. Infants fed human milk have a lower risk of gastrointestinal infections, asthma, and obesity, and breast milk contains many special components that are essential for healthy gut and infant brain development. Almost all transgender women and some transgender men can breastfeed their infants if they have the necessary social support and access to breastfeeding counselling, baby-friendly maternity care, and supportive employment policies. family. However, this support is not available to everyone, especially low-income families, rural families, and families of color.
The formula shortage shows us why the United States must prioritize maternal and child health. If all families had the support and resources to breastfeed, the need for formula – which costs families $1,500 or more a year and the billions in healthcare costs that formula use incurs – would be greatly reduced. . In the short term, we have also learned that it is dangerous for a very small number of companies to monopolize the marketing of this essential food and that control of the supply of infant formula must be linked to proactive policies to increase the national offer if necessary.
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