‘It’s absolutely heartbreaking’: Jacksonville-area parents face worsening baby formula shortage

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Parents across the country are scrambling to find baby formula and data shows it’s getting worse.

News4JAX found that in Jacksonville there’s some supply, but also a lot of empty shelf space.

Local parents said they haven’t been able to find the formula their babies need anywhere, and they’re getting desperate. Some are turning to other parents on social media to try to see what they can find.

Nicole Brown said the baby formula her five-month-old son needs has vanished from store shelves.

Let us know: Are you having a hard time finding baby formula?

“An entire month was nothing...nothing online, nothing in stores nearby,” Brown said. “Luckily, I stocked up last time. So today when I opened my last can that kind of lit my fire a little bit.”

According to retail analytics company Datasembly, about 31% of baby formula was out of stock in April because of inflation, supply chain issues, and recalls. And for families whose options are further limited by allergies -- the situation is especially precarious.

Ashleigh Olsen said her nine-month-old is limited to a specific formula she orders straight from the manufacturer, and there’s no word on when it will be available again.

“I can get Amazon delivered to my door. But I cannot get food for my child, I cannot feed my son,” Olsen said.

According to Datasembly, the numbers suggest the supply of baby formula will continue to get worse.

“It’s absolutely heartbreaking,” Olsen said.

Experts said diluting baby formula doesn’t provide the same nutrition.

“If you’ve already had a baby and it’s been having formula -- I don’t encourage you to split it with water if you can help it,” Jamie Neal, founder of Life Tree Women Care, said.

The former chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on nutrition said if the formula a baby is used to isn’t available, families are going to have to find the closest alternative.

Olsen said for her that could mean exposing her son to a potential allergic reaction. Another parent said they’ve had to change their formulas and it causes their baby to throw up every time he eats.

In response to News4JAX’s question on when formula supplies might increase, an FDA spokesperson said, “We continue discussions with all infant formula manufacturers and will consider all tools available to support the supply of infant formula products.”

“The FDA has been meeting with several infant formula manufacturers on a weekly basis to try to increase capacity to produce specialty and metabolic products overall,” an FDA spokesperson said.

Abbott Nutrition, which produces Similac, provided the following statement:

We are doing everything we can to address the infant formula supply shortage. Across the U.S., we’re prioritizing production of infant formula products to help replenish the supply in the market and are also air shipping in product from our FDA-registered facility in Cootehill, Ireland, on a daily basis.  All of this powder product is being restocked on retail shelves on a regular basis.

Actions we’re taking to address supply include:

  • Increasing production of Similac formulas at our other FDA-registered facilities
  • Bringing Similac Advance into the U.S. from an FDA-registered manufacturing site in Europe, including daily shipments by air of product
  • Prioritizing some production of other Abbott liquid products to Similac and Alimentum to make more ready-to-feed liquid formula available
  • Working with USDA and state agencies to provide authorization for parents who get formula from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) with other Similac products at no cost, including for other manufacturers’ products
  • Contacting other manufacturers to provide information regarding supply constraints for specialty formulas so they can address the demand
  • Engaging with healthcare providers to identify potential alternative formulas, whenever we can
  • Investing in additional manufacturing of specialty products for infants who can’t tolerate standard formula products

We know that millions of parents and caregivers around the world count on our formulas to feed their babies and children and we are doing everything possible to address this situation.

Formula producer Enfamil provided the following statement:

At Enfamil, we are dedicated to giving the millions of babies and toddlers that rely on our formulas the best start in life. We are aware that some parents are having trouble finding their favorite baby formula products in their preferred store.

The market has been impacted by a recall by another infant formula manufacturer. We have been optimizing our efforts to address any issues as fast as possible and meet the needs of all babies who rely on our formula.

The FDA has also released the following information:

· Do not use recalled Similac, Alimentum and EleCare powdered infant formulas produced in in the Abbott Nutrition facility in Sturgis, Michigan.

· Parents and caregivers also should never dilute infant formula. Consumers also should avoid buying formula online that comes from outside the U.S., as it has the potential to be counterfeit.

· If your regular formula is not available, contact your child’s health care provider for recommendations on changing feeding practices.

· The Abbott Nutrition facility that produces recalled infant formulas also produces metabolic and other medical specialty infant formulas for infants with inborn errors of metabolism and other medical needs, as well as medical foods.

· The FDA wants to be sure that parents and caregivers who use these specialty products are aware that there may be some risk of Cronobacter contamination. If possible, parents and caregivers should work with their medical provider to consider whether comparable products may be appropriate. If comparable alternative products are not available or appropriate, parents and caregivers should take extra care to follow the CDC’s updated advice for parents on how to reduce the risk of Cronobacter contamination of formula during preparation of powdered product, whether that contamination comes from the product itself or from other contamination sources in the home.

· For the metabolic products being released on a case-by-case basis, as stated in our advisory, it is important for parents and caregivers to understand that any products released on a case-by-case basis at this time were made at Abbott Nutrition’s Sturgis, MI, facility, and that the processes, procedures and conditions that the FDA observed during its inspection of the Sturgis, MI production facility from Jan. 31-March 3, raise concerns that powdered infant formula produced at this facility prior to the FDA’s inspection carry a risk of contamination. Therefore, those seeking access should consult with their healthcare provider in considering whether the benefit of consuming such product outweighs the potential risk of bacterial infection in the user’s particular circumstances.

· For  individuals needing urgent, life-sustaining supplies of the specialty and metabolic formulas , patients and caregivers seeking access to these products should contact Abbott directly to request that a product be made available to them by calling 1-800-881-0876.

Additional resources: FDA Investigation of Cronobacter Infections: Powdered Infant Formula (February 2022) | FDA; Powdered Infant Formula Recall: What to Know | FDA

About the Author:

I-TEAM and general assignment reporter