Scams, long car journeys, empty shelves: What parents go through for formula

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She drove through four towns in search of formula, looking at the sterile shelves in store after store. At the end of that long day in May, Kristen Graham had two small boxes to show off, enough to feed her 3-month-old baby for about 48 hours.

The 23-year-old woman from Philipsburg, Pennsylvania had been scared when she found out months before graduating from college that she was pregnant. But she had always wanted children and her boyfriend supported her. She graduated at 30 weeks pregnant, gave birth to a baby girl in February and fell in love with motherhood.

Then the formula her daughter needed disappeared and the fear returned.

With store shelves nearly empty for miles, Graham asked family and friends to be on the lookout. She joined formula groups on Facebook, where she was appalled to see people hawking free samples for $15 each. A friend mentioned a website that connects parents in need with people who have formula to share. There, at last, she found a few more valuable cans.

“It’s scary,” Graham said. “It’s scary being a new mum and going through that. I don’t think that should ever be something that should happen.

Amid a nationwide shortage that has seen formula stocks plummet up to 43% lower than usual, Americans are scrambling to get their hands on formulas. The crisis – caused by supply chain disruptions and a factory closure and recall at leading producer Abbott Nutrition after two babies died from consuming its formula – led to rationing in stores and limited online availability.

Parents desperate to find formula are driving far from home, asking for help on social media and paying exorbitant prices. Some have been trapped by online scams, opportunists taking advantage of the crisis to make money. Many feel a sense of panic about how to get their baby the food they need.

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For Christopher Okenka and her husband, feeding their son has never been easy. Since they adopted him as a newborn, the 8-month-old has suffered from gastrointestinal issues. He flushed, screamed and vomited every formula he tried before EleCare, a hypoallergenic and more digestible brand made by Abbott.

That seemed to be the answer — until Okenka saw a “Good Morning America” ​​segment on the encore. He went straight to the pantry to check the serial numbers on Zack’s formula. Everything has been recalled.

“I was like, ‘Okay, if I can’t find EleCare, I can’t feed my kid,'” said Okenka, 38, who lives in the Atlanta suburb of Cumming, Ga. was a moment of panic.”

He wrote about it on Facebook and Instagram, and friends and family sent whatever formula they could find. But that was also part of the recall. Neither the pediatrician nor the gastrointestinal specialist could offer much help.

In the end, Okenka said, the couple had to switch Zack to another brand of formula — one that was “least offensive to his digestive system” — and supplement his diet with fruit or vegetable purées.

“Parenting is hard enough for a same-sex married couple with a 9-month-old child,” he said. “It adds extra stress and anxiety.”

The Food and Drug Administration last month announcement that it would be easier for foreign manufacturers to ship more formula to the United States and that he had reached an agreement that would help Abbott reopen its shuttered factory in Sturgis, Michigan. The Biden administration invoked the Defense Production Act to increase domestic production and authorized the Department of Defense to use commercial airlines to fly US-standard formula into the country.

On Wednesday, President Biden announcement that his administration had organized the third and fourth flights under what the White House calls Operation Fly Formula. The deliveries are expected to bring millions of bottles of infant formula to the country.

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But, in the short term, many parents are still struggling.

Some have turned to recipes for homemade formulas circulating on the Internet. The American Academy of Pediatrics has not recommended this practice, warning of the potential for contamination or an improper balance of nutrients. The organization also advises against adding water to stretch infant formula, as it can dilute protein and mineral levels.

Instead, he says, people should call their pediatrician, buy formula online if they can afford it, or turn to online groups who might have suggestions. But parents say those ideas, which echo the advice of many authorities, have not always worked out.

Ann Oh thought she might find formula milk online after the guy that works for her 8-month-old daughter disappeared from stores in her St. Cloud, Minn home. But, she wrote in an email to The Washington Post, “Any available formula had to ship by July or September, and I ran out of formula that DAY.”

Frantically, she asked her mother and in-laws to check their local stores, and they found a small stash. Still, Oh’s worries didn’t stop. Her daughter has a “monstrous” appetite and she fears how long it will be difficult for her to find formula.

“I keep thinking what CAN I do if there’s no more?” wrote Oh, 35. “Will food alone be enough? What can I use instead? »

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Many parents were frustrated by the exhortations of observers turn to breastfeeding. Breastfeeding does not work for all parents or all babies, for reasons such as medical issues, low supply and lack of time. About 1 in 4 babies are exclusively breastfed for six months, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which means most American families are at least partly dependent on formula.

Keiko Zoll thought about her struggle to breastfeed her son years ago, and her possible need for specialist formula, when she heard about parents struggling with the shortage.

“I was so overwhelmed with this feeling of, ‘Oh my God, what if it was me now, in the midst of a national crisis? said Zoll, 40, who lives in the Boston area.

That night she created a website,, so that parents share the formula in a kind of mutual aid. In a sign of the seriousness of the shortage, Zoll said, the site recently listed a thousand donors and nearly 10,000 parents in need.

It’s been a lifesaver for parents like new mom Graham from Pennsylvania. Through the website, she found a woman who had leftover formula from a subscription service she had used before her son was 1 year old. Her boyfriend also found two bottles at a Walmart in town where he works, and on a recent day she was feeling good about her stock.

But she wondered how the situation had gotten so bad.

“I don’t understand how it has come to a point where parents are afraid to feed their babies,” she said.


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