As Athens-Clarke feels pinch of baby formula shortage, parents struggle — and bond

·4 min read

Jenna Vaisvil was worried.

As the national baby formula shortage came knocking at the doorstep of her Athens home, she was faced with the possibility she might not be able to feed her daughter.

“It's extremely stressful,” Vaisvil said. “I think every parent's No.1 job and need as a parent is providing love, care and basic necessities to their children from birth until adulthood or beyond. … This is the inability to provide the very fundamental, most basic thing needed to sustain life.”

The formula shortage is the product of ongoing supply chain disruptions and a February recall by Abbott Nutrition. Since the recall, less formula has been available in stores across the country.

Related: Biden invokes Defense Production Act to boost baby formula production

What are safe substitutes for baby formula?: Amid worsening shortage, avoid homemade recipes

Like many children, Vaisvil’s child has dietary sensitivities and can’t have breast milk.

“It’s been hard,” said Lisa Gibson, an employee at reBlossom Mama & Baby Center who’s had to tell many parents when the store on Milledge Avenue is out of formula. “My son used formula. I can’t imagine not being able to find [it]. ... I’m getting a sinking feeling just thinking about it.”

The situation grows even more complicated when considering the dietary needs of each baby.

“It's sort of like once you start a puppy on a certain brand of food. You can't just switch it — it'll upset their stomach, upset their bowels,” Gibson said. “It's even more sensitive with infants and formula. You can't just get whatever is available, you have to get your brand for your baby, for their special needs.”

According to Vaisvil, for babies whose diets aren’t limited to formula, outside resources like breast-milk banks can also be prohibitively expensive, and associated costs are not covered by the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC.

Local food-assistance programs are also pinched by the shortage.

City of Refuge Athens, a local charity dedicated to feeding disadvantaged members of the community, used to be able to step in and buy parents formula when the local food banks ran out.

“Now, that’s not an option,” co-founder Geoff Rushing said.

As grocery store shelves emptied of formula, it put parents like Vaisvil in an increasingly precarious position.

“In talking to other parents and guardians, and reading about the formula shortage, I quickly realized that other babies and their families were having the same issue,” Vaisvil said. As she learned of more and more people struggling to feed their children, she created a Facebook group called Formula Finders-Athens.

The Facebook group aims to connect people locating baby formula to those looking for it.

In addition to sharing links where parents can purchase baby formula, members take photos of baby formula whenever they see it in stores, marking each picture with the date, time and location it was taken. Others look for specific formula brands parents in the group need for their children.

“It was really just a way to connect to one another, to try and service all of our needs,” Vaisvil said. “What is social media for if not to connect other people?”

In response to the formula shortage, the Georgia Department of Public Health issued a press release urging parents to talk to their pediatricians for guidance on appropriate, nutritional and safe food alternatives.

Vaisvil and Rushing also urged those interested in helping to get involved in existing efforts to spread information and distribute food. As of Wednesday, the Formula Finders-Athens group had more than 200 members joining forces to help feed their community.

Likewise, City of Refuge feeds 300 families and 900 children each week. “It's real, and it's bad — all the way across the board from babies not being able to have the formula they need to everybody in between,” Rushing said.

“Being a new mom is stressful enough,” Gibson said. “Not being able to feed your infant. I cannot imagine the stress and the fear and the anxiety and the panic that a mother might be feeling. I can't imagine it, but I'm sure it's 100 times worse when you're living it.”

Advice from the Georgia Department of Public Health

  • Watering down baby formula is dangerous and can cause nutritional imbalances that may lead to serious health problems. Always mix formula as directed by the manufacturer.

  • Homemade baby formulas are not advised. While recipes may seem healthy, they are not safe and do not meet your baby’s nutritional needs.

  • Buy baby formula online but only from well-recognized distributors and pharmacies.

  • Be leery of ads on social media. You can check out a company’s reputation through the Better Business Bureau (BBB) at www.bbb.org.

  • Do not use imported formulas from other countries that are not reviewed by the FDA.

  • Only prepare the amount of formula you will use - throw out any infant formula that is left in the bottle after feeding your baby.

  • It is recommended that during the shortage you buy no more than a 10-day to two-week supply of formula

This article originally appeared on Athens Banner-Herald: Athens-Clarke County parents struggle with shortage of baby formula