As the formula shortage continues despite government action and donations from other countries, families are turning to other sources for necessary nutrition.
The first six months of a child’s life are critical for long-term development.
Breast milk provides everything an infant needs, with important immunity benefits and neurodevelopmental outcomes.
Formula acts as a replacement for breastmilk. It has similar nutritional value and properties and is a great option for parents.
Lyssa Lamport is a Neonatal Nutritionist in the Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York.
Throughout her career families have asked about supplements to support development, but now questions about homemade formula are popping up more often.
She explained the decades of research and testing conducted by formula companies to try and replicate breast milk.
“It’s impossible to be identical but that’s where their research comes from and that’s what their ideal is. They provide probiotics, they provide prebiotics, they provide all the good nutrition,” she said.
“Formula, they can add probiotics, they can add all these things like luetin and all these different amino acids to come closer to breast milk, but you’re still not going to get the same long-term impact.”
Trying to recreate these recipes at home could be detrimental to a child’s health. Videos advertising ways to make the essential dietary item are cropping up in droves on sites like YouTube and TikTok.
While parents mean well, attempting to get everything that a baby needs in the proper proportions is impossible to do in a home kitchen.
Some moms sent Lamport recipes they were considering making. Her immediate response was what was the nutritional value of this mixture.
“I can’t tell you it’s safe because I can’t know if you’re adding a little of this, a little of that a little of that,” she said.
“I have no idea if that meets the specific nutrient demands of a newborn growing toddler as a child.”
One ingredient listed in the at-home recipe was palm oil.
While this is a common ingredient in formula, too much of it can disrupt calcium absorption.
Another recipe called for Irish Moss, which is a source of iodine, electrolytes, and potassium.
Iodine helps the thyroid produce hormones that control metabolism, nerves, and bone growth.
In a child though, too much could cause irreversible damage.
“When you put them [ingredients] altogether, you consider all the other nutrients or components that are in it that might actually be harmful, then you have a bigger problem, “says Lamport.
Many recipes also lack important nutrients which could cause deficiencies.
Nutritional deficiencies in infants can lead to lethargy, poor growth, and a weakened immune system.
“You know, iron deficiency is treatable, but the damage it does, when you’re talking about your child’s neurodevelopment, how it affects how they function in school, how their brain works. I don’t know if anyone will tell you it’s not permanent. “
In a statement from February, the FDA announced they had recorded adverse effects in children due to homemade formula, supporting Lamport’s worries.
The statement described babies who became low on calcium and had to be admitted to the hospital because of ingesting homemade formula.
Two children with special dietary needs in Tennessee, one preschool-aged and a toddler were admitted to a hospital after they had to change formulas, according to Memphis NBC affiliate WMC-TV.
Dr. Mark Corkins, a pediatric gastroenterologist, treated the two children. Both patients are in stable condition.
“This is not every child, not a normal child, but literally the recall formula has led to these children requiring hospitalization,” Corkins said.
There were four additional reported illnesses among children and infants who drank formula from Abbott. Two of the babies died as a result of infections they reportedly contracted from the formula, according to Fox News.
For those who can’t find a formula, Lamport urges them to check with their healthcare professional before substituting something else.
Parents can also check if there’s a local milk bank where they can get breast milk donations from other families who were carefully screened.
What caused the shortage?
In April 2022, about 30 percent of popular baby formula brands were sold out, USA Today reported. Since then, that number has risen to 40 percent.
The shortage was sparked in large part by a massive recall and plant shut down at an Abbott Laboratories facility that manufactures infant formula.
This was after three other formulas were recalled – Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare.
The announcements came after four infants were chronically ill with infections.
In recent days, the federal government has marshaled significant resources to increase the supply formula.
President Joe Biden and his administration imported 70,000 lbs of formula into the country from German in May.
The House Appropriations Committee has approved an emergency bill providing $ 28million to the Food and Drug Administration to aid the crisis and prevent future ones.
The national shortage is also being blamed on supply chain issues.
“Product supply challenges are currently impacting most of the retail industry,” CVS Health, which owns Walgreens, said in a statement to USA Today.
“We’re continuing to work with our national brand baby formula vendors to address this issue and we regret any inconvenience that our customers may be experiencing.”
Other supply-chain-related issues include packaging delays and labor shortages.
On top of all this, stores like CVS, Target, and Wallgreens have also implemented purchase limits for customers.
AJ Stokes and his girlfriend Bree Rivera have dealt with these issues firsthand.
When their son Jordan was born, they both knew they would be relying on formula.
“All of our Wegmans and TOPS and Walmarts were pretty much empty,” Stokes said.
“We used to get the big boxes that have two packs in them, but now they only offer the single size.”
Their local Walmart has a purchase limit of one per person.
“A lot of people I know can only use very specific formula, so it’s a lot harder for them.
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