Recalls, supply chain issues and labor shortages have many parents and caregivers struggling to find baby formula. A nationwide shortage has led some retailers and grocery stores to limit purchases and go as far as placing inventory behind the counter.
The worsening shortage is particularly acute for shoppers in Washington and the Seattle area, according to retail software company Datasembly, which said about 31% of formula products were out of stock across the country as of April. The rate for the week of April 3 was even worse in the state, at 40%, and even higher in that same period for Seattle and 11 other major metro areas.
With shelves often empty, people can panic and seek out alternative methods, including homemade recipes and buying products from strangers online, said Eliza Lagerquist, a neonatal dietitian with the University of Washington Medical Center.
But Lagerquist and other experts caution parents and caregivers to remain mindful, seek out community resources and follow advice from their pediatrician.
“Nutrition is a core building block of growth and development and we as your pediatricians are happy to help you navigate this challenging time,” said Dr. Dale Lee, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “It is important that families realize that they are not in this difficult time alone.”
Here’s what to know if you can not find baby formula at stores. Check back for updates.
Contact your pediatrician or hospital:
Lee encourages families to contact pediatricians if switching brands or seeking substitutions if you can not find your preferred brand. Guidance is especially important, he said, if your infant or child is on a more specialized formula, as substitutions may be more complex.
In particular, Lee said, formulas with broken-down proteins, or that are amino-acid based, may be used in unique situations and need to be carefully substituted.
Many local good banks have infant formulas, he said, and your pediatrician’s office or dietitian may have “unique resources” as well.
Formula alternatives that aren’t safe for infants:
Infant formula is highly regulated and specially formulated to be a safe substitute for breast milk with a proper ratio of protein, fat and carbohydrates, said Lagerquist.
Alternatives to avoid:
- Toddler: formula:: Formulated to meet the needs of children over 12 months old, toddler formula does not meet the needs of infants.
- Homemade formula:: The “endless” online recipes to make formula at home are unregulated and pose too many potential risks for infants to consume, according to Lagerquist. “We can’t just mix our own things together in the kitchen,” she said.
- Cow’s milk:: Isn’t easily digested by babies until age 1. Milk does not contain enough iron, which is critical for babies’ growth and development at the infant stage. Cow’s milk may also put your child at risk for intestinal bleeding before they turn 1, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Nut milk: Low caloric density and not formulated to be “nutritionally complete,” nut milk can result in nutritional deficiencies, Lee said.
- Diluting formula:: Trying to dilute formula to make it last longer can be harmful because it reduces the nutrients a baby gets and can lead to malnutrition and poor weight gain, Lagerquist said.
Order directly from manufacturer:
You can also check the manufactures’ website for a local store locator, then call ahead to make sure the product is in stock.
Lagerquist recommends parents and caregivers to check the Washington State Department of Health’s Women, Infant and Children (WIC) website – st.news/WICInfantFormula – for suggested formula alternatives if their local store is out of their preferred brand. The site also features a locator tool to identify if the item is in stock.
Check food banks, organizations and agencies:
DOH’s WIC nutrition program can help pregnant women, new and breastfeeding moms, and children under five get food and other resources. Eligibility depends on household size and income.
Also eligible are caregivers for children under five or foster children under five or pregnant teens are also eligible. If you or your family member are on Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or Basic Food you may also be eligible for WIC.
There are over 200 WIC clinics statewide. To find a WIC clinic and check if eligibility, call the Help Me Grow WA Hotline 1-800-322-2588, or text “WIC” to 96859.
Seattle-area food banks and organizations shared by WIC through ParentHelp123’s ResourceFinder includes:
- West Seattle Food Bank: The Baby & Child Corner, 2419 SW Morgan St. Seattle, WA, 206-932-9023:
- White Center Food Bank: 10829 8th Ave SW Seattle, WA 98146, 206-762-2848:
- Atlantic Street Family Resource Center: 5150 S Cloverdale Place Seattle, WA 98118,206-723-1301:
- Baby Basics of Bellevue: First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue, 1717 Bellevue Way NE:
Bellevue, WA 98004, 425-454-3084 Ext 3205:
- Children’s Home Society (North King County): 2611 NE 125th St # 145 Seattle, WA 98125, 206-695-3200:
- North Helpline: 12736 33rd Ave NE # 100 Seattle, WA 98125:
- Hopelink (Bellevue): 14812 Main St Bellevue, WA 98007, 425-943-7555:
- Salvation Army (Eastside): 911 164th Ave NE Bellevue, WA 98008, 425-452-7300:
- Next Step Pregnancy Services:: 19526 64th Ave Lynnwood, WA 98036, (425) 329-4569:
Call ahead to check availability. For a complete list and more resources, visit: resources.parenthelp123.org.
If breastfeeding is not an option, you can buy safe, pasteurized breastmilk from donors at milk banks. The Northwest Mothers Milk Bank tests milk donated at partner hospitals in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
Distribution sites in the Seattle area include:
Overlake Hospital Medical Center Mom and Baby Care Center in Bellevue: 1051 116th Ave. NE, Suite 200, Monday through Saturday 9 am-5 pm:., 425-688-5389:
Evergreen Health Medical Center Post-Partum Care Center in Kirkland: 12303 NE 130th Lane Ste 320 Coral:, Monday through Saturday 8:30 am-4: 30 pm, 425-899-3602:
Call ahead to check availability and bring a valid prescription from a provider. Download the prescription form for Overlake here. Download the prescription for Evergreen here.
Those interested in donating breastmilk can call the NW Mother’s Milk Bank at 503-469-0955 or visit nwmmb.org for more information.
Do not share breastmilk or buy directly from donors:
Breastmilk sharing has risen in popularity, according to Lee, who does not recommend informal breastmilk sharing. Whether it is between friends, communities or acquired through the internet, there are potential risks if milk is not screened for illnesses or medications. The US Food and Drug Administration and the Human Milk Banking Association of North America discourage the practice as well and recommend consulting a health care provider first or using milk that has been tested.
Check formula for recalls:
If you get your hands on formula, check that it was not recalled for possible Cronobacter contamination by looking at the product code or entering the lot code on the Abbott website: similacrecall.com or call 1-800-986-8540.
Similac PM 60/40 powdered formula: Lot # 27032K80 (can) and Lot # 27032K800 (case) was recalled on Feb. 28.
Similac, Alimentum and EleCare: powdered formula: Recalled on Feb 17. if they have all three of these conditions:
- First two digits of the code are 22 through 37, AND:
- on the container contains “K8,” “SH,” or “Z2,” AND:
- Use-by date is 4-1-2022 (APR 2022) or later.
Contact a health care provider if your baby has symptoms of Cronobacter illness, which include fever, poor feeding, excessive crying or very low energy, according to the CDC. Some infants may also have seizures.
For a full list of recalled products visit the FDA’s consumer advisory page: st.news/FDAFormulaRecall.
Store formula safely:
Once you’ve checked that your formula is safe, be sure to use it before the “Use By” date and store safely.
Use formula within 2 hours of preparation and within one hour from when feeding begins. If not used within 2 hours, immediately store it in the fridge and use within 24 hours, according to the CDC.
Throw out formula left in the bottle after feeding. Store unopened formula containers in a cool, dry place indoors with lid tightly closed. Do not store it in the fridge. Most infant formula needs to be used within one month of opening the container.
Seattle Times staff reporter Daisy Zavala Magaña contributed to this report:.