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Cincinnati Children’s Guidance on Infant Formula Shortage

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The nationwide shortage of infant formula has created a concerning and stressful situation for many families.

The following information is intended to help families navigate the shortage safely. This is an ongoing issue and information will be updated as needed.

First and most importantly, our pediatricians and dietitians want families to know that any store brand equivalent to your usual brand you can find, is ok to feed your baby. Please do not pass up available formula, simply because it is not the exact product you usually buy.

The store brand equivalents of formulas are nearly identical to the name brands. Look for the same or similar color packaging and information on the label that says “compare to...” to help you know which products are interchangeable with what you have previously used.

If you use a milk-based formula but can’t find a comparable product to what you have previously used, you can have confidence that it will be ok for your baby to have any milk-based formula. Look for packages that say: Infant; Advantage; Pro; Tender; Gentle; Sensitive. They will be in packaging colors: Blue, Yellow, Green, Orange or Purple.

If you are not sure which available formulas are equivalent to your usual brand, your pediatrician or dietitian can help.

Please avoid switching to hypoallergenic or soy products, as these are the only options for babies who are unable to use non-milk protein based formulas. If you don’t need hypoallergenic or soy, please leave them for families who do.

If the formula you are unable to find was originally prescribed by a medical professional, please contact that provider to help you determine which substitutions are appropriate.

Safety Tips for Families

For infants under 6 months of age that cannot or are not breastfeeding, infant formula should be their sole source of nutrition. Formulas are regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure they have age-appropriate amounts of proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Recent shortages have caused an increase in homemade formula recipes being shared online. Homemade formulas pose serious health risks and the FDA, as well as Cincinnati Children’s doctors and dieticians, strongly advise against parents making their own baby formula.

Some risks of homemade formula include:

  • Infection and risk of food-borne illness.
  • Possibly life-threatening electrolyte imbalances.
  • Stunted growth and malnutrition.

Infant formula should never be diluted by adding other ingredients such as water or cow’s milk. This can cause significant electrolyte changes and seizures. Toddler formula should also not be used in place of infant formula, as it does not have the right amount of nutrients for a baby and can cause organ damage, in addition to other health issues.

Strategies to Find Formula

  • If you can’t find your usual formula in stock, try to contact other stores or pharmacies in your area.
  • Ask your family and friends to help you look for formula. Make sure they have a photo or list to reference and ask everyone you know to check the baby aisle every time they go shopping.
  • If your child is a healthy, full-term infant that is older than 6 months , the AAP has advised it may be ok to use whole milk for a short time until formula is available again. Please contact your pediatrician to talk about this before making a change.
  • Have confidence buying the store brand equivalent of your usual formula, or another similar formula if necessary.

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is an important infant feeding option. Maintaining and increasing a mother’s breast milk supply, if possible, is always important.

  • If you are combining breastfeeding and formula feeding, breastfeed or pump your milk more often to increase your milk supply.
  • If you are a mother with extra milk, please consider donating your milk to a milk bank. Mothers should not informally share their milk with each other. It may be unsafe for a baby to be fed another mother's milk.
  • For more information on a wide variety of breastfeeding topics, please consult the Center for Breastfeeding Medicine.
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