The infant formula shortage: Your questions, answered

a mother feeding her baby with a bottle of formula
(Image: Adobe Stock)

By now, you’ve likely heard about the current shortage of commercial infant formula: As of today, more than 40 percent of formulas are out of stock across the U.S. The situation has left families scrambling for solutions — and struggling to make sense of a barrage of misinformation online. To get answers, we spoke with our team in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition.

Why is there a formula shortage?

The shortage has its roots in supply chain challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation worsened recently when one of this country’s major manufacturers of powdered infant formula recalled and then ceased production of its powder formula, which had been linked to a fatal outbreak of Cronobacter sakazakii infection. As a result, families have had difficulty locating formula. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking steps to address the crisis, it will likely be weeks until the shortage is resolved.

How much formula should I have on hand?

To ensure that everyone has access to formula to feed their babies, we agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends having no more than a two-week supply on hand.

Can I substitute a different brand of formula if the one my child usually drinks is unavailable?

For most families, the answer is “yes.” If your baby is healthy and already drinks a cow’s milk-based, intact protein formula, you should be able to substitute a different brand without a problem. But if your child has gastrointestinal problems (like food allergies, short bowel syndrome, or other problems), kidney failure, or metabolic disorders, you should speak with your clinical team. For any questions, your child’s pediatrician or registered dietitian is the best source of answers.

Should families make their own formula?

No. Although parents once made their own infant formulas before the creation of commercialized products, there are too many variables to consider and too many opportunities for mistakes. This is especially true when it comes to ensuring that formula contains the proper amounts of vitamins and minerals — in fact, that’s why the FDA regulates infant formulas in the first place.

Can I add water to my baby’s formula to make it last longer?

You should never try to dilute formula, since this can affect the amount of nutrients your child will receive.

Can I feed my baby with toddler formula?

As its name suggests, toddler formula is specially formulated for that age group and is not recommended for infants. That said, it is safe for short-term use (a few days) in babies who are almost a year old.

Can I give my baby donor breastmilk instead of formula?

If you choose to give your baby breastmilk and are not currently nursing, you can obtain donor breastmilk from a certified milk bank. Find one here.

What should expectant moms do?

The formula shortage is a good reason to consider breastfeeding your new baby if you can. However, you shouldn’t feel pressured or guilty if this isn’t an option for you. Everyone is different, and the best choice is the one that keeps your baby fed and healthy.

Where to find formula

For more information on the shortage and where to find formula, we recommend:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Helping families find formula during the infant formula shortage

FDA: Powdered infant formula recall: What to know

American Academy of Pediatrics: With the baby formula shortage, what should I do if I can’t find any?

North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition: List of possible formula substitutions

Learn more about the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition.

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