Shortly after Isaac James Ruble was born last fall, his parents Haley and Cody discovered he couldn’t handle dairy products. What started as an inconvenience now has thrust the Rubles into the midst of the national baby formula shortage crisis.
“Parents everywhere are facing these same challenges,” said Haley, who lives in Great Bend. “There’s nothing more overwhelming than the fear of how to feed your baby.”
What’s the problem?
In February, the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease and Control reported cases of bacterial infections, two of which were fatal, linked to contaminated formula made at Abbott Nutrition’s Sturgis, Mich., plant.
Abbott is the maker of Similac and manufacturer of over 40% of the nation’s infant forumla, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
On Feb. 17, the company announced it was recalling potentially affected products including Similac, Alimentum and EleCare powdered formulas, an FDA statement noted.
“Walking into stores and seeing completely empty shelves where the formula should be is unnerving,” Ruble said. “I’ve had a lot of moms reach out who are equally desperate to find their baby’s formula.”
Help for local parents
“Stores are getting it in, but it is flying off the shelves,” said Bev Frizell, a Barton County Health Department registered dietician and coordinator of the Women, Infant and Children program. “We don’t have any in stock, but I wish we did.”
The WIC Program serves low-income mothers. One of the products available to qualifying families is baby formula and they are now facing the same shortage.
Nonetheless, Frizell said they can help. The USDA, which administers WIC, has relaxed guidelines allowing parents to substitute other brands.
The Health Department can offer WIC parents, and all parents, suggestions on alternative formulas.
“We thought this was getting better,” she said. But, now there is not end in sight.
But, “we don’t recommend people make their own formula,” Frizell said. “That is dangerous.”
In addition, they can offer breastfeeding advice. “For those who want to breastfeed, we are here for them.”
“My son, Isaac, has a dairy intolerance and has to use a specialized formula,” Ruble said. “We found out he had an intolerance when he was around 3 months old.”
At the time, she was breastfeeding Isaac. “I tried eliminating all dairy from my diet, and we switched him to formula while I attempted to detox myself from dairy (which takes about two weeks). When we switched him to a lactose-sensitive formula, he had a complete shift in personality. He went from constantly screaming to a happy, giggling baby,” she said.
“For the first time in his life, he wasn’t in pain. He was thriving,” she said. This was in December and they decided at that point to keep him on the formula, as he was thriving.
The formula he uses is Similac Pro-Sensitive. When they first switched him to that formula, it was a little difficult to find.
“No stores locally carried it very often,” she said. They were able to find it online at major retailers like Sam’s Club.
Then, February came.
“We had just received a shipment of Similac Pro-Sensitive the week of the Similac recall,” Ruble said. “Every can we had on hand was affected. We had nothing to feed him his next bottle.”
By some miracle, Walmart in Great Bend had a couple of cans of it on the shelf. They’d never found it in town before that day.
“Since then, we have searched desperately every day to find him more before we run out,” she said. “First thing every single morning, I search online in hope that one of the retailers restocked overnight.”
She sends friends and family into stores across the nation searching the shelves in hopes of finding a single can that can buy us some more time. She’s banded together with other moms to search for each other’s babies in addition to their own.
“We’ve tried substituting him to other brands or other types of formula, and he winds up screaming in misery until it clears his system,” she said.
“Thankfully, we were able to secure his formula recently so we are doing OK now,” she said. “But I know many other moms are struggling or have struggled to find it.”
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