HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — The nationwide baby formula shortage has led to some parents trying different social media “hacks” to stretch their supply. Several local doctors warn this could be dangerous for your baby.
These shortages came after one of the biggest formula manufacturing plants, Abbott Nutrition, shut down in February while federal officials investigated the illnesses of four formula-fed babies, two of whom died. A potentially deadly bacteria, cronobacter, was found inside the plant, leading to a massive product recall – but it’s not certain that there was any connection between the illnesses and the bacteria discovery.
“After a thorough investigation by FDA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Abbott, and review of all available data, there is no conclusive evidence to link Abbott’s formula’s to these infant illnesses,” an Abbott spokesperson said in a statement to Nexstar Tuesday.
Food and Drug Administration officials have not released a detailed report about what they found during the investigation. In a statement Monday, FDA commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D., said only that Abbott “has agreed to address certain issues that the agency identified at their infant formula production facility in Michigan.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that Abbott could be up and running in the next couple of weeks. While the re-opening is hopeful for parents who use formula, it doesn’t change the problem they’re facing today: empty shelves.
Katelyn Smith is just one mom who turned to social media for help after weeks of finding empty shelves where her baby’s brand of formula once was.
“The very first thing we heard when I posted on Facebook was somebody called and said, ‘I have this recipe that I found on the internet,” Smith told Nexstar’s WHNT. “I took one look at it and was like, there is no way!”
Homemade formula is just one instruction making rounds on social media that pediatricians say should not be an option for any baby since what they eat affects everything from brain development to bone growth.
“Typically infants double their birth weight by the fourth month and triple it by a year. That is the most rapid growth time. So we definitely want them to get all the nutrition they are due, and it’s going to mainly be coming from the formula,” UAB Huntsville Regional Chair of the Department of Pediatrics Dr. Steffane Battle told WHNT.
Another piece of advice doctors say to ignore is adding extra water to formula in an effort to stretch rations.
“This is very, very dangerous because formula is made specifically for infant kidneys. It’s a certain amount of material that’s in the milk. If you go below that, you can set them up for electrolyte derangement,” ADPH official and pediatrician Wes Stubblefield told WHNT.
“I have seen babies come in with seizures because of said electrolyte imbalance so I definitely discourage diluting the formula,” Dr. Battle said.
The last big piece is switching to store-bought milk from animals like cows or goats while the baby is younger than one-year-old.
“If you give whole milk too early, before the 1st birthday, one, it doesn’t have much iron, and growing brains need that iron and also it’s a heavier solute load. It makes your kidneys work a little harder,” Battle said.
Stubblefield said some parents can introduce very small amounts to a baby’s diet when they are almost 1 year old, but switching before that year mark would not be healthy. He said, ultimately though, the decision lies with a child’s pediatrician to advise when exactly it will come time to make the transition.
As for Smith’s advice to parents like her on social media:
“At this point, I’ve just learned to take it with a grain of salt,” Smith said. “We have to be smart, we have to be sure to be giving our babies what they need.”
There are a few safe options that doctors recommend. They suggest trying another brand of formula that has similar ingredients if it can be found. Dr. Stubblefield said there is a chance the baby will not have an easy transition at first, but it is a much better alternative than swapping to an unsafe option.
Both Battle and Stubblefield say for babies with normal stomachs, switching between name-brand and generic formulas will be safe.
For babies with allergies or sensitivities, they recommend first consulting a pediatrician. They also say if you’ve exhausted all efforts searching for any formula your baby could have, to contact the pediatrician and inquire about any formula samples they could have left in their stock to help keep your baby nourished until locating a formula that will properly nourish your baby.