Poor countries where low-income families can’t afford formula should depend on breastmilk as there’s no better alternative. Countries affected by the shortage of formula can either try to acquire breastmilk from accredited nonprofit banks, try different brands, buy foreign brands, or find ways to increase their breastmilk, if possible. Don’t try to make homemade formula or water down the formula, for it has no nutritional value and can end up harming your baby’s health. Don’t try to feed plan-based or animal milk to a baby under one year old. Contact your pediatrician if you’ve no means left to feed your baby.
Breastmilk is essential for babies until the age of 6 months as it’s safe, clean, and contains antibodies that help protect them against common childhood illnesses.
Infant formula is a popular choice for mothers who don’t want to or can’t breastfeed their children. It’s also the healthiest and most nutritious alternative to breastmilk.
With the ease of production, it’s widely available in every country.
But what about countries that are facing baby formula shortage or poor countries where a formula is a luxury?
What can you feed your child when there’s no baby formula to buy?
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Why is there a decreased production of formula?
Taking a recent example of decreased infant formula production in the U.S. is a better way of describing how and why it can happen.
This issue started coming into the limelight around November 2021 when there seemed to be supply chain issues due to the pandemic, as it affected all supplies of goods and services in the country.
But it got worse at the beginning of 2022 as a powerful baby formula manufacturing plant in the U.S. went down.
The FDA had to shut down Abbott Nutrition’s larger producing baby formula plant.
The factory closed down in Michigan had to be done based on the investigation into bacterial infections related to the powdered formula produced at the plant.
It caused the deaths of at least two babies before they recalled multiple brands, including routine Similac cow milk-based formulas such as Similac Advance and several specialty formulas for allergic babies, including Similac Alimentum and Similac EleCare.
In short, there’s so much shortage because there aren’t enough plants of formula companies to keep the production going with the current demand.
There need to be more plants to produce the formula to avoid such a crisis from happening in the future.
People most affected by formula shortage
In such cases, the babies with high-risk allergic diseases and metabolic disorders are most affected, especially in the case of the Michigan state plant, which used to produce several specialty formulas for allergic babies.
Families using specialized formulas seem to take the hit harder than families using the regular formula.
The shortage also seems to affect parents with low income. With increased demand, the cost also increases, making it impossible for low-income families to even buy a single can of formula.
The federal program for poorer women, infants, and children called WIC provides the formula for low-income families with babies.
But with the cost soaring high, it has become even more complicated, and they even buy online or travel to farther away stores to get the formula.
Poor countries where the formula isn’t available
While there’re countries where formula production could be affected for several reasons, like it’s happening right now in the U.S., there’re also countries where people can’t afford formula.
In poor countries feeding formula is considered a luxury and comes with many risks.
A formula is a powdered form of milk that requires clean water in its production. And according to WHO, which isn’t available to around 780 million people.
If there’s no clean water source, it becomes a matter of life and death for the infant. Nothing can beat breastfeeding, as even with formula feeding, there’s an increased risk of diarrhea and respiratory infections.
The formula is expensive for nationals and can use up to 30 percent of their family income. It makes mothers dilute the formula to make it last longer without realizing its cons.
The best thing for babies to be fed on is breast milk. Though people have this misconception that women in poverty can’t produce high-quality nutritional milk for their babies, it’s not true.
Their breastmilk is a complete source of nutrition and is still much better than formula or spending money on the formula.
Women in poverty can produce the same good quality and enough quantity to feed their children. Only in rare cases when a woman has a rare disease or is on chemotherapy, or some medications shouldn’t breastfeed.
Alternative to infant formula shortage
Things seem to get worse as any issue becomes highlighted to the public.
Similar seems to happen in the case of infant formula shortage in the U.S. as the news became public and came into focus, parents started hoarding formula.
This panic buying, especially online, creates an unequal formula distribution, and not everyone is getting equal amounts.
Parents in dire need with infants below 6 months want to find healthy alternatives to the formula or find other means to get breastmilk. Finding an alternative to the formula is the best bet for the parents who aren’t able to get it for their infant.
Those with babies above 6 months of age can also depend on semi-solid foods.
1. Trying different brands
You can’t afford to stick to one brand your baby prefers during such times.
But while some babies can easily transition to other brands, other babies might find it challenging to do so.
Their appetite may change as you change the brand, but they should be back to a regular diet in a week.
2. Foreign infant formulas
Ordering infant formulas from other countries is one such option that parents who can afford it can think about.
You need to make sure in terms of nutrition the formula meets the nutrient requirements of the U.S. formula act for iron-fortified infant formula and meets government regulations.
Also, look into the third-party certifications such as those from the Clean Label Project.
3. Receiving pasteurized breastmilk
Several organizations of donation banks have provided pasteurized breastmilk for years now. When you’re facing trouble finding formulas switching back to breastmilk, if you can, is a good idea.
You can find local listings for accredited nonprofit banks or try finding a bank near you with the help of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.
When there’s a dire need for breastmilk in cases of production shortage, many women with good breastmilk production also seem to donate.
But one important thing to remember here is to not share informal breastmilk for health and safety reasons. It’s only suitable and safe to receive pasteurized breastmilk from accredited banks.
4. Increase your breastmilk
Breastfeeding mothers who think they cannot produce enough breastmilk also find it convenient to switch to the formula.
But your breastmilk production is only decreasing because the baby isn’t coming to the breast often.
If you’re still able to produce milk, then try feeding your baby more often, and slowly your production will increase.
You can talk with a lactation consultant about your supply and how to increase it in such situations. It’s better to depend on your production of milk.
5. Call your pediatrician
During a shortage, your pediatrician will know the best.
When nothing seems to work out, then relying on your pediatrician is a trusty thing to do here.
They might know different banks providing breastmilk or places from where you can get formula.
Especially for parents with sensitive babies who can only depend on one brand or special formula for those with allergies can’t just switch to any random brand. Asking your pediatrician about what to do next is only suitable.
Things not to do with formula shortage
1. Watering it down
If you have the formula but not in enough quantity watering it down just to increase its amount will harm your baby more than it can do good.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is against watering down the formula as its nutritional value might be lost if you do so. The formula is made considering how many spoons your baby requires with their age.
Adding more water to it can bring nutrient deficiency and development problems.
2. Homemade formula
If you find a recipe somewhere on a blog saying you can just make your own milk by substituting the formula’s ingredients, don’t fall for such scams.
The formulas are made with extensive research considering the nutrients a baby requires. You’re no scientist, and you can’t switch with the ingredients found at your local grocery store. The AAP also recommends not to make homemade formula for a baby.
3. Animal milk
While pasteurized animal milk is suitable for children above one year old, it isn’t a good alternative for those under age one.
Any non-human milk, be it from plants like almond milk or animals, isn’t suitable for children under age one as it lacks essential nutrients for an infant’s physical and neurological development.
4. Toddler or premature formula
There’re different formulas for different ages, and when you can’t find the one your baby is on, you crave switching to a premature or toddler formula.
While they won’t harm your baby for short-term use, they might affect your baby’s current growth if you continue to use them.
There is a reason formulas are age-defined as they’re made, keeping in mind the current age of a baby. Before you think of switching, discuss it with your pediatrician.
What can I feed my baby if there’s no formula?
If you cannot get the formula from anywhere and can’t breastfeed for any reason, then your best option is to try getting breastmilk from nonprofit banks with stored breastmilk.
If you can’t seem to get even that, you can feed your baby a toddler or premature formula for a few days.
If you can’t find that, you can give oral rehydration solutions such as Pedialyte, Enfalyte, or a store brand for a couple of days.
If your baby is older than 4 months of age, then you can feed pureed foods too. Consult your pediatrician for better guidance.
Are breastfed babies healthier than formula-fed?
There’s nothing better than breastmilk if you can provide for it for as long as possible for your child.
While it’s recommended to breastfeed an infant until 6 months of age, it depends on the mother if she can’t or doesn’t want to feed.
Breastmilk is like golden milk for babies as it provides total nutritional value to a growing infant and can also do the same for the next two years if the mother can produce.
Breastmilk also contains antibodies that can help protect against many childhood illnesses.
Can babies drink plant-based milk?
There’s nothing better than breastmilk for children while growing up, but you can switch to formula if you can’t or don’t want to breastfeed.
You shouldn’t, in any case, give any other kind of milk besides these to a child under 1 year of age.
After a year, you can start with animal-based milk but if dairy isn’t suitable for your child, switch to unsweetened soy milk instead. Plant-based milk doesn’t provide enough protein, potassium, and vitamin D.
It’s best to consult your pediatrician before feeding plant-based milk to your baby.
There’re poor countries where the formula is a luxury for families, and then there’re incidents where there could be a sudden baby formula shortage. Finding suitable alternatives for families dependent on the formula can be pretty tricky.
For people living in poverty or poor countries, the best is breastfeeding if possible, as there’s nothing better than a mother’s milk.
But for those who can’t provide a baby with breastmilk finding out about breastmilk banks is a great option to depend on.
Feeding watered-down formula or making homemade infant formula is the worst decision for your baby. When you have no means left to feed, it’s best to consult your pediatrician.