The current infant formula shortage in the United States is causing a lot of stress to parents and care givers who rely on it to feed not only their infants, but also loved ones who may have complex medical needs. I've been fielding a lot of questions from worried moms about increasing their milk supply, re-lactating, and what to do if they have trouble locating the formula their baby normally drinks.
First, let's acknowledge right now that this is a difficult time for parents and statements like "Well you should just breastfeed!" are helpful to literally no one.
Humans have been utilizing alternative means of feeding infants for thousands of years because sometimes, for one reason or another (or many), breastfeeding isn't possible. So whether it was another woman's milk, traditional drinks made with animal milks or teas, or modern infant formula-- humans have been trying to find solutions when problems arise to keep babies fed since the beginning of time.
As an international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC), I will always work to promote and protect breastfeeding while also fighting to end aggressive infant formula marketing that hurts children and women.
But right now, I'd like to talk specifically about formula feeding in light of the current shortage. The AAP's Ask a Pediatrician answers many questions parents currently have if they are unable to find their baby's formula. Remember, never add extra water to your child's formula to stretch it further.
If you're having trouble finding formula where you normally shop, you can also try:
You may find a comparable formula in a different brand than you've been feeding your baby. Generic or "store brand" formulas are a fine option as they must meet minimum nutrition requirements as set by the FDA.
You can read more about how to swap formula brands here, and talk with your baby's doctor and/or a registered dietitian at your WIC office for further guidance.
Feeding Donor or Shared Breastmilk
Since humans began having babies, lactating women have been called upon in times of need as wet nurses. Historically this meant putting another's baby directly to her breast- and in the case of enslaved Black women in the United States, often to the detriment to the lives of their own children. Presently women may nurse each other's children, or more often, express their milk to be fed to someone else's child.
Donor or shared breastmilk may be an option parents are interested in. The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine recognizes the growing number of families utilizing what we refer to as "informal milk sharing" and has a position statement including safety guidelines for parents and healthcare providers to consider.
Shared breastmilk may be located by asking
Relactation and Increasing Milk Supply
It doesn't matter how old your baby is or even if you've never given birth- relactation or inducing lactation is possible. It is a commitment and won't happen overnight, so breastmilk or formula will still need to be obtained. Philippa Pearson-Glaze, IBCLC has tips for relactation + great resources.
For mothers looking to increase their current milk supply, I have previously written about some proven techniques to give things a boost.
These pages aren't exhaustive though, so I encourage consulting with an IBCLC to determine the best plan for you.