By Matt Martinez Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published May 21, 2022 at 10:01 AM

Families with infants are facing a shortage of baby formula nationwide, as supply-chain issues and a voluntary recall have stalled production. 

Here’s what you need to know.

What’s causing the shortage?

Formula supplies have been hit since the beginning of the pandemic due to stockpiling issues and global supply-chain disruptions.

The shortage is also spurred by a voluntary recall by Abbott Nutrition, a pharmaceutical company and formula manufacturer. In February, the company chose to recall its formula because of cases of rare bacterial disease, including cronobacter sakazakii and salmonella, that occurred after babies had consumed its powdered formula. 

The company closed its facility in Sturgis, Michigan, as part of the recall. Recent investigations by Abbott said there was no link between its formula and the cases, and that the company would work to address concerns cited by the Food and Drug Administration to reopen the plant.  

According to a statement from Abbott, the site will look to reopen in the next two weeks, but likely won’t have products on shelves for another six to eight weeks after that. The shortage is expected to last at least a few more weeks.

How can I find formula?

Recent guidance from Children’s Wisconsin said that if you are struggling to find baby formula, you should call IMPACT 211 by dialing 2-1-1. You can also text your ZIP code to TXT-211 for assistance. Operators may be able to help you locate stores or food pantries that have supplies. You can also use the Hunger Task Force’s interactive map or 2-1-1’s website to try to find food pantries near you.

A Facebook group, called Milwaukee Formula Parents, also provides a forum for parents searching for formula supplies. The group, administered by Cudahy resident and local mother Samantha Wiegele, has more than a 1,000 members. The site is regularly updated with new information.

Wiegele said the group needs more members to provide on-the-ground information on what’s happening in stores, particularly when supplies are restocked. She encouraged anyone interested to join the group and reach out to her on Facebook.

What do I need to know to keep my family safe?

Kari Malone, director for the state’s Women, Infants and Children Program, said in an email that the state warned families against unsafe practices, such as trying to make their own formula or giving cow’s milk to infants under 1 year old. She also encouraged families to be careful about getting milk and formula from online sources and to be wary of scammers. 

The guidance from Children’s Wisconsin also warned against adding more water to formula, as this can dilute key nutrients.

Families should also be diligent to ensure that they don’t feed their baby recalled or expired formula. To check if the formula’s lot number has been recalled, find it on the bottom of the can and check it with Abbott’s website. You can also find the expiration date on the bottom of the can.

Do not buy or trade for open cans of formula. 

Malone said the state is asking families to only take what they need during this time.

“While a stressful time, families should purchase only the infant formula they need in the immediate and avoid stockpiling,” Malone said. “This will help ensure other families have access to critical formula for their infants and allow manufacturers and retailers adequate time to restock shelves.”

Malone also noted that some retailers are limiting the amount of formula that families can buy. This includes Target, CVS Health and Walgreens.

Malone encouraged families to reach out to their pediatricians if they need help finding formula or any medical advice during this time. 

Rebates and alternatives are being offered for some formulas

Abbott recently pledged to offer rebates for alternatives to its products until Aug. 31. The rebates for WIC recipients will ensure that families in the program can receive alternative supplies free of charge if their state has an exclusive contract with Abbott. Wisconsin WIC has used Similac products since 2021, an Abbott product.

Any WIC recipients with questions should contact their local WIC offices, which can be found on this webpage. Wisconsin’s general line for WIC support is (800) 722-2295.

The state Department of Health Services provided a list of alternatives for Abbott products in low stock because of the recall.

Malone said specialty formulas, for children who cannot use regular formula, have been particularly difficult to find for some families and offered the following alternatives.

For Similac Alimentum, the following are alternatives:

  • Nutramigen with Enflora
  • Gerber Extensive HA
  • Pregestimil
  • Store brand hypoallergenics (Parent’s Choice, Comforts, CVS Health, MeijerBaby, Tippy Toes, Up & Up, Well Beginnings)

For Elecare Infant, the following are alternatives:

  • Neocate Infant 
  • Neocate Syneo Infant
  • PurAmino Infant

For Elecare Jr, the following are alternatives:

  • Neocate Junior (unflavored, chocolate, strawberry, tropical) 
  • Neocate Splash (grape, orange-pineapple, tropical, unflavored, vanilla)
  • Alfamino Junior

Breastfeeding support services

Dalvery Blackwell, executive director and co-founder of the African American Breastfeeding Network, encourages women who have infants younger than 6 weeks old to consider re-lactating if they are able and said her organization could offer support in doing so. She can be reached at (414) 617-3441.

Erin Ballard, a branch leader with La Leche League Milwaukee West, a Wauwatosa-based chapter of a nonprofit organization that provides lactation support, said her organization can help families connect with resources and offer support for lactation.

To find a local group from Wisconsin La Leche League, visit this map. The Milwaukee West branch can be reached via email at Ballard can be reached at (414) 807-9789. 

Area health systems also offer support. Children’s Wisconsin offers lactation consultation services, which can be reached at (414) 266-1757. Ascension Wisconsin also offers services and can be reached at (414) 585-1440.