Formula shortage a lingering concern for local parents

Brittany McGaskey and her daughter Brooklynn of Natchitoches have traveled across North Louisiana to find infant formula during the shortage.

Nathan Wilson | Reporter
Brittany McGaskey of Natchitoches is a first time mother of a 10-month-old daughter named Brooklynn. She describes feeling skeptical when she first heard about a formula shortage. “My mom told me that she heard on the news it was going to happen, but I didn’t think she was telling the truth, and then it happened. I’m in the store, and I’m looking for her milk, and I’m like, wait a minute, there’s none on the shelf,” she says. “I asked the store workers what’s going on? (They said) oh there’s a recall on Similac.”
McGaskey describes the lengths she went to for her daughter’s formula. “WIC awards us so many cans a month, but I can only go to certain stores here which is Super 1, so if Super 1 is out then we can’t get it,” she says. “People can’t buy it with WIC from Wal-Mart, so they had some. Then they went out. So now I’m having to go to Shreveport, Alexandria, I even had my mom get some formula out of Mississippi while she was there because there’s no formula on the shelf.”
McGaskey acknowledges the problem became more manageable after WIC relaxed its rules to include a broader list of eligible infant formulas. “WIC now gives us six different options of milk that we can use, so now we can find her milk, but sometimes the shelves go dry and we have to drive out of town to find her milk so it’s still an issue,” she says.
McGaskey also describes reservations she had about changing brands. “Being a first-time mother and having a newborn, I was kind of worried about switching my baby. All I know is she’s supposed to be on Total Comfort, this is what the doctor said, but now WIC is switching her over to (Gerber),” she says. She’s no longer concerned, “I tried it on her and she did okay, so she’s been on Gerber ever since.”
There are other problems McGaskey encounters. One is the limits stores place on purchases. “Let’s say I’m allowed seven cans per month, but Super 1 has put up a sign that we can only get two cans per day per household, so what if I could only get a ride one time a month and they have put a limit on it?” she asks. McGaskey also has to budget for formula when she can’t find it from a store that participates in WIC. “In the month of May I spent $75 on formula,” she says. “It’s just problem after problem after problem.”

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Amanda Roberts is a Registered Dietician at Natchitoches Regional Medical Center. She empathizes with women who are having trouble finding formula, but cautions against relying on non-formula substitutes. “In my profession, I have to recommend what’s safe,” she says. “In times of formula shortage the risk is of getting too much or too little of certain vitamins or minerals that are necessary for the baby’s growth and development.” She reveals how infant formula is different from cow’s milk. “Infant formulas are specially created with that right balance of calories, protein and all the vitamins and minerals to meet the needs of a growing infant. Homemade formulas can’t mimic that so not only do you run the risk of inadequate nutrition, but you also run the risk of contamination. It’s not being created in a sterile environment.”
“The Academy of Dietetics and the Academy of Pediatrics always recommends breastfeeding first so someone who’s getting ready to have a baby, I would highly recommend they choose that route first,” Roberts says. “The mom’s breast milk is the perfect milk for their baby. It’s God’s perfect formula that your body creates.” She especially recommends women try to breastfeed immediately after giving birth when women produce a substance called colostrum. “Especially in the first two or three days there are antibodies and immune protecting properties.”
Roberts recognizes that issues arise for women who already have young children. “If they’re not already breastfeeding, or if they’ve slowed down their breastfeeding, perhaps if they start nursing more often or pumping then they could build their breast milk supply back up,” she says.
Shelves at many stores are empty of infant formula. This was the scene at Super 1. Parents are resorting to alternative measures, and home recipes to feed their babies. Experts caution that some babies will not get the complete nutrition they need to thrive. Read more about the shortage in the upcoming Thursday, June 9 edition.

The Women’s Resource Center helps parents with both breastfeeding classes and obtaining formula. “We’re starting to get down on some of the specialty (formulas) which is tough,” Executive Director Jennifer Luna notes as a particular concern. Despite the shortage, her organization will help parents with whatever their children’s nutritional needs happen to be. She repurposes a popular phrase among breastfeeding advocates. “Fed obviously is best,” she says.
Though no single policy measure has been able to solve the formula shortage caused by the shutdown of a plant that once supplied 40% of the nation’s infant formula, several measures have been taken at the state and federal level. Imports of formula are being flown in from Germany to resupply empty shelves and parents of children with special dietary needs may request specialty formulas directly from Abbott. A bill to make permanent the expansion of WIC benefits to a wider range of formulas has passed congress, and breastfeeding advocates are calling for passage of the PUMP Act which would provide workplace accommodations for women to express breast milk. In a long-term policy move congress has also passed a bill to increase the FDA’s resources dedicated to inspecting infant formula manufacturing facilities and imports.