Parents are making homemade baby formula — but experts say it's a bad idea: What to know

·5 min read

The baby formula shortage is sending parents into a frenzy, with many turning to social media and online marketplaces for quick fixes. In the often unreliable world of the internet, some are finding the solution they need, and others are falling prey to misinformation, price gouging, and scams.

Shelves across the state, and country, are nearly empty after Abbott Nutrition, the largest infant formula producer in the country, issued a recall in February of several powder formulas, including Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare.

Abbott Nutrition reached an agreement Monday with U.S. health officials to restart production at its Sturgis, Michigan, facility, although it will be weeks before the new product ships.

Until then, families feel like they have been left hanging.

Google searches highlight the desperation families are feeling to find a way to feed their babies. Some are looking internationally, and searches for baby formula in Canada are skyrocketing in the U.S.

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Similarly, searches for baby formula recipes hit all-time highs this week, with parents looking to make their own or find alternatives.

Formula recipes

TikTok has quite a few viral recipes, with ingredients including evaporated milk, goat milk, and hemp seeds. Some videos have upwards of a million views.

Dr. Matthew Denenberg, chief of pediatrics for Beaumont Health, told the Free Press that makeshift formulas can lead to "real problems."

"Even if (the babies) are getting some calories from it, it doesn't include any of the nutrients ... that are needed to keep babies healthy."

He noted that watering down formula to make it last longer is dangerous and can lead to dehydration and seizures.

“Whole milk is OK for a short period of time (if the baby is) over 6 months of age, but again talk to your pediatrician and make sure you're doing it in a safe way," Denenberg said. "And the same thing with soy-based milk. We certainly are discouraging people from doing homemade formulas. There are all kinds of recipes out there on social media.”

More: Abbott says agreement reached to reopen Michigan baby formula plant

More: Baby formula shortage still causing stress for Michigan parents

Doctors in Michigan and online have noted that, just because a recipe was used by your grandparents, doesn't mean it's healthy or provides an infant with the nutrients it needs.

“Back when those recipes were popular, I think it was in the ’50s or ’60s, there were some infant deaths that have been reported by using some of those homemade formulas,” said LaDonna Hendricks-Sparrow, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan and a physician at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

Social media can also be a force for good, helping families tap into the resources their community may have.

Grace Holiday, a Novi resident and former pharmacy technician, started a Facebook group for metro Detroiters who are looking to find baby formula in stores.

Although she doesn't need formula for her children right now, she started the group with the hope that moms, dads and everyone who goes to the grocery store can help each other out.

"Even if they're not a mom looking for a formula, just, when you go to the grocery store, take a picture of the formula aisle and what brands are there and post it in the group to try and help a mom that might be in the area find a formula," Holiday said.

When she first created the group, she added her friends and told them to add their friends. Holiday was able to find canned formula for a friend of a friend that day during her typical grocery run.

"Having eyes and ears elsewhere (is helpful), especially with the gas prices, it's really, really difficult for moms to go driving around from store to store and it's also time away from other things that need to be done," Holiday said. "So being able to have other people looking out for your formula elsewhere is a really big advantage."

Some members have also offered to give away their extra formula to others in the group.

Holiday has heard about price gouging and scams, so she said she might start vetting members if the group continues to expand.

Shady sellers

The Better Business Bureau warned last week that the baby formula shortage may lead to scams.

A seller may advertise formula on social media site, respond to messages and communicate until payment is made. Then, once they've gotten your money, they disappear.

The bureau said signs of a potential scam include fake reviews, suspicious addresses and grammatical errors.

If you're going to buy baby formula, try to buy it from someone in your community, doctors say.

And, on top of high inflation rates, some are price gauging the little amount of baby formula available.

For families looking at online marketplaces like eBay and Craigslist, sellers are listing baby formula for hundreds of dollars.

"The thing that is discouraging is the prices are going up because people are doing things like scalping prices," Denenberg said. "People are ordering formula and then selling it for higher prices, taking advantage of families that have babies and need formula."

Ultimately, Denenberg says he understands the shortage is putting a lot of stress on families — babies need to be fed.

He said the most important thing to do is to check with your pediatrician.

Free Press staff writers Kristen Jordan Shamus and Sue Selasky contributed.

Contact Emma Stein: estein@freepress.com and follow her on Twitter @_emmastein.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Parents are making homepage baby formula amid shortage: Docs say don't