Here are some dos and don'ts for navigating the baby formula shortage
Amid a widespread baby formula shortage due to supply chain issues and a safety recall, some parents may resort to unconventional measures like watering down formula to stretch their supply, or following DIY formula recipes found online.
OSF HealthCare pediatrician Dr. Kristine Ray said that's dangerous.
"We understand that it's an incredibly frustrating situation and people are just doing the best they can, but it's important they understand what is safe and what is not safe," she said.
Watering down formula is hard on an infant's kidneys. Ray said it puts them at risk not only for inadequate nutrition, but electrolyte imbalances. In severe cases, watered-down formula can also lead to brain swelling.
"I know it's tempting, because you add water to formula and adding a little more to get that volume that you're looking for seems very tempting, but it's not safe," Ray said.
Following recipes circulating online is inadvisable for similar reasons, she said.
"We want to make sure that we're giving our youngest, most vulnerable population, the correct balance of things that they need to help prevent further problems," she said.
So what's a parent to do when formula is hard to find? For most kids, it's no big deal to switch between different formula brands and get whatever's available.
But some children need specialized formulas which are more difficult to substitute. Ray said if a parent can't find the formula, check with your local pediatrician to see if the have any supplies available.
Donated breast milk may also be an option. Susan Urbanski is program manager for the Mothers' Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes, which coordinates human breast milk collection and distribution throughout Illinois and Wisconsin.
"We have seen an increase in demand, particularly from families who are typically feeding their babies specialty formulas, things that you can't necessarily substitute," Urbanski said. "So if one formula is out of stock, a lot of families have the option of just switching to another, but for these families whose babies can only digest particular things, they don't always have that option."
Urbanski said donated breast milk is generally an approved second choice, but families should check with their pediatrician first. She said the milk bank works with families on expenses and to connect them with resources.
As the mother of a child younger than one, Ray said social media and smaller stores might be potential outlets for parents searching for formula.
She said parents shouldn't buy specialty formula unless their child needs it, and should avoid purchasing more than 10 to 14 days' worth of formula at a time.
"I know it's hard because everybody wants to look out for their own child. But if everybody buys just what they need for the next couple of weeks, hopefully the supply chain can keep up with what people need," Ray said.