Experts explain what to do and what to avoid for parents amidst a shortage of infant formula

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klein said the White House is considering “absolutely” and “strongly” President Joe Biden’s demand for the Defense Production Act to address the nation’s salty milk shortage. (Paul Hennessy, The Associated Press)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah health experts addressed growing concerns and questions during Tuesday’s discussion as baby milk shortages persisted nationwide, leaving parents frantically trying to provide for their children’s nutritional needs.

The advice comes on the heels of the US Food and Drug Administration reaching an agreement with Abbott Laboratories on Monday to reopen the plant after production was halted. The factory closed in February after several children fell ill after ingesting the factory-produced formula. An investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration revealed the presence of deadly bacteria in the plant, which shut it down.

The shutdown has exacerbated the nationwide baby formula shortage that began with COVID-19 and related supply chain problems across the country.

Monday’s decision will allow the formula company to begin production in the next two weeks — but it could take another six to eight weeks before the formula hits shelves. With the growing panic and the persistence of empty shelves, University of Utah health experts advised parents on what to do and what not to do because of the shortage.

Dr. said. Wendy Hopson-Rohrer, US pediatrician and associate vice president of health sciences education.

Do: Ask your doctor if you can switch brands

Health experts have advised families who cannot find their formula on the shelf to consider switching to another brand. Hobson Rohrer said those whose babies aren’t eating specialty milk can look to other brands to supplement them amid the shortage. To switch formulas, parents should consult a doctor first and then start introducing the new formula slowly.

“It’s OK to switch. Sometimes kids have some trouble switching because the taste is a little different. It’s the same as if we switched between sodas, for example. So the taste is a little different,” Hobson Rohrer said.

To better implement the change, Hopson-Rohrer advises slowly reducing the amount of the previous brand while adding the new brand to the formula. She added that the content and nutritional value between the two brands would be relatively similar.

“Formulas are relatively equivalent in terms of what this contains. So if you’re using a formula based on cow’s milk, it’s exactly the same. The formulas we’re most concerned about are prime formulas and some specialty formulas for babies with allergies or other causes where they can’t tolerate a milk formula. soy or milk,” Hobson Rohrer said.

If you are among the parents whose infant cannot switch for those reasons, Hobson Rohrer advises contacting your pediatrician or your local Women’s, Infants and Children’s office. Your pediatrician or WIC office may be able to provide you with samples of specialized formula until production and supply return, or assist with a replacement.

Avoid: turn to substitutions or homemade recipes

Desperation amid shortages has led some parents to turn to alternative ways of meeting their children’s nutritional needs, diluting formula or making homemade formula. Recipes and substitutes were posted across social media pages used to swap or notify parents about the supply of different formulas in stores.

University of Utah health experts cautioned against resorting to any of the previously mentioned methods, emphasizing the danger it could carry to an infant.

“The real reason you don’t want to use your own formulations is because we want to use technology and everything that has been studied in terms of formulas on the market that are FDA approved. They are in that category for Utah Health Department deputy director Michelle Hoffman, said Michael Hoffman, deputy director of the Utah Department of Health. The reason is because it has been studied and we know it is safe and healthy for babies unlike breast milk.

Diluting the formula also dilutes the nutritional value and prevents the infant from getting all the necessary calories, she added.

While some exceptions can be made for older infants in terms of cow’s milk, Hoffman emphasized that breast milk or formula is the best option for infants.

How about sharing breast milk?

Several social media posts advised mothers to turn to their local milk banks from donated breast milk amid the shortage. While Utah opened Mountain West Mothers Milk Bank in 2020, the donations were for sick and vulnerable children. Milk is often sold to hospitals for neonatal intensive care units and for otherwise healthy populations with some transitional problems.

“A lot of information is being published about calling a milk bank for pasteurized milk and we don’t have that availability to provide that milk to outpatient residents,” said Elizabeth Curtis, MD, director of lactation at the University of Utah and Mountain West Mother’s Hospital. Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Milk Bank.

While not all residents have access to milk donations, Kirts still encourages anyone who can donate to do so because donations are short on their own.

But what about donations outside the Mother’s Milk Bank in Mountain West? What about mother to mother?

“In an ideal world, sharing milk from a mother is a great thing and a great gift from one mother to another — but we have to be aware that it is unregulated. There are no safeguards in place,” Curtis said. It is very important to work with their healthcare provider to consider all the benefits and risks, and then have a very good screening done.”

What is WIC doing in Utah right now?

Waivers for the Utah Women, Infants, and Children program have been issued since the recall began to expand formula options in Utah. Extended formula packages allowed families flexibility at the grocery store rather than having to buy a single prescribed formula, according to Jodel Gilman Park, WIC’s vendor coordinator in Utah.

In addition, the local WIC office has worked with grocery stores across the state to locate holes and shift product between stores or regions to best suit families’ needs. The program also worked with WIC families in Utah to identify possible tips and tricks for finding formula, while also advising on the risks of resorting to alternatives.

On Tuesday, Gilman Park issued a vendor memo, reminding them that the program has no policy that would limit their ability to control the number of cans of formula purchased in a daily transaction or in a single transaction by a household across the state. The committee advised parents not to buy too much while at the grocery store, and to leave the product to other families.

“Perhaps most importantly, we have given our voices to a diverse group of groups and organizations across the state that care deeply about the health and well-being of Utah’s children. We are doing everything we can to support solutions where we can contribute to those decisions,” Gilman Park said.

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Ashley Freddy is a reporter at KSL.com covering arts, culture, and entertainment, as well as human services, minority communities, and women’s issues. I graduated from the University of Arizona with a BA in Broadcast Journalism.

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