Cincinnati Children's Blog

Infant Formula Shortage FAQs: Help for Parents

Infant Formula Shortage FAQs: Help for Parents

I cannot imagine how families with infants are feeling right now. The formula shortage is causing extreme stress, fear, and frustration for those who cannot find an adequate supply.

The cause of the shortage is complex. It began with the recall of several Abbott products and the closure of the plant where those products are made. As families began buying other products, it put a strain on the supply chains that are already stressed by the pandemic.

Regardless of why it happened, families still need to feed their infants and have many questions about what’s safe and what isn’t. As a pediatrician who is seeing infants every day who rely on formula, I’d like to share answers to the questions I’m hearing most often about the infant formula shortage.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Infant Formula Shortage

1. Can I add more water to my formula to stretch it out until I find more supply?

Never dilute formula to make it go farther. This can cause serious medical problems for infants, including electrolyte changes and even seizures. Please mix formula as instructed on the formula container unless specifically instructed by your pediatrician.

2. Can I give my infant younger than 12 months cow’s milk if I can’t find formula?

This is not ideal and should not become routine. Doing this could cause anemia in an infant and does not provide ideal nutrition.  In an absolute emergency when you have no other options,  you could feed an infant between 6-12 months whole cow’s milk for a brief period of time. Call your pediatrician and let them know if you do this, as they may recommend also giving a vitamin with iron to help. This should be done temporarily and with no other options when you have a child close to 1 year of age. 

3. Can I give my infant younger than 12 months alternative milks?

Please do not give an infant younger than 12 months goat’s milk or plant-based milks such as almond, rice, soy, or oat milks. Similarly, do not give them juice, or toddler formula. These products do not have the proper nutrition for infants and can cause medical problems if used.

4. If my infant has been eating one brand of formula, is it okay to switch to a different one?

Yes! Any brand of formula you can find is fine, including store brand equivalents. Please do not pass up available formula because it is not the exact product you may have previously used. Many formulas are identical, meaning your baby should tolerate changing brands. Sometimes babies will take a few days to a few weeks to adjust to formula, so changes in their stools, gas, or spit up should be temporary. If your baby was prescribed a particular formula, please contact that medical provider to help you determine an appropriate substitute.

5. Can I make my own formula?

No, we do not recommend making your own formula. It can be dangerous to your baby and potentially cause infectious, life-threatening electrolyte imbalances, stunted growth, and malnutrition.

6. Can I begin giving my baby younger than 6 months solid foods?

NO. For infants under the age of 6 months, infant formula should be their only source of nutrition. Occasionally pureed baby foods are started as early as 4 months, but this is not a significant source of nutrition for babies.

7. Can I purchase formula from other countries?

We do not recommend purchasing formula products from other countries. The quality of the product cannot be verified if you order it yourself. If your doctor, dietitian, or pharmacy provides a product to you that was manufactured in a different country, those products have been quality checked and are safe to feed your baby.

8. How do you recommend finding formula?

I understand that this is an incredibly stressful time, and I recommend enlisting friends and family members to help you find formula. Make sure to provide a photo or list they can refer to for help. Check stores that you may not usually shop, such as drug, wholesale, and grocery stores. During times with normal supply, they often carry both name brand and their own store brands. If you trade or share with an online forum, please check the product you receive to make sure that it is sealed and has not expired.

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