How to handle the formula shortage in Pittsburgh

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Over the past few weeks, many families in our region have been struggling with the nationwide shortage of infant formula. Allegheny Health Network offers these tips to help parents take the best possible care of their babies:

  • When supermarkets and big box stores run out of baby formula, check local pharmacies or baby supply stores. Call first to make sure they have a supply on hand. When searching online, stick to well-known distributors and pharmacies rather than auction sites. Social media groups, food banks, and charities may also have leads on where to buy formula.
  • Most babies are fine with any formula available. (According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the exception is for babies who need a heavily hydrolyzed or amino acid-based formula like Elecare.) If you have a part of the formula your baby is used to, you may want to mix it with the new formula to minimize digestive upset.
  • Don’t try to make more formula by adding more water, or using homemade formula recipes circulating on the internet. These practices are unsafe and can lead to nutritional imbalances, health problems and even death.
  • Toddler formulas are safe for a few days for babies who are almost a year old, and “premature” formulas are also safe to use for a few weeks.
  • For babies aged 6 to 12 months who drink regular formula, cow’s milk can be used for a short time. Be sure to include iron-rich solid foods in the baby’s diet. Do not use goat’s milk, almond or other vegetable milks. Soymilk fortified with protein and calcium can be used as an emergency for babies around one year old.
  • Breast milk banks are available on a very limited basis for high risk babies such as those born prematurely or with low birth weight and can provide safe pasteurized breast milk; however, it is not safe to share breast milk among friends, relatives or acquaintances.
  • Babies over 6 months can also start pureed solid foods.
  • If you can breastfeed, do so. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding as the sole source of nutrition for infants up to 6 months old. If you initially decided not to breastfeed or stopped prematurely, it is sometimes possible to resume breastfeeding – a process called re-lactation. AHN Lactation Consultants can also be reached by calling 412-578-7030.
  • Don’t make the shortage worse: only buy a 10-day to two-week supply, to help everyone have a chance to buy what they need.

“We certainly understand that it can be scary and frustrating not being able to find formula in your neighborhood store, or not being able to find the type of formula your baby needs,” says Joseph Aracri, DO, System Chair, Pediatrics at Allegheny Health Network. “We hope that recent actions taken by, or contemplated by, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will help address this issue.”

The potential reopening of a domestic infant formula factory and the potential easing of restrictions on imported infant formula will hopefully help, Dr Aracri says. But the current shortage could last several weeks longer.

In the meantime, he says, “we urge parents to reach out to their pediatrician with any questions they may have and try to stay calm as we work through this difficult time.”

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