As parents nationwide scramble to find baby formula amid supply disruptions and a massive safety recall, public health leaders are urging parents to work with their infants’ health care providers to ensure their babies’ nutritional requirements are safely met.

“Always work with your baby’s pediatrician to find the right nutritional needs for your baby,” said JoDell Geilmann-Parke, the Utah Department of Health’s vendor coordinator for the state’s Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants and Children program.

“In times of shortage, parents may be forced to substitute another brand or manufacturer for their child’s preferred formula. The change may cause gastrointestinal upset. It’s just hard on a baby’s tummy to bounce from formula to formula,” said Geilmann-Parke.

“As parents are forced into purchasing what product is available, they need to closely monitor how their baby tolerates the changes. Pay attention to the clues that your baby offers. Moms know. They have good intuition about what is and isn’t working for their baby,” she said.

Switching up brands or varieties of formula can be particularly challenging for infants born prematurely, multiple births or those with food sensitivities or other medical issues.

“You want to make sure that you are feeding that baby the highest quality, most nutrient-dense formula that you can possibly feed him or her,” Geilmann-Parke said.

Cyndle Bass, who is the mom of nearly 5-month-old twins, said she was aware of the pinch in the formula supply and attempted to plan ahead.

“I was down to my last can and I couldn’t find it anywhere. I went on Facebook and pleaded for people to look when they were out. People from four different states sent me formula so I actually have quite a bit now,” she said.

But before issuing her plea on social media, Bass said she had shopped at multiple stores. She was told to try to shop early in the morning, which was complicated because she needed to drive her 11-year-old son to school and then attempt to shop with two infants. Often, she came home empty handed.

“I was going to every store that I knew had formula and not seeing it on any shelf. ... I was beginning to panic. I was freaking out and I was talking to everybody I could about it because I thought somebody might be able to help me, somebody might be able to find some formula in some store randomly that they happen to be in,” she said.

Her father-in-law, who lives in New Mexico, scours local stores every day to help keep his infant grandson and granddaughter supplied.

A 19.5-ounce can of formula lasts just one and half days for Bass. She feeds her son Austin and his twin sister, Alexis, 6 ounces every three hours.

A can of formula costs $18 to $21 and a tub sells for about $45, depending on the type and where one shops, Geilmann-Parke said.

Bass’ son has acid reflux and requires a special formula, which they have been unable to find.

“So we had to switch to a different one and we tried an off brand and both of them got sick on it. Both of them got really constipated and did not tolerate it well at all. So then we went to Enfamil and we were able to find one that they tolerated,” Bass said.

Geilmann-Parke said the shortage of infant formula started during the pandemic when people stockpiled formula just as they did toilet paper and disinfectant wipes.

“We just have never quite recovered from that. And then add to that the major Abbott infant formula recall. That happened back in February of this year. And we have critically low inventory of infant formula across the state, across the nation and globally,” she said.

Abbott recalled several major brands of formula and shut down its factory in Sturgis, Michigan when federal officials concluded four babies suffered bacterial infections after consuming formula from the facility. Two of the infants died, The Associated Press reported.

Geilmann-Parke said she empathizes with families who are navigating this “tough spot” and urges them to prioritize their child’s safety.

Thanks to help from friends Cyndle Bass has a good supply of baby formula at her Eagle Mountain home on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. A 19.5-ounce can of formula lasts just one and half days for Bass. She feeds Austin and his twin sister, Alexis, 6 ounces every three hours. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

The National WIC Association issued this word of caution via Twitter:

“Help NWA get the word out: infant formula substitutes like cow’s milk, over-diluted formula, or homemade formula mixtures put babies at risk. These practices can lead to undernourished, iron deficient, babies & can result in death. WIC is open to provide safe infant formula.”

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children or WIC provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age 5 who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Geilmann-Parke said it is unclear when the shortages will abate.

“Formula manufacturers have been kind of vague about when we can expect product to be back onto the shelves. We just know that it’s been over two years getting to this point and the recall just made it worse. So hopefully they can get FDA and USDA approval to get the Sturgis, Michigan, plant reopened quickly and efficiently and Abbott can start getting Similac back out to grocery stores across the country very soon,” Geilmann-Parke said.

Meanwhile, anxious parents are traveling to other states in search of formula, even contacting manufacturers directly as they seek supplies.

“It is really a scary time to be a mom of a child with formula needs right now. Our encouragement is always to work with your pediatrician first and foremost, and WIC is here to help where we can,” Geilmann-Park said.

Cyndle Bass feeds 5-month-old Austin formula at their Eagle Mountain home on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. A 19.5-ounce can of formula lasts just one and half days for Bass. She feeds Austin and his twin sister, Alexis, 6 ounces every three hours. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News