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Baby Formula Crisis

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The baby formula crisis is all over national news. You cannot turn on the television or get on the internet without seeing urgent headlines regarding the shortage. Some people ask, “Why can’t babies just breastfeed?” However, the solution to the ongoing problem is not so simple. Many mothers are not physically capable of producing enough, if any, breast milk to feed their babies properly. This is not abnormal, and it is not something mothers should be ashamed of. Even women capable of breastfeeding their children often use formula to supplement their babies’ nutritional needs. After a woman stops breastfeeding, she cannot simply start again. Moreover, some babies are actually allergic to breast milk and need hypoallergenic formula to survive. For those who wonder, “What did we do before formula?” The truth is melancholic. In the past, babies died frequently from malnutrition. Baby formula has saved countless lives. It is one of the greatest medical advancements in history.

Abbott Nutrition is the largest domestic producer of baby formula in the United States. In February 2022, the US Food and Drug Administration announced the recall of Similac PM 60/40, Abbott Nutrition’s specialized low-mineral baby formula. Abbott Nutrition recalled Similac, Elecare and Alimentum formulas produced at its Sturgis, MI facility. The facility’s products were linked to cases of Cronobacter and salmonella infections. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cronobacter can be fatal in newborns. This is not the first time that the Abbott Nutrition laboratory located in Sturgis has caught flak for its practices. The Sturgis facility has a lengthy history of sanitary issues dating back to 2010. In 2019, senior management reportedly refused to dispose of a batch of contaminated formula, and lied to the FDA, in order to meet rigorous expectations from employers. Minnesota is the only state that requires doctors and laboratories to report Cronobacter cases to the authorities. Manufacturers in other states conduct their own tests on a minuscule sample of product (less than 1% of total output) which makes it basically impossible to trace infections to their source and to effectively prevent infant deaths and health complications.

The Wayne County News interviewed those with personal insight on the national crisis. Kelli Kelly, Waynesboro resident, emphasized her concern. “The infant formula shortage has unlocked a new fear for all parents. As a parent of an infant, you naturally have so many fears associated, but how to feed your baby should not be one of them. During this time, women have been shamed and no sympathy has been granted for those who cannot or choose not to breastfeed their babies. But what about the single fathers raising children? What are they supposed to do? Walking into Walmart, Target, grocery stores, etc. and seeing empty shelves on the formula aisle will twist the stomach of any parent. My child is on the most common formula that they start you out on at the hospital. Because of the shortage, we have been forced to switch to any generic brand of it we can find. I have purchased formula from places I was not even aware sold formula. Many infants require a very specific type of formula; I can only imagine the scavenger hunt those parents are experiencing. Every morning when I wake up, I start searching websites hoping and praying I will come across some in stock. It is nearly impossible at this time to purchase formula in-store unless someone spreads the word that a store has recently received a shipment. Even then, the formula sells out incredibly fast. Having to purchase online makes it to where you’re paying additional shipping costs, as well. I am experiencing this crisis with my second child. I never would have dreamed I would have to worry about how to feed my baby.”

The Wayne County News also talked to John Daniel at the Waynesboro Piggly Wiggly. He said, “I feel terrible for the parents. These mothers, their kids. How do you feed them? How do they get food? You can’t just mix this stuff up. We have very little formula. It is pretty close to empty. Right now I’ve got 10 cases of Similac Advanced and a couple cases of Enfamil. Unfortunately people are having to go everywhere just to find anything.”

Parents are unadvised to create their own formula at home. Evaporated milk, also known as unsweetened condensed milk, is a form of concentrated milk. Mixing it with water can cause contamination or nutrient imbalance. Although homemade formula was used in the past, it also came with many risks to infants. Some babies have been hospitalized from reported use of homemade formulas. Mothers who are capable of producing excess breast milk have been graciously donating to help other families. However, you should not get breast milk directly from others because there is no way to know if it is safe. Rather, check with milk banks accredited through the Human Milk Banking Association of North America near you. Many wonder, “When will the formula crisis be resolved?” Last week, FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf predicted it will take as early as July to see shelves fully stocked.

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