‘Please help’: Nationwide baby formula shortage worsens

The maker of Ashley Hernandez’s preferred baby formula for her two daughters said it was out of stock on its website. Listings on eBay showed that she would set you back as much as $120 for a single can. So when she found an online vendor offering 10 cans for $40 each, she expressed her desperation.

“I have two children,” Ms. Hernandez, 35, of Dallas began her message. “I can’t find it. I can shop today. I can pay cash.

Parents across the country are struggling to keep up with a national shortage of baby formula, a problem made worse by a recent recall by Abbott Nutrition, a maker of baby food. The recall came after at least four babies were hospitalized with bacterial infections and two died after consuming its products, the US Food and Drug Administration said.

“We know that our recent recall caused additional stress and anxiety in an already challenging global supply shortage situation,” Abbott said in a statement last month. “We are working hard to help moms, dads and caregivers get the high-quality nutrition they need for their babies.”

Now several major retailers eager to conserve inventory are limiting the amount of baby formula their customers can buy.

Pharmacy chain CVS said in a statement that “following challenges from vendors and increased customer demand,” shoppers will be limited to three infant formula products per purchase in stores and online.

Walgreens echoed that in a statement, saying it had also imposed a three-item limit in an attempt to “help improve inventory.” Target said it had a four-item limit online but not in-store.

Costco, which did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Saturday, had several limits on the formulas listed on its website.

“The unprecedented scope of this infant formula recall has serious consequences for infants and new parents,” Brian Dittmeier, senior director of public policy for the National WIC Association, said Saturday. The nonprofit organization provides nutritional assistance for women, infants, and children across the country.

Mr. Dittmeier said that Abbott Nutrition is the exclusive supplier to more than half of the WIC agencies across the country, meaning “this is not an isolated problem.”

“Every day, we hear from parents who are hurt, angry, anxious and scared,” he said. “The lives of your babies are at stake.”

In retail stores, the shelves are often empty. And online parents are forming Facebook groups to alert one another about restocked inventory or sales, both of which are rare these days, Hernandez said.

“It’s a nightmare,” he said.

In a Facebook group called “baby formula for sale,” a mother asked for a specific brand on Saturday: “Looking for Similac NeoSure in Arizona area! Please help!! I’m almost out.

Mr. Dittmeier said that “unlike other food recalls, the shortage in the infant formula supply affects an important, or even exclusive, source of nutrition for infants.” Inadequate nutrition, he added, “could have long-term health implications.”

Datasembly, a retail software company, said about 31 percent of formula products were out of stock nationwide as of April. In seven states — Connecticut, Delaware, Montana, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington — the rate for the week of April 3 was even worse, at 40 percent.

The shortage is also financially straining families already dealing with rising inflation. The US Surgeon General’s office said on its website that families typically spend up to $1,500 on infant formula in the first year.

Mr Dittmeier said the shortage is “particularly acute for babies who require special formulas to treat allergies, gastrointestinal problems or metabolic disorders”.

Ms. Hernandez said her daughters, one 6 months old and the other 3 years old, both need special formulas.

The vendor he messaged sold him all 10 cans, but that will only last him about five or six weeks, he estimated. The formula she usually buys, EleCare, was one of the Abbott products recalled in February, Ms. Hernandez said.

The affected products have already been removed from stores, but parents can search online through Abbott Nutrition to check the status of the products they need.

The Infant Nutrition Council of American said in a statement that formula companies were “committed to ensuring continued availability of infant formula for every baby” during the shortage.

But Dittmeier said assurances from manufacturers about increased production have not led to products hitting store shelves. “Every day that this crisis continues, parents become more anxious and desperate to find what they need to feed their babies,” she said.

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