“This is the only formula that assists without her throwing up constantly,” Lex said. “Without it, we have faced weight-gaining issues.”
Typically, Lex and Andrea pay about $50-60 for 28-ounce cans of the formula. Lex said they’ve tended to go to the Sioux City Target or order online through Amazon. But lately, the Rensbergers have had to widen their search radius to make sure Amelia gets what she needs.
“At this point we look everywhere in a 100-mile radius,” Rensberger said. “My mom looks in North Dakota for us and will bring it to us when she visits. We have friends and family on lookout in Sioux Falls and Omaha as well.”
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“We were ordering the six-can packages from Amazon but they are now out of stock. In the beginning of April, Walmart had some but that is now out of stock as well,” she said.
Stocking formula hasn’t been any easier for the Food Bank of Siouxland, which was forced to throw out about half of its formula on hand due to recall of products made by Abbott, one of two of the largest U.S. manufacturers of baby formula.
“I suppose we’re down about 75% of the donations we get,” Food Bank executive director Jacob Wanderscheid said. In 2021, Wanderscheid said the Food Bank distributed about 9,000 pounds of formula and baby food. This year…it’s 600 pounds through mid-May.
Wanderscheid said the shortages are having ripple effects for families throughout Siouxland.
“The worry we have: If there’s a shortage or steep increase, that will put more pressure on a family’s budget in general…” he said.
The shortages are having the biggest impact on poorer communities, according to a Washington Post story. Half of the nation’s formula is purchased by recipients of Women’s, Infants and Children, or WIC, a food assistance program. WIC-eligible mothers are less likely to breastfeed than those who aren’t eligible for the program, according to the Post story.
As for breastfeeding as an alternative, the Associated Press reported: “Some medical conditions make it difficult for women to breastfeed, and it isn’t recommended for those with HIV or undergoing cancer treatment. And exclusive breastfeeding is difficult for working women, who have to pump repeatedly throughout the day.”
MercyOne Siouxland’s Dr. Steven Joyce, a practitioner of internal medicine and pediatrics, said the biggest short-term concern for anyone not able to find formula at all would be malnutrition. “If they’re not going to gain weight, it affects milestones and learning,” he said.
The way Joyce explained it: Almost all infants will start out on regular formula, such as Similac or Enfamil, until an intolerance presents itself. Then, he said, there would be a transition to a specialty formula. Some of the ones currently in short supply.
“There are other formulas and other generic formulations and we need to remember the nutritional content on these is still governed by the FDA. They’re perfectly safe and equivalent,” Joyce said.
What can be unsafe is when someone tries to homebrew their own formula or make what they have last longer.
Joyce also cautions families against diluting formula.
“Don’t try to make it last longer by diluting it,” he said. “That’s a terrible idea.”
A major driver of the current formula shortages being felt all across the United States is a February recall that included certain Similac products made by Abbott Laboratories. The recalls of products made at a Michigan plant came after complaints about bacterial infections in infants who had consumed the products.
With Abbott controlling about 48% of the formula market, a blow to such a dominant force in the sector, combined with inflation and supply-chain issues, led to the formula shortages. Abbott and three other companies control around 90% of the U.S. formula market, according to National Public Radio.
On May 16, Abbott issued a press release saying the affected Michigan plant could restart manufacturing within two weeks, which which would mean there would be product available on shelves in six to eight weeks.
In just the past two weeks, as the shortage has continued to attract international attention, at least six children have been hospitalized because their special formula was out of stock (two in Memphis and four in South Carolina).
On May 18, four days after out-of-stock rates for formula hit 41% and more than two weeks after the number was 31%, the U.S. House passed a pair of bills meant to combat the shortage issues by letting more formula be purchased with food assistance money and by sending money to the FDA to increase supply. The House voted 414-9 to approve the former measure and 231-192 on the latter bill. Rep. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull) was one of the 192 Republicans to vote no on the FDA bill, which critics argued gave the FDA additional money with no plan to actually fix the problem. Feenstra had earlier warned the shortages are “threatening babies who rely on formula for their health and development.”
That same week, President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act for the baby formula shortage. The act, which was first used as a way to ramp up arms supplies after North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, lets the federal government push businesses to prioritize the manufacture of goods and services deemed necessary for national security.
On May 20, Biden said the first shipments of formula would hit the U.S. before the weekend was over. “”Operation Fly Formula” meant that up to 1.5 million bottles of safe Nestlé infant formula will be coming to U.S. shelves as soon as possible,” Biden said via Twitter. Based on reporting from NBC News, “The first shipment of 78,000 pounds of hypoallergenic formulas for children with cow’s milk protein allergy arrived from Europe on Sunday, enough to provide for 9,000 babies and 18,000 toddlers for one week.”
Haley Davies said she hopes such maneuvers work as quickly as possible.
“Not just for my family but for all of us worried moms and dads out there,” she said.
Were Louis the Davies’ first child (they have a two-year-old as well), Haley said they’d likely be even more worried.
“As a first time parent, there are already so many unknowns, so many things you are doing for the first time. To add not being able to feed your child on top of it causes a large amount of extra stress.”