We have been here before. In 2020, I spoke with parents in the same situation, during the panic buying empty shelves of formula, diapers and wipes. Those who received the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, often referred to as WIC, had the hardest time finding what they needed, as each state program sets different limits on brands, sizes and quantities of formulas that can be purchased. . Catie Weimer, whose baby was put on Alimentum, a hypoallergenic infant formula, told me at the time that “the way the controls work, if I only find three cans in a store, I can’t get refund to get an extra can later,” adding, “I find a store with four cans, or I’m just out of a can. “
Since the start of the pandemic, the need for infant formula has increased, according to diaper bank leaders across the country. Cori Smith, executive director of the Memphis-based Sweet Cheeks Diaper Ministry, told me on the phone that her diaper bank began distributing formula in addition to diapers and menstrual supplies early in the pandemic. “We listen to our customers when they ask for things, and we kept getting requests, so we thought that was something super necessary,” Smith said.
“Some clients get WIC,” she said, “but it’s never enough to get through the month, and we try to be the ones to fill the gap.” Some families give their babies whole milk too early because they cannot afford formula. When Sweet Cheeks first started distributing formula, Smith said, it was distributing 30 to 50 cans a month; which rose to 100 to 200 cans a month until this year, when the recall made it almost impossible to get formula from the bank’s usual suppliers, and it’s the worst for families whose babies have need for specialized formula milk. “It was a mess. For the past three months, we haven’t had any formula to give out,” Smith said.
Holly McDaniel, executive director of the Austin Diaper Bank, told me, “Usually we give out 400 to 500 cans each month. This month we have eight in stock. Which is devastating. She suggested that people looking for formula call their pediatrician’s offices if they can’t find formula elsewhere, as they might have a supply. Community clinics may also be an option. She – along with many other experts – wants people to make sure they are getting formula from a trusted source. Many warn against homemade formulas. As Dr. Steven Abrams told Catherine Pearson of The Times, “Nutrients in homemade formulas are inadequate in terms of the essential components babies need, especially protein and minerals.”
McDaniel added: “There are so many barriers to living in poverty in general, and it adds to the struggle and the stress. It is so hard.”