Why Is There a Baby Formula Shortage? What to Know and Why It’s Getting Worse

Why Is There a Baby Formula Shortage? What to Know and Why It’s Getting Worse

Baby formula is getting harder to find.

Nationwide, 40% of the most popular baby formula brands were out of stock in the week starting April 24, up from 31% two weeks earlier, according to the latest figures from Datasembly, which tracks out-of-stock messages on retailers’ websites and apps. A normal rate is less than 10%.

The shortage, caused by a mix of supply chain issues and a recall, has led to empty shelves at some stores, product restrictions and panic among parents and caregivers searching for formula to feed their babies.  

Here’s what you need to know: 

Why is there a shortage of baby formula?

There are two reasons for the shortage. Supply chain issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have made baby formula harder to find for months. The shortage worsened after

Abbott Laboratories,

ABT 0.21%

a major formula manufacturer, voluntarily recalled some products and closed a plant where the products were made in Sturgis, Mich. 

The Food and Drug Administration is investigating consumer complaints related to five infants who were hospitalized, two of whom died. The agency said cronobacter sakazakii, a germ that can be deadly in infants, was detected in the Sturgis plant, but not in the products. The FDA said in a statement that findings during its inspection raised concerns that powdered formula made at the Sturgis plant carried a risk of contamination. 

An Abbott spokeswoman said Friday that after reviewing available data, the company found that formula made at its Sturgis facility “is not likely the source of infection in the reported cases and that there was not an outbreak caused by products from the facility.” Abbott said it is working with the FDA to restart production at the Sturgis plant.

What do I do if I can’t find formula for my child?

If you’re running low and can’t find formula, ask your pediatrician’s office. They may have samples they can give you. When out shopping, look beyond big national chains and try smaller stores that you may not normally stop at, said Dr.

Steven Abrams,

a pediatrics professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Can I switch formulas?

Most babies that don’t have health issues can usually be switched to another brand of formula safely, said Dr.

Bridget Young,

an assistant professor at University of Rochester Medical Center. She suggested parents and guardians check to make sure the ingredients are the same on the label to reduce the chances of causing an upset stomach. If you aren’t sure which formula to switch to, she said, check with your baby’s doctors.  

What if my baby needs specialty formula?

Parents or caregivers of babies who have health issues and require hypoallergenic or need specialty formulas should check with their doctors first before making any switches. 

The FDA said last month that Abbott can give out formulas designed for babies with metabolic diseases and other health conditions on a case-by-case basis. The formulas, which often require a prescription, are made at the company’s Sturgis plant but aren’t part of the recall. The agency said the health risk of babies not having specialty formulas could outweigh the potential risk of bacterial infection. An Abbott spokeswoman said the products have been tested. Parents and caregivers have to call Abbott to be considered. The phone number is: 1-800-881-0876.

Stores have been struggling to stock enough baby formula, causing some chains to limit customer purchases.


Paul Hennessy/Zuma Press

What are formula makers doing to get more formula on shelves?

Abbott said it is working to increase Similac production at other FDA-registered facilities and shipping formula from Europe by air. 

Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC,

RBGLY -0.82%

which makes formula brand Enfamil, said it is running its factories seven days a week to get more formula to stores. 

Are stores limiting how much formula can be bought?

Yes. Pharmacy chains Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and

CVS Health Corp.

, for example, are limiting shoppers to three baby formula products per purchase.

Can I make my own homemade formula?

No, making your own formula is dangerous and could cause severe illness or death in infants, said Dr. Abrams. Don’t feed infants cow’s milk or add more water to powdered formula to make it last longer, which can be harmful, he said.

Write to Joseph Pisani at joseph.pisani@wsj.com

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