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“A gut punch:” Midlands mother reacts to baby formula shortage, pediatrician offers tips to parents

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Published: May. 16, 2022 at 7:58 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The nationwide formula shortage has Midlands mothers scrambling from store to store to feed their newborn babies and looking for solutions.

Hannah Engross has two foster children, both of whom rely on formula.

She said that she was not having trouble finding formula for her babies until this past week, which she said has sent her stress level “through the roof.”

“When you go to three different stores in a row, and there is no formula on the shelves, it’s kind of a gut punch,” she said. “Just that you obviously need to meet the needs of your babies, and if the supply is not there it makes life a little overwhelming.”

Dr. Deborah Greenhouse, a Columbia-based pediatrician, said she has been hearing from parents anxious about the shortage every hour of every day.

One option that parents have while navigating the shortage is switching to store-brand formulas, she said.

“A lot of folks think that the only options for infant formula are the name-brand formulas: Similac, Enfamil, Gerber,” Greenhouse said. “But there are also store-brand formulas. And all of the store-brand formulas meet all of the requirements for infant formulas, they are fine.”

If a baby is over 11 months old and in good health, Greenhouse said you could introduce some cow’s milk in his or her diet.

“Babies that are six months and older, you can introduce a little bit more solid food, potentially cut down a little bit on the amount of formula that the baby is taking per day,” she said.

However, Greenhouse stressed that you should consult with your pediatrician before making any changes to ensure what you’re doing is safe.

Some mothers are being shamed for choosing to formula feed, which is only making matters worse for people like Engross, for whom breastfeeding is not an option.

“When we are trying to do the best that we can and there isn’t formula on the shelves and then others are basically trying to shame us into believing that we should be meeting the need in a different way, it just makes the stress level even more difficult in an already difficult situation,” she said.

Experts say you should not make your own formula, or water it down. That decreases the amount of nutrients your baby receives, particularly electrolytes like sodium and potassium.

“If you decrease the amount of sodium and you increase the amount of water that the baby is getting, that’s really, really unsafe and you actually can cause seizures and in some cases that can actually be fatal,” Greenhouse said.

There is additional relief for Midlands mothers.

Power in Changing, a Columbia nonprofit, is offering free formula to those in need. Ayanna White, the organization’s executive director, said they are giving away up to three cans per family, while supplies last.

If you’re a mother looking in search of formula, or diapers, from Power in Changing, you can visit their office at 2638 Two Notch Road, Suite 116 in Columbia.

They are open Monday through Wednesday from 9:30 A.M. to 2:30 P.M., and on Thursday from 9:30 A.M. to 1 P.M.

The formula maker Abbott said it had reached a deal Monday evening with federal regulators to restart production at a factory tied to the shortage.

After the site reopens, it still could take up to eight weeks for products to reach shelves.

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