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The worsening shortage of infant formula is leading mothers to scramble to feed their infants

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A survey found that at least 40 to 50 percent of top-selling formula products in stores across the US were out of stock in the week ended April 24

Parents in the US are struggling to find baby formula on store shelves amid a nationwide shortage as major retailers enforced rationing after popular infant formula was recalled after an infant died of a bacterial infection.

According to an analysis by Datasembly, which tracked baby formula inventory at over 11,000 retailers, at least 40 to 50 percent of top-selling formula products were sold out in stores across the country in the week ended April 24. The shortages reportedly began during the Covid-19 pandemic, when companies faced major supply chain hurdles, including sourcing raw materials, packaging delays and labor shortages.

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The situation worsened in February when Abbott Labs was forced to recall its Alimentum, Similac and EleCare baby formulas after five infants who consumed them contracted Cronobacter sakazakii infection — known to cause blood infections and meningitis — and one of the children died from it a result. “A whole month [there] nothing was … nothing online, nothing in nearby stores,” lamented Nicole Brown, who has a 5-month-old, to News 4 Jacksonville, Florida. “I can have Amazon delivered to my door but I can’t feed my son. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.”

Meanwhile, Virginia-based foster mom Jill Bradford, who cares for a 5-month-old girl with medical needs, said she had the special amino acid-based formula the child needed for less than two days. “We called the WIC office,” Bradford told WTVR. “We called Thrive, a utility company. We called every hospital system in the state. I personally contacted every Kroger, Walgreens, Walmart and CVS in the Tri-City area,” she added. Bradford said she found eight cans of the special formula on eBay, where it’s reportedly selling for $800, compared to the retail price, which is between $43 and $47.

The hardest-hit areas include Iowa, Missouri, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas, where the out-of-stock rate in San Antonio was 56 percent, according to Datasembly. This is because national retailers like Walgreens and CVS have set a limit of just three baby food products per purchase. Meanwhile, Target allows its customers to purchase up to four units of a baby food product at a time. The situation has sparked national outrage as nearly 75% of babies in the US eat formula during their first six months.

Circumstances are even worse for those parents whose children require special formulas due to allergies or dietary needs. Embattled mom Ashley Olsen, of Jacksonville, Fla., said her 9-month-old baby could only use a specific formula, which she orders directly from the manufacturer, to prevent allergic reactions. However, she has no idea when the product will be available again. “Luckily I filled up a supply last time. So when I opened my last can today, it kindled my fire a bit,” Olsen said.

Texas mom Emily Pyeatt, 22, took to social media to reveal how she went to eight stores in search of formula for her 8-month-old baby. “This is the scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” she posted on March 30. “How are we supposed to feed our children when NO FOOD IS ON THE SHELVES?”

Speaking to The Washington Post, Pyeatt said she would be transitioning her son to solid foods as she is down to her last three cans and not producing enough breast milk to support him. “It was a very heartbreaking decision to quit, and I think it’s upsetting when someone says that,” Pyeatt told the outlet. “I pray for the women who have babies who are not old enough to eat solids,” she added.

Abbot Labs announced in March that it had found no Cronobacter sakazakii in any samples of the formula it shipped and that they are regularly tested. However, the company admitted that it found evidence of the bacteria in a “non-product contact area” at its Sturgis, Michigan facility. Baby food manufacturers are now focused on ramping up production. “We know this recall has exacerbated an industry-wide supply shortage for instant formulas,” Abbott Labs told the Post in a statement. “We’re doing everything we can to address it,” the company said, including accelerating production of Similac, flying in product from Europe and working with healthcare providers to identify alternative formulas.

Meanwhile, Enfamil also released a statement to News 4 Jacksonville. “At Enfamil, we are committed to giving the millions of babies and toddlers who rely on our formulas the best start in life,” it says. “We are aware that some parents struggle to find their favorite baby food in their favorite store. We have streamlined our efforts to resolve any issues as quickly as possible and to meet the needs of all babies who rely on our formula.” And in a statement to News 4 Jacksonville, the Food and Drug Administration said it had a weekly update met with a number of formula makers “to try to increase overall specialty and metabolite manufacturing capacity.”

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