When Jackie McMann-Oliveri learned that her daughter and son-in-law were having trouble finding formula for their 5-month-old son, Jake, she was shocked.
“Formula is the one thing most babies need,” she says. “This shortage is so scary.”
A nationwide baby formula shortage caused by supply chain issues and an infant formula recall has led to bare store shelves and “Sold out” notices on websites. In fact, 43 percent of baby formulas were out of stock across the United States, according to a report from Datasembly, a firm that tracks products and supplies. In states such as Arizona, California, Georgia and Mississippi, the out-of-stock rates were almost 95 percent, Bloomberg News reported.
The scarcity is triggering frenzied formula searches by parents and grandparents. They’re scouring internet sites and brick and mortar stores, as well as using online crowdsourcing, to locate the hard-to-find infant nutritional necessity.
When she first heard about the shortage, McMann-Oliveri, 52, went into “mama-bear mode” to find supplies for her grandson. She checked stores near her home in Pawling, New York, and ordered formula from multiple online retailers. She also asked friends to be on the lookout for infant formula for Jake.
“I left no stone unturned,” she says.
Formula shortage stirs fears
The federal government is working to address the problem. In May, President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Protection Act to boost supplies and approve infant formula imports from other countries. The government also approved Operation Fly Formula, which encourages commercial airlines to donate flights to transport infant formula. Recent flights have brought hundreds of thousands of pounds of formula into the country to restock store shelves.
Baby Formula-Shortage Advice and Resources
- Do not use recalled formula. A full list of recalled products is available here from the Food and Drug Administration.
- Do not attempt to make your own formula. The FDA says homemade formula may lack nutrients needed for infant growth.
- This free crowdsourced map provides information about locations where formula is stocked and where there are shortages and needs.
- The Free Formula Exchange allows people to donate formula and to request it.
But the shortage has also stirred deep fears among parents of not being able to provide their babies with essential nutrition. A poll by Data for Progress found that 84 percent of voters were worried that parents would not be able to find formula for their children.
And parents aren’t the only ones with this anxiety, according to Neda Gould, the director of the Mindfulness program at Johns Hopkins Medicine and associate director of the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center Anxiety Disorders Clinic.“Grandparents feel a strong connection to their grandchildren and feel distressed,” she says. “Worrying motivates us to act, so if grandparents are worried, it activates them to problem-solve.”
Sue Poremba, 59, has searched for formula for her 4-month-old granddaughter and found it especially difficult to find the specialized formula the newborn needs for her sensitive system. But thanks to the combined efforts of both sets of grandparents, the baby’s parents now have a small stockpile.
Knowing the neighborhood stores has been helpful in Poremba’s search. In her State College, Pennsylvania, neighborhood, the supermarkets frequented by 30-something shoppers have fewer cans of formula left on the shelves than the grocery stores favored by older people.