‘SO STRESSFUL’: Vicksburg families impacted by baby formula shortage

Published 5:07 pm Friday, April 29, 2022

“I’m sorry, your baby’s formula is on backorder.”

Those words sent Vicksburg mother Cassandra Whitten into a panic as she, like the millions of parents across the country whose babies are formula-fed, first felt the impact of the Abbott powder formula recall over the last two months.

“My son, Jeremiah, was born with a birth defect and had a long NICU stay, so he is on a feeding tube and doesn’t take any nutrition by mouth,” Whitten said. “Even though he’s almost a year old, formula is his life. He has a milk protein allergy, so there’s only like, five infant formulas he can use that are dairy-free.”

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Whitten feeds her son Nutramagen formula, which is a specialty formula many parents had to turn to when their usual baby formulas were taken off the shelves.

Abbott, which manufactures formulas under the brand names Similac, Alimentum and EleCare, among others, voluntarily recalled its products after evidence was found of Cronobacter and Salmonella.

Even if parents weren’t directly impacted by their child’s formula being taken off the shelves, they are experiencing secondary effects of the recall because there are fewer formula options on the shelf.

Whitten said in her son’s case, his formula is prescribed, delivered via a medical supply company each month and paid for through the family’s insurance — a welcome reprieve from some of his medical bills, as a one-month supply can cost upward of $700.

So, like other parents faced with limited options for feeding their babies, Whitten began searching for other options.

“We were cleared by my son’s nutritionist to use the Target store-brand version of Nutramagen,” she said. “It was essentially the same thing, but the generic. We actually ended up going to the hospital because the different formula constipated him and he didn’t have a bowel movement for three days; the hospital told us they’d seen a lot of babies with the same issues since the formula shortage began.

“It’s scary,” she said. “I’m trying not to be greedy, but this is a big struggle. I’m hoping we’ll get to the end of this formula outage soon.”

To ensure Jeremiah had formula, Whitten had her parents travel to Mobile, Ala., from their home in Lucedale to buy a month’s supply of formula until the medical supply company had Nutramagen back in stock.

NOT A DROP TO DRINK

Vicksburg resident Heather Calnan Sumners took to Facebook to vent her frustration recently. On March 22, Sumners said she was “so mad she could scream” after discovering online retailers had marked up the formula her baby needs from $30 to as much as $80 per can.

Her daughter, 8-month-old Caroline, has a milk and soy protein allergy and can only drink an amino acid-based formula, Neocate. Without this formula, Caroline experiences acute gastric distress to the point of hospitalization.

There are three amino acid baby formulas on the market today, and one was impacted by the Abbott recall. That, Sumners said, put a tremendous strain on the supply of the other two formulas.

She said the reaction to her Facebook post was both overwhelming and a comfort in such a difficult time.

“People were calling me to check on me; they were buying cans of Caroline’s formula and bringing it to my house,” she said. “That was not the intention of my post at all, but it definitely made me feel good. You feel loved when you see how many people love your child. I was so thankful for that.”

Sumners said she’s wary to be like the “toilet paper hoarders” of 2020, but she still wants to make sure her family has a way to nourish their baby. Due to Caroline’s dietary restrictions, Sumners said breastfeeding her baby is no longer an option.

“We’ve been on Neocate this whole time. That’s the only thing her little intestines and her body can digest,” she said. “It’s so stressful, even thinking about going to another amino brand. You just don’t know how your child’s going to tolerate a change like that.

“You feel terrible. It’s not like they can switch to only baby food; they have to be on formula at least until a year old.”

SUBSTITUTE SPARINGLY

Local pediatrician Dr. Geri Weiland, who has been practicing for more than 40 years, said the formula shortage is something hitting her infant patients and their families at a high rate.

“Right now, the country is so dysfunctional in every respect,” Weiland said. “The cost of gasoline is affecting everything, and the worker shortage, too. It’s almost like the toilet paper in 2020. It’s just not there (in stores) to be had.”

If a parent can’t find formula and is faced with no other option but to substitute something like cow’s milk or nutritional shakes like Boost or Ensure, Weiland said it needs to be done for the shortest amount of time possible.

“On an emergency basis, okay,” she said. “But you need to realize your child is not getting all the nutrition they need to develop and at the very least, you need to find a liquid multivitamin to add to it.”

Weiland also suggested every family apply for government supplemental nutrition programs such as WIC, which might have access to stores of formula when other outlets do not.

“It’s worth an application,” she said. “The parameters for acceptance are broader than you’d think, and parents right now need the help.”