Parents should “absolutely not” resort to homemade versions of baby formula, even in the midst of the ongoing national shortage, a pediatrician at Penn State Children’s Hospital said on Tuesday.
It’s true people relied on homemade formula decades ago. But available recipes aren’t approved by health authorities, they won’t provide the correct nutritional benefits, and some of the ingredients could prove unsafe and harmful, said Dr. Katherine Shedlock.
“There can be electrolyte imbalances, and your child can potentially have seizures or even death if we don’t provide them with the appropriate types of nutrition in the formula and different types of electrolytes,” she said.
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Shedlock further warned against diluting formula in an attempt to stretch the supply, saying it would prevent a baby from being sufficiently nourished.
Rather, she urged parents to continue to search for formula, while also stressing they should be willing to use a different brand, and saying such switches won’t cause significant harm. However, parents of infants who require specialized formula should talk to their doctor about an appropriate alternative, she said.
Shedlock said cow’s milk can serve as an alternative in very limited circumstances, such as with an older infant, and for no longer than a week. The problem, she said, is that cow’s milk has too much protein, which can strain infants’ kidneys, and doesn’t have enough iron, an essential nutrient.
The same holds true for other milk products, such as almond milk, and milks that are intended for toddlers.
The American Academy of Pediatricians says that, in a pinch, a child older than 6 months can be given cow’s milk for no longer than a week.
As of earlier this month, the supply of baby formula on store shelves across the country was more than 40% less than normal.
Still, Shedlock on Tuesday voiced confidence that no one in central Pennsylvania will find themselves totally without a source of formula, and she expects the supply will soon begin to improve.
That doesn’t mean parents won’t have to struggle for a while longer.
“It’s very stressful right now for a lot of families that are looking for formula, but there are lots of resources,” she said.
Shedlock advises parents to:
- Check for formula at multiple stores, including smaller stores and drug stores and pharmacies;
- Call around to different stores, and if a store has the kind you want, ask if they will hold a can for you;
- Consider using a different brand;
- Check www.communityactionpartnership.com;
- Call the United Way’s 211 resource to connect with a local specialist that can help find sources of formula;
- Contact your pediatrician, who may be able to provide samples or other resources.
Shedlock said formula company representatives have assured Penn State Health pediatricians that formula is available, and she knows of no local instances of anyone who found it impossible to obtain formula.
The shortage has been building for months, a consequence of factors including supply chain problems related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the closing of a major production plant due to contamination concerns and voluntary recall of formula from the plant, and the fact the United States relies on a relatively small number of domestic manufacturers with little imported formula.
But in recent weeks, the Biden administration has taken steps including using the defense production act to ramp up production and importing formula from foreign countries. Also, the closed plant is resuming production. Still, it’s expected to take weeks for the shortage to ease.
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