How Delaware parents are working together to combat the worsening baby formula shortage

·4 min read

Since February, Rebecca Simeone Lennon’s husband has spent hours each week searching stores for baby formula for their foster child.

“It’s become impossible to order online due to worsening shortage,” the 38-year-old Claymont woman said. “We have friends and family all on the lookout for formulas for our foster baby so hopefully we can get through these tough couple of months.”

Delaware is one of the hardest-hit states in the national baby formula shortage. According to the latest information available from Datasembly, a grocery and retail pricing data firm, baby formula was 54.51% out of stock in Delaware at the start of the month.

Datasembly ranked Delaware second only to Tennessee for the highest out-of-stock baby formula rate in the country, and only by 0.2%.

Maryland ranked 23rd, at 46.56%. Nationwide, the out-of-stock rate was 43.08%.

Parents use Facebook to unite for help

The baby formula shelves at Target in Dover in mid-April 2022.
The baby formula shelves at Target in Dover in mid-April 2022.

Simeone Lennon is a member of the MOD Squad (Mothers of Delaware) Facebook group, where people are posting photos of baby formula shelves, some empty, some stocked, across the state.

They’re offering to use their shopping club memberships to purchase formula for moms in need, and posting their extra supply as available for sale or for free.

“They seem to be helping a lot of parents in need, which is good,” Simeone Lennon said.

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Why is there a shortage?

The shortage began in November 2021, according to Datasembly, when the out-of-stock rate was at about 11%.

It started with COVID-19 supply chain issues, which were compounded by the closure of Abbott Nutrition’s Sturgis, Michigan, facility in February. Abbott makes many popular brands of baby formula, including Similac and Enfamil.

The Sturgis location was closed after a U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigation into two deaths and multiple illnesses in infants said to have consumed formula produced there.

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In a May 13 statement, Abbott said the site could reopen within two weeks, subject to FDA approval. From the time the facility reopens, it would take six to eight weeks for products to make it to store shelves, the statement said.

In response to the shortage, the FDA on Monday announced temporary “increased flexibilities” related to the importation of foreign-produced baby formula to bump up supplies.

“With these flexibilities in place, we anticipate that those products that can quickly meet safety and nutrition standards could hit U.S. stores in a matter of weeks,” FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf said in a statement.

Why some parents are struggling more

Baby formula shelves at Walmart in Georgetown May 17.
Baby formula shelves at Walmart in Georgetown May 17.

In Delaware and across the country, the baby formula shortage has been especially tough on parents using the federal Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

WIC recipients receive a card, much like a credit card, that is loaded with funds usable only for certain products and only at certain stores. Amazon, for example, does not accept it.

An anonymous member of the MOD Squad Facebook group made a desperate post May 6.

“If anyone has any information on formula and when/where they will be stocked, WIC only approves certain stores. My girl is hungry and tired and I am going broke buying $35 12 oz. cans every week,” the person wrote.

Another member wrote on April 18: “Anybody know anyone who has Nutramigen formula they don't need? Stores don't have the size my WIC will cover and I can't afford $50 to $60 dollars a week for a can.”

A pediatrician’s advice

Erin Fletcher is a pediatrician at Beacon Pediatrics in Lewes and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Beebe Healthcare. Many of her patients are struggling to find formula, she said, especially for infants with allergies and other special nutritional needs.

If you can’t find the type of formula your child needs, Fletcher recommends the following:

  • Check pharmacies, smaller grocery stores, large convenience stores and food banks.

  • Contact your local WIC office. 

  • Order online (but only from reputable sources).

  • Call your pediatrician and ask if they have samples available.

  • Check with other parents, through local groups or social media, to see if they have unopened formula they no longer need. Never use anything that has been opened by someone else or is expired.

Parents should never try to make their own formula or dilute formula, both Fletcher and the Delaware Division of Public Health cautioned. Doing either can lead to nutritional deficiencies and serious illness.

Animal milk is also unsafe for children younger than 1.

“The only good alternative to formula is breast milk,” Fletcher said. 

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Baby formula shortage in Delaware is among worst in nation. What to do