Baby formula shortage affects Clark County families

Even alternative foods have been hard to find

By Dylan Jefferies, Columbian staff writer Published: May 21, 2022, 6:35pm

The national shortage of baby formula, caused by supply chain issues and a recent recall of certain formulas, is impacting Clark County. Babies in Need, a nonprofit that serves parents who need help providing basics for their newborns, is witnessing the shortage firsthand. “It’s become very difficult to find formula to give to the families we serve,” said Associate Director Mona Pocha. Most stores across Clark County are entirely out of formula, she said, and she usually has to visit several stores before she’s able to locate any. “I have families that need it, and they’re coming to me, and I can only offer alternate formulas that I’ve found,” she said. “Some moms are OK with trying an alternative, but some are not.”

But now, even the alternatives are becoming difficult to find, she said. “I tell families to try store-brand formulas instead of the name brands and see how the baby does with that,” she said. “We’re having some luck with those, but as people are stocking up, those are also becoming more difficult to find.” With persistence, however, Pocha has had some success. “We do have some formula, but not a lot,” she said. “We’ll set parents up with the formula they need if we have it; and if not, we’ll help them find an alternative.” Pocha asked that parents in need of formula call her directly at 406-439-6694, leaving voicemails stating their needs, and she will return their calls. “We’ll assist parents in any way we can,” she said. Food banks and other organizations in Clark County are also being impacted by the baby formula shortage. For example, FISH of Vancouver posted on Facebook that the organization is struggling to access baby formula to distribute to local parents, and nurses in Clark County Public Health’s Nurse-Family Partnership program report that many local families are struggling to find formula, according to Public Health spokeswoman Marissa Armstrong.

The Nurse-Family Partnership program pairs Public Health nurses with low-income pregnant parents to help guide them through emotional, social and physical challenges as they prepare for a healthy birth. “The Nurse-Family Partnership nurses are referring families to WIC (the Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program) for assistance and are talking with families about health concerns with diluting formula or using substitutes that are not recommended,” Armstrong said. To learn more about WIC, visit doh.wa.gov/you-and-your-family/wic. The Washington State Department of Health recently launched a list of resources for families and caregivers struggling to find baby formula, as well as a webpage with answers to frequently asked questions, including questions about accessing formula, homemade formula, formula alternatives, and cow and goat milk. The list of resources can be found at doh.wa.gov/newsroom/infant-formula-shortages-what-do-if-youre-impacted. The frequently asked questions webpage is at doh.wa.gov/emergencies/current-hazards-and-issues/infant-formula-shortage.

In urgent situations, the American Academy of Pediatrics says it’s OK for most babies to switch to any available formula, including store brands, unless the baby is on specific extensively hydrolyzed or amino acid-based formula for certain medical conditions, according to Clark County Public Health. Contact your child’s health care provider to ask about specialty formula alternatives. Parents and caregivers should never add extra water to formula or make homemade formula; both can be dangerous for babies, according to Public Health. Watering down formula can cause nutritional imbalances, and homemade formula recipes may not have enough vital nutrients or may contain harmful ingredients. If you’re having trouble finding formula for your baby, here are some additional resources recommended by Public Health: If you need to be connected to a health care provider, call the Help Me Grow WA hotline at 800-322-2588 for referrals and to apply for food and health resources. If you are a WIC client, contact your local WIC clinic to get infant formula benefits replaced or change formulas. WIC has expanded the types of formula it provides to offer more choices and may know which stores have formula in stock. Visit https://bit.ly/3Nmdan1 for more information on approved replacement formulas. If you receive Basic Food (SNAP) benefits, call 800-322-2588 or visit www.parenthelp123.org.

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