HOUSTON (KXAN) — Pediatricians from the country’s largest hospital for children addressed some of parents’ pressing questions about the ongoing shortage of baby formula.
Dr. Stan Spinner and Dr. Amy Hair from the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston held a virtual news conference Wednesday morning focusing on the problems families are facing right now. They urged parents not to share milk, buy online from other countries, make homemade formula or dilute it due to concerns those may put babies at risk.
The doctors encouraged parents, especially those with healthy babies, not to be afraid to try other brands of formula if they can’t find what they normally use to feed them at the store.
“If your baby’s born on time, there are many formulas that are very similar,” Hair explained. “Now the brand names are different —and we all like our brands — but for normal formula, the ingredients are completely the same. I would tell parents, for that part, you do have options.”
She also stressed there are substitutes available for specialized formula that’s used by children with more complex issues, like those with special needs as well as gastrointestinal or kidney problems. She said parents can always talk with their pediatrician if they have questions about using a different kind of formula. Doctors may even be able to connect with formula representatives to access a short-term supply, so utilize those connections to receive advice.
“Take advantage of your relationship with your pediatrician,” Spinner said. “I know we’re getting those calls, and our pediatricians are certainly trying to help in those circumstances.”
Michigan plant reopening soon
A voluntary recall for baby formula products at an Abbott Nutrition facility in Michigan contributed largely to the difficulties families are having right now. However, Abbott announced this week it reached an agreement with U.S. health officials to restart production at its largest domestic factory, which is seen as a key step toward easing a nationwide shortage tied to the plant’s shutdown earlier this year.
The company entered into a binding legal agreement with the federal government to eventually resume production. Once that happens, Abbott said it will take at least eight weeks to begin shipping new product to stores. That means parents will have to wait a while longer to see more formula products become available.
Spinner with the Texas Children’s Hospital said that may still frustrate families, but he stressed they should understand how important it is to be overly cautious in this situation. The Michigan-based plant in question came under scrutiny earlier this year after four infants became sick with bacterial infections when they consumed powdered formula from the factory. Two of the babies died.
He said formula is one of the most tightly-regulated products in the U.S., so the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must be meticulous about safety.
“The FDA is working closely with the plant to be sure that it’s opening. That it’s safe. That the formula is being produced again under the appropriate guidelines that’s being produced safely,” Spinner said, “so that once it gets back on the market in the next several weeks that, as parents, you can be comfortable that you can buy these formulas again and know that you’re giving your baby a safe formula.”
What about using cow’s milk?
The Houston doctors responded to a question about parents possibly turning to cow’s milk if they’re having trouble buying formula or breastfeeding.
Spinner said traditionally, pediatricians recommend waiting until a baby is a year old to switch from formula to whole milk supplemented with an iron-fortified vitamin, because the milk doesn’t have enough iron to prevent anemia.
However, because of the formula shortage, he pointed out the American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended parents who find themselves in a bind can feed whole cow’s milk to a baby starting at six months of age. The organization stressed, though, this is not ideal and should not become routine.
Spinner said that alternative should only be used for two or three days, not for long periods of time.
“It’s not designed to give the proper nutrition for these younger babies, but that’s the best advice we can give you,” he said. “If you can’t find formula today or tomorrow, you can make do with that, but please understand, this is, again, a very short-term fix, because then the next day or the day after hopefully you will have found formula, and then you’ll be able to resume whichever that formula’s going to be for your baby.”
What about health issues caused by formula shortage?
The doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital said they had not received any reports from their clinics so far about children experiencing health problems because their parents either couldn’t find the right formula or had been fed an alternative.
It’s recently been reported that two children in Tennessee became hospitalized due to the formula shortage. The children, both of whom had “specific dietary requirements,” were hospitalized in mid-May at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, according to a doctor there.