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Baby formula shortage continues to stress Northeast Ohio parents

Shelves in the baby formula aisle are empty at a Giant Eagle in Louisville, Ohio.
Kelly Krabill
Ideastream Public Media
Shelves in the baby formula aisle are empty at a Giant Eagle in Louisville, Ohio.

Parents of babies and toddlers who rely on formula to feed their children are facing shortages and limits on the amount of formula they can buy for their babies after a formula manufacturer issued a voluntary recall in February.

Caregivers and parents in Northeast Ohio are feeling the crunch. Ideastream Public Media previously reported that formula was scarce because of the recall, supply chain issues and shortages of ingredients needed to make the formula.

Nationwide the out-of-stock rate hit 43% in the first week in May, according to Datasembly, which tracks data from retailers across North America. In the first quarter of the year, the stock-out rate was less than 10% across the country.

Currently, Walgreens has limited purchases of formula to three per transaction as did CVS, according to company spokespeople.

Target also has some limits in place, but a spokesperson didn't specify the number of purchases per transaction.

"We continue to closely monitor the industry-wide supply constraints of baby formula to help ensure product is available for our guests," a Target spokesperson said in an email. "We currently have some online [and in-store] product limitations in place."

WalMart and Marc’s have not yet responded to requests for information on any possible limitations.

An Ideastream Public Media check of local Target and WalMart stores found some baby formula is available, but not every brand.

Drug Mart declined to comment.

There areadditional limits for those enrolled in the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program, a public assistance program that helps pay for things like baby formula. The WIC program only allows for seven cans of formula a month, with particular size restrictions too.

If you can't find formula consider switching brands

That means some parents may have to switch brands, said Dr. Lauren Beene, a pediatrician from University Hospitals.

“If you have a baby who takes regular infant formula that doesn’t have specific dietary or medical needs relating to their formula, they’ll most likely do fine on any brand, including generic or store brands, which are just as good and safe as any name brand," she said.

If your baby doesn’t want to take another brand at first, try again, or mix it with another brand to get them used to the taste, she said. Talk with your pediatrician or family doctor if you are still having issues finding baby formula, because they can connect you to local resources.

For those having financial difficulties finding formula, Beene recommends asking your local food bank or signing up for WIC, a nutrition program for women, infants and children.

On Thursday, the White House issued a statement saying that the Biden administration will “work urgently” to ensure baby formula is safe and available.

In February, the formula maker Abbott Nutrition initiated a voluntary recall of several lines of powdered formula after bacterial contamination at their facility in Sturgis, Michigan, the release said. Four infants were sickened and two died.

Abbott says that it is “air-shipping” formula to the U.S. from its factory in Cootehill, Ireland and is prioritizing production of Similac Ready-to-Feed liquid formula at its manufacturing facilities in Columbus, Ohio.

“In the second quarter of the year, we expect to produce nearly three times more Similac Ready-to-Feed liquid formula than we did during the same period of time last year,” the company said in a media release. “And this product will be available on retail shelves and online soon.”

Breastfeeding is not an option for everyone

Fewer than half of all U.S. babies are fed exclusively through breastfeeding from birth to 3 months, and only about a quarter of U.S. babies are fed exclusively through breastfeeding from birth to 6 months, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Beene said for many women, breastfeeding isn't possible.

“For working moms, maintaining breastfeeding is almost impossible sometimes," she said.

She says some women just aren’t able to produce milk, or they don’t produce enough.

We will update this story as information becomes available.

Lisa Ryan is a health reporter at Ideastream Public Media.