By Sara Lewin Lebwohl
News of the baby formula shortage is all over the national media, but it is nothing new to many Upper West Side parents who have been dealing with this issue for almost a year.
Nine months ago when my baby was born, I didn’t think twice about how I was going to feed her. I would breastfeed and supplement with formula as needed. Soon after we brought Elianna home, I asked my husband to pick up some Similac formula to have on hand. After being gone a long time, he finally called to say he’d been to three locations in the neighborhood, but couldn’t find what we wanted. He came home surprised and empty-handed. This was back in August.
In February, Similac issued a massive recall of many of their popular products. The FDA reports indicated that strains of Cronobacter sakazakki bacteria were found at the plant used to make the popular formula. Local families were already having problems finding formula at brick-and-mortar stores and online, but when the recall hit, everything got way worse.
Parents began using ISO (In Search Of) posts on social media platforms, asking if other families had extra formula so they could meet the urgent feeding needs of their babies.
It was heartbreaking to watch. Moms were making desperate pleas with their networks for cans or bottles of specialized formula. The recall and shortage was bad, but especially scary with babies who had to have certain formulas due to medical conditions or allergies. I distinctly remember when Similac Alimentum was in such short supply that when I offered up one bottle, I had 50 replies asking for it within the hour.
By the end of February, we started asking local retailers when they would be restocking the shelves. We were told that the stores were at the mercy of the deliveries, and they just weren’t coming. When we called Similac that month, they said there was no supply shortage and that transportation issues were the reasons places like New York City were seeing issues.
Isha Hannah, a local dula and functional nutrition practitioner, provided many boxes and bottles for those in need.
“I understand the importance of babies receiving the proper sustained nutrition they need, and the unfortunate consequences that could arise if they do not,” Hanna said. “I don’t think many people grasp the gravity of the situation. The sad reality is that thousands of our babies are at risk of running out of the food they depend on for survival. I felt it was my duty to do whatever I could to help.”
Upper West Side moms have also been sharing their surplus formula with their neighbors. Small acts of kindness from moms around the neighborhood are adding up. Liburna Deva recently made a post in Upper West Side Moms, offering what she had at home.
“I am only giving away two small cans of formula [because] my daughter switched to regular milk a couple of months ago. I would hardly call it an act of kindness. I am so sad to see all the moms struggling to find something so important. I wish I had more,” Liburna said.
Other moms have been using Facebook to post pictures of local retailers selections so that people can head over to the stores that have some in stock. Stores such as Target and Walgreens have been rationing formula purchases.
While the primary mode of securing formula is still going from store to store, or hoping that your online delivery comes, special communities are cropping up for those who are having trouble finding formula for their babies. One new Facebook group is called Baby formula Swap and Search: Parents Helping Parents.
We have been using this reddit thread for the most up-to-date information.
Jada Shapiro, founder of Boober, a lactation resource, said some mothers are willing to share their extra supply of breast milk. For anyone interested in this option, they can get more information at Boober.
This is a very scary time for families who rely on formula to feed their babies. For a list of resources and suggestions on how to handle the shortage, check out the New York State website.