SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, May 17, 2022 (Gephardt Daily) — Utah health officials are cautioning parents and caregivers struggling to find baby formula during the nationwide shortage to avoid diluting products or making their own formulas.
“The two most risky things to do are make your own formula or to dilute formulas,” Elizabeth Kirts, lactation manager at University of Utah Hospital, said during a Facebook Live news conference Tuesday to answer questions about the nationwide shortage of infant formula.
The national supply shortage stems from a voluntary recall by Abbott, which closed its plant in Sturgis, Michigan, in February after at least four babies using its formulas were hospitalized with a bacterial infection.
Abbott reached an agreement with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday to potentially reopen the plant within two weeks. From the time of the restart, it would take six to eight weeks before Abbott products are available on store shelves, company officials said.
“Our No. 1 priority is getting infants and families the high-quality formulas they need, and this is a major step toward reopening our Sturgis facility so we can ease the nationwide formula shortage,” Abbott Chairman and CEO Robert B. Ford said in a news release.
In the meantime, Abbott is importing formula from an FDA-registered facility in Ireland to help alleviate the supply shortage.
The recall and plant closure has led to empty store shelves across the nation, including Utah, with supplies for speciality products, such as sensitive, metabolic and allergen formulas, “lacking widely across the state in grocery stores,” said JoDelle Parke, with the Utah Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.
“Ninety-eight percent of the infant formula that is consumed in the United States is produced in the United States,” Parke said. “When you shut down a major producer of infant formula specific to specialty formulas, it has dramatic impact nationwide, which is what we’re seeing right now.”
Despite the national shortage, local health officials say there should be plenty of standard milk-based infant formulas available in Utah.
WIC has been working closing with grocery stores across the state to identify shortages and “shift product from store to store or from area to area” as needed, Parke said.
“You may have to stop at a couple of different stores to find the items that you need, but they are available across the state,” she said.
Health officials also cautioned against hoarding baby formula during the nationwide shortage.
“You never want to have more than a few weeks’ supply on hand while we’re experiencing this shortage,” said Dr. Michelle Hofmann, deputy director of the Utah Department of Health.
Some families have had to change brands of formula during the shortage, said Dr. Wendy Hopson-Rohrer, a pediatrician and associate vice president for Health Sciences Education at University of Utah Health.
“If you can’t find the brand of formula that your baby is taking, it is OK to switch brands,” Hopson-Rohrer said. “Sometimes babies have a little bit of trouble switching.”
She recommends slowly introducing the new brand while gradually decreasing the prior product.
“We can substitute some formulas across brands if they’re of a similar type,” Hopson-Rohrer said. “So if your baby is taking cow’s milk formula from one brand, you can switch to cow’s milk formula from another brand.”
For babies who have allergies or can’t tolerate either a soy-based or a milk-based formula, a medical professional should be consulted before switching products, she said.
Diluting infant formula to extend the life of the product reduces the amount of calories infants are receiving with each feeding, which can lead to electrolyte abnormalities, Hopson-Rohrer said.
Families having trouble finding a specific formula can contact the manufacturer or work with their pediatrician or family doctor to acquire a specific product, state health officials said.