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Baby formula remains elusive as parents drive hours in hopes of securing food for their newborns

A mother of twins in Cedar Park says she calls multiple stores, driving an hour to get a few cans.

CEDAR PARK, Texas — Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, the largest pediatric hospital in the country, is sharing new insights and separating facts from fiction about the baby formula shortage.

Experts from the hospital shared the latest updates on the shortage, as well as advice and “dos and don’ts” when it comes to infant formula.

Many parents have been hunting for formula because of a combination of short- and long-term problems that has hit most of the biggest U.S. brands. In February, Abbott Nutrition recalled several major brands of powdered formula and shut down its Sturgis, Michigan, factory when federal officials began investigating four babies who suffered bacterial infections after consuming formula from the facility. Paired with ongoing supply chain issues, it has left grocery store shelves bare and parents worried.

Abbott is one of only a handful of companies that produce most of the U.S. formula supply, so their recall wiped out much of the market.

Some parents have resorted to buying breast milk from others or attempting to make their own formula. Dr. Stan Spinner, chief medical officer and vice president of Texas Children’s Pediatrics and Urgent Care, advises parents against that.

“If it’s not done under strict guidance and expertise, the baby […] can have severe problems with anemia, kidney problems,” Dr. Spinner said. “It can be very, very dangerous.”

Hannah Wilson, mother of a 7-year-old daughter and 4-month-old twin boys, said her twins are dairy intolerant and need a specific kind of formula. Over the last several months, Wilson and her husband have had to try different formulas until they found some that worked for their twins – after their dairy-safe Abbott Nutrition brand formula was recalled.

“We only really had three or four options of formula,” said Wilson. “And so, like a lot of other parents having to switch, we then went down to very, very little options.”

Wilson said she goes great lengths and has driven many hours to find even a couple of cans of formula. She said her twins go through a single can every two days.

“I often will call about 10 different HEBs trying to find ones that have got their stock in, and usually none of them do,” Wilson said. “Occasionally I’ll find one but I often time have to drive up to an hour away to be able to get that formula. It’s been kind of heartbreaking, to say the least.”

Wilson said she’s also tried ordering from Amazon to no avail. She said, right now, she feels luckier than most for having enough formula in her pantry for the next two weeks.

“My brother, as soon as the shortages started to happen, he actually sent me a huge case from Amazon and without that, we wouldn’t have any at this moment, so … we’re really lucky that we got that,” Wilson said.

But when the supply runs out, Wilson said she and her husband will have to find a new plan.

Experts from Texas Children’s Hospital provided this advice during a virtual press conference Wednesday:

  • DON’T participate in “informal milk sharing.” Informal milk sharing is where you give babies leftover breast milk from a stranger or order breast milk online. This comes with risk, such as infections or bacteria risks. There may also be additives in the milk you are unaware of.
  • DON’T make your own formula. Dr. Spinner of TCH says it is a complicated process of having the correct fats, proteins and carbohydrates, and needs to be done under strict guidance and expertise. Babies could have severe problems with anemia or kidney problems from improperly made formula.
  • DON’T dilute formula to make it last longer. Dr. Spinner of TCH says babies will suffer the consequences of this down the line, such as experiencing anemia or other problems as a result of not having a proper balance of nutrition from the formula.
  • DON’T buy formula online unless it is FDA-approved and regulated. The formula may otherwise be tampered with.
  • DO donate breast milk, pick up breast milk from an official milk bank. Texas Children’s Hospital takes breast milk donations, sends it to be pasteurized, and it is used for NICU babies.
  • DO feed your baby with whole milk with iron fortification temporarily, two to three days, if you are in a bind and do not have formula. Your baby must be at least six months of age. This is a VERY temporary fix.
  • DO talk to your pediatrician if your babies have dairy sensitivities and consume specialized formula. Your pediatrician will know of safe alternatives.
  • DO be flexible with the brand of formula you use. Dr. Spinner of TCH says there is no good evidence that proves one brand is better than the other.

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