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Avera Medical Minute: Navigating the baby formula shortage

Published: May. 23, 2022 at 10:29 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - A baby formula shortage is gripping the nation right now.

Parents of infants are struggling to find the formula they need in stock on store shelves. But the shortage isn’t just affecting parents with kids at home, hospital systems with babies in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, are also feeling the pinch.

“Things have been a little tight in terms of getting specialty formula,” said Dr. Katherine Wang, Avera Neonatologist & Medical Director for Avera McKennan NICU.

Dr. Wang works every day to help preemie babies grow. When the nation’s baby formula supply took a hit due to a large manufacturing warehouse closure, she took notice.

“We have had to be quick and adaptable and so we have to be pretty flexible in using alternative formulas that are equivalent. So we have been able to make those moves pretty smoothly so far and get what we need to those babies are getting the nutrition they need,” she said. Dr. Wang says they also have a lifeline that is helping keep these babies fed.

“One of our strong points in this NICU is we have a very high use of maternal breast milk, and also donor breast milk. We would be much more affected if we didn’t have this resource,” said Dr. Wang.

Linda Klein is a lactation consultant with Avera. She understands that for some parents, breastfeeding doesn’t come easy, and many rely on formula.

“Some moms are unable to breastfeed for multiple reasons, some babies are unable to breastfeed. So I don’t know that that is the solution to this problem. I think we need to get to the root and get the formula on the shelves again,” Klein said.

When it comes to navigating this shortage, she says any nutrition the baby can get is important. And any formula parents can get their hands on is better than no formula at all.

“My first advice would be to try to supplement with your own breast milk if you can, with extra pumping. If that’s not possible, I would just suggest that they go out and find a formula that is like theirs, it doesn’t have to be the same brand.”

Both Klein and Dr. Wang advise that parents should not try to make their own formula at home, and always follow instructions when preparing the formula they do have.

“Please do not water down your formula to try to make it last longer. You can do a lot of damage to brain cells doing that. Please try to call your pediatricians if you really truly cannot because sometimes we have connections with the formula reps and we can try to plead our case and get extra if we need to,” said Dr. Wang.

Both say they have hope that federal moves to increase baby formula supply will soon help with supply shortages.

For more information, visit Avera.org/MedicalMinute

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