Rio Rancho resident Holly Byrd feeds her 10-month-old son Ian Larson at Leon Grande Park on Wednesday morning. (Gregory Hasman/Observer)
I’ve seen people arguing over formulas at the store. I’ve seen moms desperate to find formula only to (find) an empty shelf — Rio Rancho resident Holly Byrd
Rio Rancho resident Holly Byrd typically uses Target brand formula for her 10-month-old son Ian Larson, but she recently switched brands because of a nationwide shortage in baby formula.
Byrd usually feeds Larson three or four bottles a day. But he doesn’t like the new formula as much and hasn’t gone through as many bottles as he did in the past.
“I think it has messed with him a little bit,” she said. “He hasn’t been pooping as much, which is concerning.”
Months of spot shortages at pharmacies and supermarkets have been exacerbated by the recall at Abbott, which was forced to close its largest U.S. formula manufacturing plant in Sturgis, Michigan, in February because of contamination concerns — the impact of which is still being felt.
“I’m sure if you don’t have a baby, you probably don’t realize how terrifying this is,” Byrd said.
‘(Then) all of a sudden, I couldn’t buy any’
Rio Rancho has not been immune from the nationwide shortage. Places like Walgreens have been selling formula as soon as it hits the shelves.
One man came in and bought a section worth of formula, local Walgreens manager Daniel Hayes said.
Byrd noticed something was different at Target a couple of months ago when it had less formula than usual, but she said she thought it was because “a bunch of people had babies recently.”
“Before we started noticing anything was really serious, I would grab one as needed,” she said. “As it was getting harder to find, we would grab two or three of them, not sure how long they would last.
“(Then) all of a sudden, I couldn’t buy any.”
Byrd admitted she has “spent more money on gas this month than the whole year just looking for formula.”
People can only get a handful of formulas because some businesses have put restrictions on how much they can purchase.
A Walgreens spokeswoman told the Observer the company only allows people to buy up to three formulas per transaction.
Target has also placed product limitations in place, though it did not provide details.
“I’ve seen people arguing over formulas at the store,” Byrd said. “I’ve seen moms desperate to find formula only to (find) an empty shelf.”
Better than the other alternatives
When it comes to buying formula, Dr. John Pederson, children’s program medical director at Presbyterian Healthcare Services, said: “Often people’s first thought is to go to the big box stores, and unfortunately that’s kind of everyone’s thought.”
While he suggested people explore their options, buying from recognized distributors like Target and Walgreens is better than purchasing formulas that have not been regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Unless a baby is on a hydrolyzed formula or amino acid formula, something prescribed by a pediatrician, it will probably be OK if they switch brands for a short period of time, Pederson said.
He also recommended that parents do not come up with their own solutions to the shortage, like adding extra water to the formula to make it last longer.
“That is very dangerous and is something that could lead to very low sodium levels in babies that can make them sick,” Pederson said.
The FDA advises against making infant formulas at home and encourages caregivers to work with their child’s health care provider for recommendations on changing feeding practices, if needed.
Albuquerque pediatrician Dionne Ross said each time she reads a social media post of someone struggling to find formula for their baby, “it’s really hard for me to read.”
“It’s kind of heartbreaking right now to see parents going through a lot,” she said.
Ross recommends parents reach out to pediatricians for advice.
Byrd will be calling one to see if she can speed up Larson’s transition from formula to regular milk, in part, she said, “so I’m not taking any (formula) away from those who super need it.”
What is being done to alleviate the situation?
The New Mexico Department of Health’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program is working to ensure its estimated 31,000 participants get the formula they need, NM Department of Health spokesman David Morgan said in an email.
“WIC is in communication with its formula distributor daily to check the availability and status of formulas we order through them,” he said.
A week ago, the FDA issued a press release stating it was working with U.S. manufacturers to increase their output and streamlining paperwork to allow more imports.
“There is no easy solution to this problem, which is why the Food & Drug Administration is leveraging all of the tools at their disposal at the federal level to support the supply of infant formula products for all infants,” Morgan said. “In the interim, our WIC program is researching to add new formulas to our program to ease the supply chain issues for its participants.”
There is additional hope.
On Monday, the U.S. Justice Department filed a complaint and a proposed consent decree that, if entered by a federal court in the Western District of Michigan, would allow Abbott to resume manufacturing powdered infant formula at its Sturgis facility. It would also require the company to take measures designed to increase safety and ensure it complies with federal regulations.
The actions are expected to result in an increase of infant formula products, while ensuring the company undertakes certain actions that would ensure safe powdered baby formula is produced at the facility, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Once the FDA confirms the initial requirements for the start-up have been met, Abbott could restart the site within two weeks. The company would begin production of EleCare, Alimentum and metabolic formulas first and then start on Similac and other formulas.
From the time Abbott restarts the site, it will take six to eight weeks before the product is available on the shelves, according to a company press release.
That is a “terrifying” amount of time, Byrd said.
There are many people to blame for the shortage, Byrd said, but the FDA should be considered to be most at fault because they waited “too long to listen to complaints of babies getting sick.”
“I just feel like they’re dragging their feet on this,” she said. “Couldn’t they move a little faster? How are people supposed to feed their babies?”