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Families continue to feel the pain of formula shortages



CNN

Parents and caregivers continue to feel the pain of store shelves being cleared of infant formula, and many are turning to hospitals and community agencies for help.

“There’s a lot of panic,” said Jamie Lackey, founder and CEO of the nonprofit Helping Mamas in Norcross, Georgia, which helps low-income families find baby supplies.

“The other day a mother came through the distribution site – she had been to 15 different stores with her child in the car and couldn’t find a single box of formula, Lackey told Christi Paul from CNN in “New Day Weekend”.

“Another mom showed up before business opened the other day,” Lackey said. “It’s getting difficult and people are scared.”

Even as the government airlifts tons of infant formula from other countries and Abbott reopens a factory which produces nearly half of the powdered formula sold in the United States, regular restocking of retailers could take weeks.

An estimate, from market research firm Datasembly, found stock prices did not improve. During the last week of May, 74% of formula products were out of stock at some point. In nine states, including many in the South, more than 90% of infant formula was not always available, meaning families are still searching.

Even when infant formula can be found, it may not be what children are used to. It might not seem like a big deal, but for little bellies it can be a real pain.

“It’s like the ultimate defeat just because you want to be able to provide your baby with what he needs and the nourishment and care he’s used to,” said Amy Goff of Pearl, Mississippi.

Goff stopped breastfeeding her daughter, Ava, when she was 3 months old. She switched to formula when she returned to work as an optician because it was too difficult to find time to pump enough milk for Ava during the day. Goff says Ava was doing well with the formula until the shortage really set in in February.

Since then, she hasn’t been able to consistently find the same type of formula to feed Ava. She changed it six times, which resulted in rashes and diarrhea. “She was screaming in pain,” Goff said, “and there was really nothing you could do. It feels really helpless. You just want to help your child.

Goff recently started trying to get her milk supply back, or relactate, so she doesn’t have to worry.

“We won’t need to change it again,” she said, “I don’t want it to become a seventh time.”

Some children’s hospitals even say they’ve noticed an increase in calls from concerned parents.

“Initially, this issue was for those taking more specialized formulas or having nutritional issues,” said Stephanie Seger, senior government relations manager at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. “Then the gap, or the gap on the shelves, grew to the point where it’s now any formula. It’s now any parent of any baby.

“You can go to any Target, Walgreens. They’re just empty. I even checked Whole Foods this week to see if there was anything, and really, just empty shelves where their products were” , says Seger.

Sometimes desperate parents just call every number in the hospital phone book until they find someone who will listen, says Mindy Schneider, senior director of integrated inpatient care at Children’s Mercy Hospital.

“I think what we’re going through is a flood of calls,” said Kristi Thaete, director of nutrition services for Children’s Mercy. “They can call, they can come to the emergency room, they can be seen in the clinic or they can be seen for something totally unrelated. But the main thing is that the families do not find a formula.

Many of these calls are routed to Thaete, who tries to help people find substitutes for what they are looking for.

“I answered a call earlier this week; a family is looking for a specific product with added rice,” she said, “but it’s not within 200 miles.”

In this case, she says, she was able to help them find something else that would work until their regular product came back. In other cases, however, there is simply no substitute available.

Abbott makes the only infant formula for babies with kidney problems – Similac 60/40 – that contains fewer minerals than other products. When Abbott’s Sturgis, Michigan, factory closed, the means to do so have also disappeared.

Hospitals have had to mix and match other commercially available products – essentially formulas – to try and find something that will work for these fragile infants.

It’s done under carefully controlled conditions in the hospital prep room and isn’t something families should try to do at home, says Dr. Amy Hair, director of neonatal nutrition at Texas Children’s Houston Hospital.

“So I wouldn’t say it’s for any other situation, but for babies with kidney problems, we’ve done that, yeah, using off-the-shelf protein types and different components to create something that works for them,” Hair said.

According to Hair, formulas for babies with kidney problems and premature babies are some of the hardest to find.

To help Mamas’ Lackeys is to urge people to help if they can.

“We are asking families, if you have unexpired formula, to send it to us or send it to us at a food bank in the community. We receive calls every day. It’s terrifying not knowing if you can feed your child again.