Arizona parents worry as nationwide baby formula shortage continues

Published: Thursday, May 12, 2022 - 3:38pm
Updated: Sunday, May 15, 2022 - 7:23pm
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Parents in Arizona and across the U.S. are still struggling to find baby formula amid a nationwide shortage

Dr. Mariah Scott, a pediatrician with Phoenix Children’s Hospital, told KJZZ News she’s been hearing from a lot of anxious parents recently.

"They're very worried. They're concerned because for a lot them, they've had the same brand of formula since their child was born," Scott said. 

For many babies, formula is their only source of nutrition. The right formula can be especially critical for babies with allergies or sensitivities, Scott said.

“Typically there aren’t generics for those specialty formulas, so for those parents it’s even more stressful and even more concerning to try to figure out what we can give their baby that they won’t have problems with or have reactions to,” Scott said. 

Scott encourages parents to contact their pediatrician for guidance if they can’t find their usual brand.

“We’re very aware of what’s going on, and we’re happy to provide advice about what formula is safe for your baby to switch to," Scott said.

She said some pediatricians' offices also have limited supplies to formula on hand to give to patients who need it. She said parents should never water down formula, and she doesn’t recommend homemade recipes.

"Those aren't safe, they're not vetted, and it's definitely not something we want parents using without talking to the office," Scott said.

Arizona health officials are reminding families to look for the product in places they may not have considered.

Steve Elliot is with the Arizona Department of Health Service says the agency also has people on call to consult families.

“We encourage families to cast a wide net. Look at more stores than just their supermarket. Pharmacies are an example, specialty stores, even convenience stores can carry infant formula,” said Elliot.

Recalls and supply chain interruptions have contributed to worsening shortages of infant formula since last fall. The retail data firm Datasembly reports the nationwide baby formula out-of-stock rate has soared to 43%. In early 2021, formula had been out of stock just 2%-8% of the time. In response to the shortage, many retailers have recently been limiting how much shoppers can buy.   

Elliot says there are products similar to the formula brands that have been recalled, but to check that any alternatives are Food and Drug Administration approved and to consult a pediatrician before switching.

“As a father, I know that babies are very sensitive to what they eat, and changes to what they eat. We want you to contact your pediatrician and talk about that transition, to make sure that you’re making the best choice for your family,” said Elliot.

The White House on Thursday announced plans to boost baby formula manufacturing in the U.S. and to increase foreign imports. The White House is also encouraging states to allow more flexibility for shoppers purchasing baby formula through state-administered Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) benefits programs.

In a statement provided to KJZZ News, the Arizona Department of Health Services said WIC Arizona is already working to make sure WIC participants can secure baby formula. WIC Arizona has a contract with Abbott Nutrition so WIC participants typically have to use their vouchers on Abbott's Similac brand. 

The statement from the department said, "We are temporarily in collaboration with Abbott providing WIC participants the ability to purchase other types of standard baby formula. The Arizona WIC program has been working closely with families to find the appropriate formula to meet their infant’s nutritional needs." 

KJZZ's Vaughan Jones contributed to this report.