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How To Support Each Other During the Formula Shortage

May 25, 2022

Many families in the United States currently find themselves in a difficult situation as the formula shortage has impacted access to essential nutrition for their newborns. During this crisis, there's been confusion surrounding the topic of breastfeeding and formula feeding for infants. Tasha Gunnarsson, RN, BSN, IBCLC, Lactation and Education at Anna Jaques Hospital, provides some education and tips on what to do (and what not to do) to support one another through this shortage and beyond.

What Can I Do?

  • Encourage families to reach out to their pediatrician for appropriate guidance

  • Share daily/current local formula stocks within your community

  • Share resources like formula exchanges and other grassroots efforts in your community

  • Encourage MA families in need to reach out to the Women, Infants, & Children Nutrition Program

  • Share appropriate formula swap/replacement information for store brand formulas

  • Offer information about pasteurized donor human milk or other, safe human milk sharing

  • Reach out to a lactation consultant with any questions about their own milk supply

You can also help by encouraging families to continue to follow the proper instructions for their formula. Be aware that not mixing the correct proportions of water and powdered formula mix, cutting liquid formula with more water, and/or making their own homemade formulas is dangerous, can be life threatening and is strongly discouraged.

What Should I Not Do?

"Please do not simply suggest, 'starting to breastfeed' or 'restarting breastfeeding' as a solution. This is shortsighted and oversimplified," Gunnarsson shared. "The immediate need for formula by an exclusive formula feeder is not alleviated by the suggestion to simply relactate, or bring in breast/chest milk supply again. Although this can sometimes eventually be achieved, relactation is a longer term plan, one which requires a significant and consistent commitment of time and resources, which are often not feasible, and/or applicable, for many parents and families."

Additionally, this suggestion can be painful and guilt-inducing for families who chose not to breastfeed for personal reasons or if they did not succeed in their attempts to breastfeed despite their efforts. Not meeting breast/chest feeding goals can be due to various medical reasons or, more often, an overall lack of resources, support and education along their feeding journey.

"Almost half of the 80% of families in Massachusetts who intend to exclusively breastfeed are not doing so by the three month mark. Meaning that many formula feeders are actually families that would have preferred to be breastfeeders/chestfeeders."

There are many reasons that families may need formula:

  • Up to 5% of women are physically unable to produce enough breastmilk for their baby

  • Insufficient maternity leave

  • Inadequate resources and support

    • Mental health resources

    • Workplace and public breastfeeding and pumping support

  • Lack of lactation education, support and resources, including specialists

  • Financial barriers to lactation assistance

  • Limited diversity within lactation professionals

By providing support, education and resources, we can help to increase understanding and provide assistance to the families who are directly impacted by this shortage. "Because, after all, we all want our babies to be fed, and we're all in this together."

Learn more about lactation services at Anna Jaques Hospital.