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baby formula shortage

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The national shortage of baby formula is creating health-related problems for newborns, while increasing anxiety for parents.

Stony Brook Medicine’s Dr. Jill Cioffi provides tips for parents searching for baby formula during the shortage. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine/ Jeanne Neville

Stony Brook University Hospital has seen patients in its primary care offices after formula changes, as parents indicate that infants have had reflux, vomiting, spitting up and loose stools and blood or mucus in their stools, according to Dr. Jill Cioffi, medical director of Ambulatory Primary Care Pediatrics at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

“This situation is difficult for all parents,” Cioffi explained in an email. “They are already experiencing the stress of caring for a newborn, adding food insecurity to this will only increase their stress and worry.”

Nationally, some hospitals are reporting that infants are coming to Emergency Departments due to lack of nutrition and dehydration. Thus far, Stony Brook has not seen such cases in its Emergency Department.

Stony Brook, however, said residents have been anxious over a crisis that has affected parents and their children in Suffolk County.

Indeed, some desperate parents have taken measures that have created discomfort and illness for their children.

Parents are watering down formula, searching for ways to make their own formula or switching to cow’s milk too early, Cioffi explained.

None of these efforts is medically safe and could lead to electrolyte and caloric problems for children, she continued.

Stony Brook recommends attempting to breastfeed newborns, continuing to breastfeed infants who have already started breastfeeding, finding substitute formulas, without sticking to  a particular brand, and transitioning to whole milk at 11 months or older.

For babies over nine months old, toddler’s formula is an option, but not a permanent solution until newborns are over 11 months old.

Parents with infants on specialized formula should reach out to their pediatricians to navigate their choices, Cioffi added.

Cioffi said she has heard that stores are still getting regular shipments of formula. Some of those stores have limited how much each family can buy at one time to decrease the chance that families purchase more than they need, leaving other parents with fewer options, leaving other parents with fewer options.

With news that shipments are coming in from Europe, Cioffi explained that she is hoping that health professions will receive instructions on how to help their patients obtain these supplies.

Cioffi urged parents to follow guidelines from the American Academy of pediatrics: 

Don’t dilute formula. 

Only purchase formula from reputable sources. Buying formula in parking lots of any place that doesn’t seem legitimate could be problematic because this food could either be expired or part of a recall, she explained. 

Don’t try to find a recipe to make formula. Stony Brook recommends whole cow’s milk only for children who are 11 months of age and older. 

Don’t give your child alternative milk products. Cioffi suggested avoiding almond or other plant milks because they are low in protein and minerals. 

Don’t give your baby toddler formula. Such food is not recommended for infants. Children close to a year old may tolerate it, if parents have no other choices. 

Check the shelf life of baby formula in stores.

Cioffi added that some children are not on regular milk-based formula for medical reasons.

“It’s those parents who are going to need medical help finding adequate solutions,” she added.