Supply chain disruptions stemming from several factors have resulted in a shortage of baby formula across the United States, a big problem for Black parents as they are less likely to breastfeed, and so, feel the weight of this problem more significantly. Abbott Nutrition, the nation’s largest baby formula manufacturer, recalled its baby formula produced at its Michigan plant after four babies fell ill with bacterial infections and two of those four children died. The FDA has checked Abbott’s facilities several times and found no bacteria, yet to-date, Abbott has not been allowed to produce Similac, Similac Alimentum, and EleCare powdered infant formulas. Because Black families are more likely to use formula, experts worry they face disproportionate impacts as a result.
Dr. Valeria Cohran, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, who treats infants with feeding difficulties and digestion issues asserts: “Feeding your child is one of the fundamental things, as a parent, that people do. To not know where you’re going to get formula from, or if you can get formula, has been very stressful for families.” Per Dr. Cohran, “Some of the formulas are made for kids with a variety of different medical conditions. Some children may have difficulties breaking down the proteins that are in milk or are simply allergic to different products in the milk … [resulting] in some kids even getting admitted to the hospital until their families could get formula for their children … some of these formulas can cost thousands of dollars a month.”
The shortage reflects larger issues that perpetuate disparities persistent across healthcare, as well as targeted marketing among the reasons why Black parents might opt for formula over breastfeeding and limited parental leave from work and paid breaks for feeding or pumping.” Pediatricians and health experts warn against parents making their own formula, diluting what they have to make it last longer, or introducing cow milk too soon, all which can be dangerous to babies or lack necessary nutrients, as diluting formula causes diluting different electrolytes in the formula and may cause health problems for children.
Joseph Choi, Peter Sullivan, and Nathaniel Weixel “Health Care — House investigating baby formula shortage” The Hill 13 May 2022 online.
Margo Snipe “What the National Shortage of Baby Formula Means for Black Families” Capital B News 13 May 2022 online.
UC Davis CHILDREN’S HEALTH “The infant formula shortage is making parents desperate. But do not do these 4 things.” 13 May 2022 online.