Some baby formula shelves at a Publix in Fleming Island, Fla., were empty on June 5. (Cory Benavides/WUFT News)

Baby formula shortage is causing families to scramble in Florida and around the US

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Despite the help from countries around the world, the U.S. this week hit a rate of 73% of stores being out-of-stock on baby formula.

On April 24, baby formula was completely sold out in six states following a recall that caused contamination problems. Abbott Nutrition announced the recall in February; the company makes three of the top selling formulas.

This has led to families searching for formula to give to their babies. If the right formula cannot be found, then families are using alternative options.

Grocery stores around America are limiting how much formula families can buy at one time to give opportunities to other families that are struggling, too. The infant unit of hospitals also has a need for baby formula.

Three powdered baby formulas were removed from shelves by the Food and Drug Administration. Babies were getting sick from bacterial infections and the biggest one was salmonella. These formulas included Similac, Alimentum and EleCare, all brands of Abbott.

Mia (left) and Renee Ross (right) on a night of babysitting. (Photo courtesy of Renee Ross)

Renee Ross, a nanny from Springfield, Florida, takes care of a 13-month-old baby named Mia daily while her grandmother is at work. The name brand that they feed Mia is called Enfamil Enspire, but when they cannot find that brand, they switch to a store brand. “In the past few weeks when formula became slimmer and slimmer, we started mixing half formula and half milk,” Ross said. “Mia drinks eight ounces four times a day.”

Ross and Mia’s grandmother purchase Enspire and the store brand baby formula at Publix. They have had times where they could not find it and had to drive around to different stores near their area or buy it on Amazon. “We have gone to Target, Walmart, Publix and Winn-Dixie to find formula, and formula on Amazon is $240 for three cans,” Ross said.

Target, Publix and Walmart are three popular places to purchase formula. They all currently have a limit on how much formula one consumer can buy at a time. At Target and Publix, the limit is four items per guest. At Walmart, the limit is five units per child for each customer per day. These numbers are based off the inventory that these stores get in and how fast people buy it. Stores must limit purchases so customers don’t hoard baby formula resulting in less stock for other customers that are also in dire need of formula.

Kim Anderson is a registered nurse at an Orange Park-area medical center who works in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The formula that is used at her hospital is Enfamil and Similac and they are ordered from formula representatives and provided at no cost as a way to market their products. It is free because the hospital provides it to their patients and the patient’s families will usually continue to use it after they get out of the hospital. “We used to open a bottle, feed the baby the recommended amount and then throw the bottle away,” Anderson said. “The formula now is being refrigerated and stored for a later use.”

Certain babies need different kinds of formula based on special circumstances. Premature babies need formula that is specially formulated because their digestive systems are sensitive, and the special formula helps reduce a baby spitting up the formula. Augmentin is another formula that the medical center uses. If we did not have a specialty formula, they could probably be on donor milk or breast milk. “Full time baby formula could give them complications and even kill them,” Anderson said. Her NICU requires such a large amount of formula daily that they can’t get enough for the population from local grocery stores.

Europe helped the U.S. by sending 78,000 pounds of baby formula to Indiana in May, according to the Associated Press, and Canada and Australia are also helping supplement U.S. production.

“Hopefully the baby formula shortage will be over soon,” Ross said.

Baby formula shelves were partially empty at a Target in Orange Park, Fla., on Tuesday. (Cory Benavides/WUFT News)

About Cory Benavides

Cory is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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