May 17, 2022, 1:48:13 PM CDT May 21, 2024, 3:04:10 PM CDT

Advice for parents during a baby formula shortage

What to do – and not do – to make sure your baby is safely fed

Mom feeding baby a bottle Mom feeding baby a bottle

In 2022, many parents scrambled to find baby formula to feed their infants. They were, understandably, concerned about their baby's health and nutrition.

Rinarani Sanghavi, M.D., Pediatric Gastroenterologist at Children's Health℠ and Professor at UT Southwestern, offers tips for parents who may be concerned about another baby formula shortage.

What causes a baby formula shortage?

Different factors can cause a baby formula shortage. For example, during the 2022 shortage, certain types of powdered infant formula were recalled after complaints of illness. Before that, the COVID‑19 pandemic led to supply chain issues and shortages.

How can I make sure my baby is safely fed during a baby formula shortage?

If you have any concerns about feeding your baby, always start by asking your pediatrician for guidance. They know your baby's health history and can provide the best advice. If your baby has a health condition, you can also consult their specialist.

"Parents are smart to ask questions. In the first year of life, proper nutrition is extremely important for the baby's growth and development," explains Dr. Sanghavi. "There's a lot of misinformation out there, and we want to help parents get the correct information to keep their babies healthy."

How can I prepare for a baby formula shortage?

If you're worried about finding baby formula, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends you:

  • Check smaller stores and drug stores. Sometimes large stores run out of supply sooner.
  • Ask your pediatrician's office if it's possible to get a sample can of formula. You may also ask if they know of any local charities or organizations with baby formula.
  • Buy formula online until stores can stock more. Be sure to buy from well-recognized distributors and pharmacies and not sites where formula is sold individually or through auction.
  • Check social media groups dedicated to infant feeding. Group members may have ideas about stores or online shops with formula. Of course, if the groups offer health advice, always check with your pediatrician first before trying it.

Is it OK to buy formula online from overseas?

No. Do not buy formula directly from other countries. In the United States, baby formula is highly regulated to make sure it has the correct nutrients.

Risks of using baby formula from another country include:

  • Formula may not be stored at the correct temperatures to preserve nutritional value when it's shipped.
  • It might be created for babies in certain age groups. You may not be able to tell which is the correct formula for your baby's age, which can deprive your baby of essential nutrients.
  • Labels may be written in foreign languages, making it difficult to follow mixing instructions.

If I can't find my baby's specific brand of formula, is it OK to switch to another brand or use a store brand?

For most babies, it's OK to switch to any available formula.

It's not OK to switch brands if your baby has special nutritional needs and uses a specific extensively hydrolyzed or amino acid-based formula like EleCare. In that case, ask your pediatrician to recommend an alternative. You can see a list of recommended formula substitutions here.

Can I give toddler formula to my baby if infant formula is not available?

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend toddler formula for infants.

Why? Because toddlers require different nutrients than infants. But if your baby is close to a year old, toddler formula may be safe for a few days if you have no other options. Your pediatrician is the best person to give you additional guidance.

Is it OK to put more water in my baby's formula to make it last longer?

No, it is not safe to water down your baby's formula.

Watered-down formula is dangerous. It can cause nutritional imbalances and health problems for your little one. When mixing your baby's formula, always follow the instructions on the label or your pediatrician's guidance.

Did you know? Formula must be mixed correctly to avoid electrolyte imbalances, seizures and poor weight gain .

Can I make baby formula at home?

No, it is not safe to make baby formula at home. You may have seen recipes for homemade baby formula on the internet. But the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly advises you not to use them and says some infant deaths have been reported after using homemade formulas.

"Homemade formula is not safe because it deprives your baby of key nutrients needed to grow and stay healthy. It's critical for babies to have the right nutrients in the right amounts," says Dr. Sanghavi. "These homemade formula recipes created years ago can cause both short- and long-term harm for babies. We have much better scientific knowledge now."

For example, a homemade formula may contain too much salt or other nutrients that your baby's kidneys and liver cannot process correctly. Or it may not contain the right ingredients to help your baby's bones grow in a healthy way.

Is it safe to give my baby cow's milk instead of baby formula?

Do not switch entirely to cow's milk unless your baby is close to a year old.

"If your baby is close to 11 months, it's OK to switch to regular whole milk," says Dr. Sanghavi. "But I would not switch much earlier than that because cow's milk does not have all the nutrients that are necessary for a human baby to grow."

In urgent cases, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, cow's milk may be an option for a very brief period of time if your baby:

  • Is older than 6 months of age.
  • Uses regular formula.
  • Does not require a specialty formula for allergies or other special health needs.
Did you know? Cow's milk for infants at 6 months of age is not ideal. If you need to give your child cow's milk before they turn 1, check with your pediatrician on how to make sure they'll get enough iron, either through food or an iron supplement.

Is plant-based milk a safe option for feeding infants?

It's best to talk with your pediatrician before you use any plant-based milk to feed your baby.

In general, milk alternatives including oat, soy, rice and almond milks are not recommended if your baby is under 1 year old or has a medical condition that requires specialized formulas.

If your baby is close to a year old, soy milk may be an option for a few days in an emergency, but always use the type that is fortified with protein and calcium. And then switch back to regular baby formula as soon as it's available.

Be aware that almond milk and other plant milks are often low in protein and minerals.

Is using donor milk from a milk bank a good option?

Yes, using donor milk from a milk bank can be a good option during a formula shortage. The demand for donated breast milk continues to increase, and there are more women donating milk to milk banks than ever before. However, this could be a costly option.

Milk banks follow strict guidelines to screen donors, who ship or drop off frozen breast milk. Then, the milk is pasteurized before being delivered to other babies.

Did you know? The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend milk-sharing among Facebook groups, neighbors or strangers. Instead, they recommend using a milk bank. This is because milk from a milk bank is screened for viruses that can make babies sick, including HIV and hepatitis.

You can find a milk bank near you through the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

Learn more

The primary care team at Children's Health is here to care for all aspects of your child's health, from well-child exams and treatment of common illnesses to treatment of chronic conditions. Learn more about our primary care services, or see more advice for keeping babies healthy.

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