By Ke’Yonna “Keda” Hall
I welcomed my second baby boy on February 10, 2022. As any new mother just one week postpartum, I was operating round the clock on his schedule. That meant I was waking up every 1-2 hours. Understandably so, I was exhausted.
To stay awake during the feedings, I would check out the happenings on Apple News. On February 17, sometime during the nighttime feeding haze, I saw a story that mentioned Abbott Formula, which manufactures a large portion of the nation’s formula supply, announced a recall of certain products manufactured at a plant in Sturgis, Michigan.
My chest tightened and I immediately sent a screenshot of the story in the group chat with my mom, aunt, and me. Knowing they were asleep, I simply typed “Similac recall.” As it was overnight, it had not yet made the national news. I started checking stores online and their formulas (Similac Pro-Sensitive and Similac Alimentum) were saying “unavailable” and “out of stock” virtually everywhere. I grew worried. My palms were sweating. In fact, I was still awake and researching the recall by his next feeding.
It did not take long for me to attribute the medical issues that I had just taken the boys to the pediatrician for two days prior to the now publicized voluntary recall.
My boys had been vomiting and having diarrhea for several days. My newborn had been to the pediatrician a few times since being discharged home because he was almost back at his birth weight (and less than birth weight at one point).
As the news recommended, I checked the lot numbers on the formula we had at home and confirmed that my boys had indeed been consuming the contaminated formula the Food and Drug Administration recalled. Trying to make sense of what was happening, I started to think about what I knew: both of their prescription formulas (required for children like mine who have a protein sensitivity to dairy or soy) were on recall and stores had already begun restrictions on Abbott manufactured formula sales.
Still, on the morning of February 17, my mom, Godmother, and aunt were all on the hunt for formula. It was being pulled from shelves everywhere but they were fortunate to find a few that were not the recalled lot numbers. At that moment, I was beyond thankful for a village that stepped in as I healed from my cesarean.
We’re now in July. We’re four months from the voluntary recall announcement and two years from pandemic supply chain shortages, and it’s definitely safe to say what was a precarious situation is now a nationwide formula crisis.
Can you imagine going into the store and the item you need is not there? You probably think to yourself, “no big deal, I’ll just try the store down the street or a few blocks away.” Sure. You try that store and think it’s strange that the item is also out of stock there, too. Do you try a third store? Likely not. You resolve to pick up fast food or think to yourself “I’m a savvy adult who knows a thing or two about substituting an out of stock ingredient in a recipe, it’s fine.” But what about when the item that is out of stock is your baby’s formula? And what do you do when no alternative is available?
If you’re like me or the dozen other non-breast or chest-feeding parents in my network, you would definitely try another store; and then another; and likely another and likely, despite no avail so far, you would try countless others.
This particular evening in June I tried forty. Yes, you read that right. I am a Mansfield resident and I tried 40 stores. I searched my area, Fort Worth, Cedar Hill, Duncanville, Desoto, Irving, Midlothian, Waxahachie, Arlington, Grand Prairie, Italy, and Bedford just to name a few. Additionally, my 11-year-old brother and I called over 100 stores across the metroplex. No luck.
By 10 p.m. that night, my son had just finished his last 4-ounce bottle of formula and I was sitting in my car in a grocery store parking lot in tears. I had exhausted my in-store options. If I ordered online the earliest it could arrive would be the next morning and the amount that could be ordered was limited to 3. That would literally last us one day.
Frankly, the nearly astronomical cost of gas coupled with the never-ending weekly quest to find available formula is emotionally, physically, and financially taxing.
Store shelves everywhere looked like this:
That night, like other desperate parents, I made a post on social media and asked friends if they would search for the formula as well. By that time it was after 11 p.m. and I was tired and hopeless. I made up my mind (though not recommended by a pediatrician) that I would give my son Pedialyte for the night and that it would have to suffice until morning because I had no other options.
Fortunately, a good friend of mine had seen the post before leaving work and decided to check a store near him. He was able to purchase six bottles and made the 45-mile commute to us from Lewisville. I let out a sigh of relief and thought to myself I can rest tonight; my baby’s needs would be met, at least for the next day or so.
Then, thanks to the generosity of those near and far, we amassed about 100 bottles of formula and are now good for at least a month and a half. But, what will we do after?
Stores have active limitations on formula purchases that range from 2-4 bottles per customer.
Despite the reality that nearly 53% of all infants in the United States rely on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the shelves of the nearly 47,000 authorized retailers are bare and stores where the more than one million pounds of formula being brought in as part of the government’s Operation Fly Formula do not accept these benefits.
If you’re doing a quick search out of curiosity to check availability at online retailers, know that no states currently allow WIC recipients to use their benefits to purchase formula online. So, what will these families do?
The Food and Drug Administration is reporting that more than 400 million 8-ounce bottles of formula from nine countries have already been imported to the United States and there are plans to allow overseas baby formula to be sold in the United States permanently to avoid shortages. This is my glimmer of hope.
If you cannot find milk locally, try these resources and mutual aid groups in DFW:
Join local groups on Facebook like: Find Formula DFW & Surrounding Areas (Texas)