Baby formula shortage: Experts warn against DIY options, replacements

Children over 6 months could consume whole cow's milk temporarily on doctor's recommendation, experts say

ByLeah Hope and ABC7 Chicago Digital Team WLS logo
Saturday, May 14, 2022
Parents struggle to find formula amid shortage
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Parents in the Chicago area have been struggling to find baby formula amid a shortage.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Don't DIY your baby formula. That's the message doctors are sending parents amid the formula shortage.

WATCH: Advocate Children's Hospital Pediatrics Vice President Dr. Michael Cappello talks baby formula shortage

With the extremely limited supply of infant formula due to the recalls and supply chain issues parents are struggling to find solutions.

ABC News Med Unit's Dr. Yang and Dr. Fujimura put together some helpful warnings and possible temporary solutions.

Children over 6 months of age may be able to consume whole cow's milk temporarily, the experts said. But they noted that parents should check with their doctor, since it is usually not recommended until 12 months of age.

Switching brands may be okay, they added. Parents can consider breast milk if possible, but hoarding more than two weeks is strongly discouraged.

The experts said its important not to make your own formula from ingredients at the store, such as powdered cow milk or raw milk and sugar. Homemade formula risks starving or poisoning your infant.

Cow's milk is too low in iron for the nutritional needs of babies under 6 months old, the experts said. Malnourishment through iron-starvation affects your baby's blood count and can cause it to drop to dangerous levels. Since blood carries oxygen to the rest of the body, a low enough blood count can further starve the baby's organs, including their brain, of oxygen. Cow's milk is also high in sugar, which means your infant may balk at drinking healthier options after they've tasted cow's milk.

Almond milk and other plant-based milks are often too low in protein and calcium for an infant, the experts said. Malnourishment through protein-starvation can affect your baby's ability to make necessary proteins, including antibodies that fight infection.

They also warned against watering down formula and using cow's milk or milk alternatives for those under 6 months old. Do not use toddler formula as substitutes for infant formula, they added.

The FDA and AAP warned against using formula sold overseas. The FDA does not regulate products sold outside of the US and there could be contamination or formulation quality control issues that the FDA does not regulate.

Do not use expired formula, the experts added. The safety and nutrition of expired formula cannot be verified.

Parents struggle to find formula amid shortage

Eight-month-old Elliot is not quite ready for solid food, so his mom took action in Naperville.

"We we went to Walgreens," Lindsey Lukas said. "They didn't have it. Target, they didn't have it. We went to Jewel."

His mom settled on a different type of formula, but she is uneasy about the change forced by the baby formula shortage.

"It's been the formula he's been on his whole life," Lukas said. "He's never had any other formula before, so it was nerve-wracking to have to switch."

The baby formula shortage has doctor's offices advising patients and parents about appropriate substitutions and resources. Doctor Joshua Wechsler is a pediatric GI specialist at Lurie Childrens Hospital and Northwestern University.

"I think the longer this goes on, the more issues we face, particularly when it comes to something like core growth, weight loss, poor linear growth, potentially effects brain development," Wechsler said.

The CURED Foundation advocates for children and adults with a chronic allergic disease that causes inflammation, making the patients dependent on formula for their nutrition. Now, the foundation is trying to help connect those with extra formula with those in need.

"It's a very scary time for our patients image all the grocery stores in our area closed what would we do for food that's what's happening to these patients." said Ellyn Kodroff.

Some expectant moms are also watching the shortage closely. Anna McSweeney in Beverly said her son needed formula. She's due on June 10 and wondering what to do.

"I immediately started checking and so many resources are already out and I don't want to hoard," McSweeney said. "We need to be able to share the resources."

For now, McSweeney is waiting but is doing research in case she needs to tap into an organizations or social media group for help.