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In a move that many thought unbelievable in the 21st century, yesterday the U.S. Government, under the direction of President Joe Biden, invoked the war-time defense act to address the growing crisis in the availability of infant baby formula. The move will allow the government to prioritize ingredient shipments to the nation’s few baby-food manufacturers, above other manufacturing commitments.

In combination with an agreement with northern Michigan-based Abbott Labs (which produces several types of formula including rare types and has been shut down for weeks due to bacterial contamination), the move is expected to get formula shipments flowing within the next few weeks. The U.S. government has also arranged for formula to be shipped from countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, whose food inspection processes are as stringent as U.S. food inspection standards.

The move comes none-too soon and some wonder why it wasn’t done sooner. The shortage has led to panic among the nation’s parents, as infant formula has disappeared from store shelves, including the specialty formulas needed for babies with rare allergies who can’t breastfeed or take common formula.

A check of local stores revealed that there is formula on the shelves, but not a lot. “We only have Similac and Enfamil — and we don’t have much of it either,” said a Walmart employee at the Salida location on U.S. 50.

At City Market in Buena Vista, the store normally stocks several brands including Gerber, Comforts, Similac, Enfamil and Nutramigen Hypoallergenic formula, but at the moment it is low on regular Similac and Enfamil. “We’ve got Similac 360 Total Care, Comfort sensitivity, Enfamil, Neuropro, and Gerber Good Start,” said a store representative. “But we are out of several standard sizes of Similac and Enfamil.”

At the Salida Safeway store, a customer service representative checked their stock and reported they had low stocks of a couple different brands, including Enfamil, but that they are basically out of regular Similac, saying “if you need Similac, I only have one six-pack left.”

It is hard to imagine the fear that this has engendered among the parents of those among us least able to fend for themselves – new babies. Retail stores have initiated product limits to spread out supply. In some areas of the country, parents have been reporting going to eight, 10, or more retail outlets attempting to track down infant formula. Others are spending hours on parent social media sites trading information about where to find formula.

To understand the fear experienced by parents of new babies,  “Imagine being a parent of a child with severe acid reflux, or having a baby allergic not just to regular formulas, but to soy milk,” said one pediatrician. “New parents are already nervous, and this has terrified so many.”

Simply saying that mothers should breastfeed is not the answer; many women can’t, no matter how many doulas with whom they consult. Not every baby can tolerate every kind of formula. Some do better with a brand like Similac. Others fare better on Enfamil. Others get the nutrition they need from brands such as Gerbers Good Start, or organic formula mixes such as Earth’s Best. For more about formula types, follow this Mayo Clinic Guide.

All infant formulas sold in the United States must meet the nutrient standards set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Although manufacturers might vary in their formula recipes, the FDA requires that all formulas contain the minimum recommended amount of nutrients that infants need.

Pediatricians have advised that at all costs, parents shouldn’t dilute formula by watering it down to attempt to stretch the supply; young babies’ digestive systems can’t tolerate watery formula. Most babies over six months could tolerate whole cow’s milk for a week or two at most (their digestive systems aren’t mature enough until they are past one year old to drink whole milk.)

Featured image: Photo by Filip Mrozoko for UnSplash.