Shelves run empty on baby formula as national shortage hits Wareham

May 19, 2022

Wareham parents are feeling the brunt of the national baby formula shortage.

Mother Kelsey Leduc stopped by the McDuffy Center Thursday morning, going through clothes that might fit her 1-year-old son, Otis. The Wareham resident was visiting Baby Point, a program run by Turning Point.

The program provides eligible families, like those on WIC or government subsidies, with diapers, used clothing and other necessities.

Leduc said when the recall for baby formula started back in February, all the Similac Pro-Advance brand cans of formula Otis could take vanished. Pro-Advance was good because it helped babies with sensitive tummies, she clarified, though the cans went for about $35-40 each.

The mother switched to the Walmart brand, which worked until the shortage started and those cans ran out.

“It’s out of control,” Leduc said as she looked through bins of clothes. Nearby, Otis played in a bouncer, his denim jacket bouncing as he waved his arms.

The national shortage comes partially from the pause of a plant run by Abbott Nutrition in Michigan, where it produced Similac baby formula. Production stopped when Abbott issued a recall on Similac and other powder formulas in February, after several infants were infected and two died from a rare infection.

Abbott agreed on Monday to work with the FDA to resume production at its Michigan baby formula plant. Even still, the company said in a press release that when the site restarts production, it would take six to eight weeks before products hit grocery shelves around the nation.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday invoked the Defense Production Act to remediate baby formula supply chain issues by pushing suppliers to prioritize giving resources to baby formula manufacturers. Biden also directed the use of Department of Defense commercial aircraft to pick up baby formula that meets U.S. health standards from overseas, so stores can stock products faster.

The Department of Health and Human Services has released a webpage detailing possible resources for parents trying to find baby formula near them.

Leduc said she counts herself as lucky, as she only had about a month and a half of struggling to find formula before she could switch Otis to regular milk.

Still, she said, she has friends who are new moms and still struggling to find formula. Sometimes they have to visit six different stores before they find a viable alternative, Leduc said.

“There’s tons of Facebook groups right now,” Leduc said, detailing one — “Southcoast Formula Finder” — that currently has about 1,200 members.

When she couldn’t find formula, Leduc said her options were trying another store or taking to Facebook. She said Baby Point has been a good resource for her, both now and years ago when her 9-year-old son was an infant.

Some formula was available at Baby Point on Thursday, but the number of cans was limited and the kind of formula doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. One couple that came into the center soon after Leduc said their baby takes a different kind than the one on Baby Point’s shelves.

Baby Point program coordinator Geri Graham spent Thursday morning making sure parents left with as many supplies as they needed. The program meets from 9 a.m. to noon on the third Thursday of every month, Graham said.

She spoke to the difficulties many mothers face when trying to feed their newborns.

“It’s not that easy to breastfeed,” Graham said. “It’s not like the baby takes it right away.”

Many babies are prone to allergic reactions, Graham said, so finding a specific type of formula that works is crucial.

It comes down to a parent finally finding a kind of formula that their child takes, Graham said, and now, “All of a sudden (stores) tell you, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have any.’

“It’s an absolute panic,” she said. “It’s just tough on the mothers.”