How should parents who can’t find formula feed their babies?

Parents across the US struggle to find baby formula, spending hours driving to local stores and scouring shelves for nutrition for their children.

Millions of babies trust formula, and more than 40% of the most popular brands are sold out in stores nationwidebased on an analysis of Datasembly’s grocery stocks.

For parents who can’t get their hands on their babies’ regular formula products, pediatricians and maternal health experts have some advice on what to do and what not to do. in the midst of scarcity.

Try whole cow’s milk

For most babies who don’t have special needs and are six months or older, whole cow’s milk is a safe alternative to formula, as long as it’s only used as a substitute for a short period of time, according to Dr. Steven Abrams, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Dell School of Medicine at Austin.

“But for babies younger than six months, it’s a real problem, especially in the first few months. Whole cow’s milk is not a good alternative, and neither are adapted cow’s milk formulas,” Dr. Abrams said. to CBS MoneyWatch.

Look for samples at your pediatrician’s office

Most pediatricians’ offices stock formula samples that can help parents for a short period of time until stores can restock. Also ask your pediatrician about European formulas that may be similar to a product that is temporarily unavailable in the US.

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Buy store brand products

Consider switching to private label baby formula products.

“Unless a baby has a special formula, most of the ingredients are similar,” said Jackee Haak, a lactation care provider who serves on the board of directors for the Association of Lactation Consultants of America. “For the regular formula, switching brands isn’t as scary as people used to think it was, so there are opportunities for that as well.”

breastfeed if you can

Parents considering breastfeeding can contact a lactation consultant if their baby is currently dependent on a formula diet. Most insurers will also cover the cost of purchasing a breast pump.

“You can pump and bottle feed if you don’t want to get hooked [the] baby. That may be a short-term choice for a parent to make until this changes,” Haak said.

Not everyone has the ability to breastfeed, Haak noted. “It’s a misconception that everyone has the ability to breastfeed. The barriers make that a challenge.”

Approach breast milk banks

The North American Human Milk Banking Association, made up of 30 nonprofit milk banks in the US and Canada, urges more women to donate their own breast milk, which is distributed to milk banks and local pharmacies and is made available to parents in need.

Parents looking for donated breast milk for their babies can usually get a prescription from their pediatrician.

“Milk banks take donations, they process it and they do a lot of testing and they pasteurize it, then they freeze it and they can distribute it,” said Natalia Summerville, an expert on breast milk and formula and a professor at Duke University and the Massachusetts Institute of La technology said. “A lot of it goes to NICUs, but when they have a surplus, they donate it to pharmacies.”

He added: “It’s similar to blood donations. Mothers pump milk and donate it and they do a fantastic job of distributing it.”

Start by consulting your pediatrician and requesting a prescription if donated breast milk is considered appropriate for your child. If so, contact your local breast milk bank and ask if they have any surplus milk available. It is usually provided at no cost to families in need.

“Many moms who have more than enough milk to feed their own babies and have a surplus are willing to contribute for social good,” Summerville said.

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Connect on social networks

Look for support groups on social networking websites like Facebook that are dedicated to helping parents find formula through crowdsourcing.

“There are pockets of supply in different areas,” Haak said. “Some people are finding supply and it’s getting a lot of sharing. I’ve seen people post things like, ‘I’m in this area, this is what I see, does anyone want me to buy this for them?'”

Jennifer Kersey, 36, of Cheshire, Connecticut, said she had run out of the last can of formula for her 7-month-old son when someone saw her post in a Facebook group and handed her some sample cans.

She told The Associated Press that she “just started communicating with people, ‘Hey, do you have this formula?'”

It is a collective effort. Group members who find formula in stock help get it to mothers in need.

“If someone offers me and says, ‘I have these three,’ I’ll say ‘I’ll take the purple can and then I’ll put the other ones on that website,'” Kersey said.

Do not dilute the formula

“Of course, we don’t want parents to dilute their formula too much. It’s certainly better to use cow’s milk than to dilute the formula too much,” said UT Austin’s Dr. Abrams. Diluting formula is “basically the same as giving the baby extra water. All it does is fill their stomachs, it doesn’t really provide them with nutrition. It doesn’t do anything to make the baby strong, and it’s the same as juicing,” he said. .

“If you dilute the formula, the baby’s electrolytes change and they could get out of control. They won’t get the nutrients and calories they need and it’s really not recommended,” added Haak, the lactation care provider.

Don’t do it at home either.

“We can’t recommend using home formulas or anything like that — it’s just dangerous, especially in a baby’s first few months,” Dr. Abrams said.

“The formula is really designed and fortified with all the things the baby could possibly need. Lots of recipes [are] floating around what my grandparents were told to do, but that’s absolutely not recommended. It can do a lot of damage,” Haak said.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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