Feeding your baby during COVID-19 infant formula shortages

By Dr. Jessica Brown MD, MPH

COVID-19 has increased stress and anxiety for families across our area. In addition to concerns about contracting the disease, many are stressed about running out of needed supplies like food, hand sanitizer or paper products. Now, reports of infant formula shortages are making many parents anxious and with good reason—an estimated 75 percent of infants receive formula during their first year of life.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend parents keep 2-4 weeks of formula on hand at any time. The organization is strongly urging parents not to stockpile formula in the hope that everyone in need of formula will be able to access it.

If you are having trouble finding the exact or regular formula brand you normally use, consider being flexible if possible and look at other brands and formula, especially if your infant doesn’t require a specialty formula. Infant formula sold by reputable retail outlets is usually considered safe, meets FDA requirements, and contains the nutrients babies need to thrive. This includes name-or-store-brand, organic, and/or premium varieties.

If you’re not sure what other formula to switch to, call your pediatrician and ask for recommendations that are similar to the type of formula you normally use. He or she may suggest that you stick with the same formula type you’ve been using, for example soy, cow’s milk, or special varieties for preemies or babies at risk of developing allergies.

If you are looking for help in finding formula for your baby there are a few options available in the Houston area.

  • L.I.F.E. Houston has been providing emergency formula for babies across the Houston area since 1988. Visit their website to learn how to qualify.
  • The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, also known as WIC, can also be a potential resource iron-fortified infant formula. Special infant formulas and medical foods may also be provided if medically indicated. WIC recommends exclusive breastfeeding for up to six month. However, formula assistance is available when breastfeeding is not exclusive. Click here to learn more.
  • Families can also search for various food and formula resources during COVID-19 related shortages by using through United Way’s search tool.

While finding supplies can be stressful during these uncertain times, there are a few things you can do to help keep your baby safe.

Don’t buy formula from non-reputable sources like flea markets or eBay. Formula expires quickly or these may be contaminated making it unsafe for your baby.

It is not a good idea to make your own formula. Babies have very specific nutritional needs. Breast milk and formula are able to provide those nutrients. There is no way to be completely sure that the formula you make at home is safe for your child’s nutritional needs.

Avoid giving cow’s milk to babies under the age of one. That’s because infants can’t digest cow’s milk as easily as breast milk or formula. Cow’s milk contains high concentrations of protein and minerals which can damage a baby’s developing kidneys. It also doesn’t have the right amount of vitamins and minerals that babies need at that age.

Never dilute your baby’s formula with water. That can cause a dangerous drop in an infant’s sodium levels, which could lead to serious complications such as seizures. Another danger of watering down formula is that babies could end up shorted on needed calories.

Don’t contact formula makers asking for free formula. A recent online hoax suggested that parents could call manufacturers to get free formula. That’s simply not true. Many of the infant formula companies do sell formula on their websites and often have samples and coupon offers that could help out during these times. Those include the three largest brands: Similac, Enfamil, and Gerber.

Most importantly, if you are struggling to feed your baby, don’t wait to take action. Formula-fed babies need the nutrients and hydration that come from these products. Cutting corners or going without is dangerous. Call Legacy at 832-548-5000 to reach your baby’s pediatrician for any concerns you may be having during these stressful times.

Photo courtesy: tung256 from Pixabay