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Do's and Don'ts Quick Guide for Parents and Caregivers During the Infant Formula Shortage

Contributors: Lucille Beseler, MS, RDN, LDN
empty shelves, infant formula shortage

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Among the concerns faced by many new parents, feeding their baby is often at the top of the list. With a plethora of friends, family members and online communities dolling out advice ranging from well-intentioned to judgmental and toxic, it’s no wonder! Factor a nation-wide shortage of infant formula, and the pressure felt by parents who cannot or choose not to breastfeed is compounded.

With an emphasis on the importance of good nutrition in “the first thousand days” of life (from conception to age two), nutrition science has particularly highlighted the importance of fatty acids, such as DHA, protein and specific vitamins (including vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K) and minerals (such as iron, calcium and zinc) for optimal growth, cognitive skills and future health of children.

Use this quick guide of do’s and don’ts for feeding infants—and most importantly, consult your pediatrician or pediatric dietitian for guidance specific to your family.

What NOT to do:

  • Don’t feed your infant “homemade formula.” Many of the recipes circulating social media today are from the 1950s, before infant nutrition experts had identified which nutrients are needed for brain, cognitive and physical development.
  • Don’t feed an infant under the age of 1 year cow’s milk, which can cause gastrointestinal bleeding, kidney problems or dehydration.
  • Don’t give infants plant-based milk, such as soy milk, almond milk, rice milk or oat milk. These do not have adequate amounts of nutrients necessary to support growth and development.
  • Don't dilute formula to make it last longer. Watered down formula does not contain enough protein, fat, carbohydrate and vitamins and minerals.
  • Don't mix infant formula with other beverages.
  • Don't accept breast milk from a friend or neighbor or purchase it online. Established milk banks follow strict regulations for screening donors and collecting, processing (including pasteurization) and distributing donated human milk. Breast milk that has not been evaluated can expose infants to bacteria and viruses, including HIV and Hepatitis B.

What TO DO:

  • Do look at alternate varieties of iron-fortified infant formula and try using another brand that is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  • Do ask your baby’s pediatrician for a prescription to get breast milk from an accredited milk bank.
  • If your baby is between 4 and 6 months of age and showing signs of being developmentally ready, discuss introducing solid foods with your pediatrician. Concentrate on age-appropriate foods to meet nutritional needs as well as get enough calories, since less breastmilk or formula may be consumed during this transition.  Single-ingredient foods should be introduced initially with the goal of serving a variety of foods from all food groups by a child’s first birthday. Be sure to offer foods in appropriate sizes and textures to reduce the risk of choking and follow proper food safety practices.
    • Protein sources: cooked and pureed meat, fish*, poultry, eggs, beans
    • Fat sources: small amounts of fat can be added to food (1/8 teaspoon) for essential fatty acids: corn oil, flaxseed oil. Discuss the option of baby DHA supplements with a health care provider.
    • Carbohydrate sources: iron-fortified baby cereal, rice, pasta, bread
    • Various vitamins and minerals: fruit and vegetables
    • Calcium and vitamin D: yogurt or fortified soy-based yogurt (choose ones with no added sugars).

*According to MyPlate, one or two times per week one ounce of fish (about the size of three dice) can be offered to babies around six months of age. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that cooked varieties be served from the “Best Choices” list according to “Advice about Eating Fish” from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).