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Tips for Families Facing Infant Formula Shortages

By Dr. Michelle Brenner, General Academic Pediatrics, Breastfeeding Medicine

Formula recalls and supply chain issues have made it difficult for some families to find formulas for their babies.

Here’s what to do, and what not to do, if you are having trouble finding the formula your baby needs:

  • If you’re pregnant or recently had a baby, consider breastfeeding your child. Seek expert support from a lactation consultant and your pediatrician on how to maximize your own milk supply.
  • For those using formula, it is generally safe to transition from one brand of formula to another if that is all you can find. If you’re using a specialty formula, and can’t find the one your baby uses, ask your pediatrician about different formula options. Your doctor may suggest a substitute formula or a less specialized formula. 
  • For additional information about formula substitutions, click on this Virginia WIC site.
  • Check grocery, drug, department, and warehouse stores; formula company websites; and the Women, Infants, and Children program.
  • Check social media groups dedicated to infant feeding and formula to see if members have ideas about where to find formula. Make sure to confirm any advice received with your pediatrician. We do not recommend informal sharing of human milk because it is not screened for safety or pasteurized to prevent transmission of disease, bacteria, or infection.
  • Do not take your child off formula completely unless advised by your pediatrician.
  • When feeding your infant, place only the amount that your baby will consume in the bottle so as not to waste any of your supply.
  • Do not substitute rice cereal, Pedialyte, Enfalyte, water, juice, or food products for formula. Doing so may cause illness.
  • We advise against feeding regular cow's milk to any infant younger than 1 year of age. Also, avoid milk alternatives such as almond or other plant or nut milks as they are often low in protein and minerals.
  • Do not dilute formula with extra water, as that may cause illness as well.
  • Do not make or use homemade formula as it may lack essential nutrients for proper growth and development.
  • If you can, buy formula online until store shortages ease. Purchase from well-recognized distributors and pharmacies instead of individuals or auction sites.
  • If you are partially breastfeeding, consider transitioning back to breastfeeding exclusively while the shortage remains.
  • For more tips, read this blog from the American Academy of Pediatrics
  • You can also use this fact sheet from U.S. Health and Human Services to find manufacturer hotlines.

For families purchasing imported baby formula, please note the mixing and measuring instructions for imported formulas are VERY different from those produced in the United States.

When purchasing baby formula, always:

  • Read the label for mixing and measuring instructions.
  • Use the scoop found inside the can of formula for measuring.
  • Take a picture of the baby formula and mixing instructions. Keep it on your phone and update if the formula is changed. Your doctor or dietitian may want to see it.

Contact your doctor immediately if your baby stops gaining weight on any new formula.

Requests for human donor milk have increased at The King’s Daughters Milk Bank at CHKD. We’d like to remind the public:

  • The primary mission of The King’s Daughters Milk Bank at CHKD is to provide pasteurized donor human milk to premature and critically ill infants in hospitals.
  • Hospitals are also affected by the national formula shortage and have increased their regular milk bank orders to meet patient needs.
  • The pasteurized donor human milk that accredited milk banks provide is medical grade. The donors undergo thorough screening and the pasteurized donor human milk is processed, pasteurized, tested, and analyzed.
  • It is critical to note that just like blood banks, milk banks also work with limited supplies and are required to prioritize treatments to our nation’s highest risk, hospitalized patients. While we do provide donor milk by prescription to outpatients in certain cases of medical need, milk banks are not able to meet the demand for all infants. Milk bank supplies ebb and flow so triaging standards and policies are critical.
  • If you are interested in donating human milk to help answer the critical need for donor human milk, call (757) 668-6455 or this toll-free number, (844) 798-6455 (MILK).
  • Please understand that the milk bank is extremely busy during this time, so please be patient as we work to process donations that are critical to babies’ health.

Find more tips on navigating the formula shortage in this recorded panel discussion with experts at CHKD and the Virginia Department of Health.

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About CHKD Medical Group

About CHKD Medical  Group Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has been the region’s most trusted name in pediatric care for more than 50 years. As members of CHKD Health System, our pediatricians work closely with CHKD’s full range of pediatric specialists and surgeons. They also share a commitment to quality, excellence and child-centered care. With 18 practices in 29 locations throughout the region, a CHKD pediatrician is never far.