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Like many parents who rely on formula to feed their newborns, Rachel Beadle of Des Moines is constantly on the hunt for it.
“I’m always looking for formula. There’s not a day that I don’t look for it,” said Beadle, who has a 9-month-old daughter. “It’s pretty much looking for a needle in a haystack.”
It has been weeks since Abbott Nutrition voluntarily recalled some Similac, Alimentum and EleCare powder formula products in February. Last month, IowaWatch reported that as of Feb. 28, at least five U.S. infants had been hospitalized after consuming Abbott Nutrition products believed to contain Cronobacter sakazakii or Salmonella Newport, bacteria that can be lethal in young infants or babies with preexisting health problems. Two of those infants died.
But even before the recall, baby formula has been harder to find — like many other grocery products — during the pandemic. The shortage has caused parents to switch brands even if their baby is sensitive, or even caused them to continue using the recalled products even though Abbott Nutrition warns not to.
Beadle’s daughter, Scarlett, used Similac Pro Sensitive. Even before the recall, the formula was getting harder and harder to find with supply chain shortages in the pandemic. Replacements, like a liquid concentrate version, can be expensive and Scarlett’s digestive system hasn’t reacted well to switching brands anyway.
“It’s heartbreaking every time to even make that decision of, do we do this or do we do that, because at the end of the day, it’s messing with her digestive system, and you don’t know how uncomfortable it’s been for her, or if she’ll even take it, not to mention the expense of trying new formula that may not work,” Beadle said.
Beadle, who is from Marion but moved to Des Moines shortly before giving birth to Scarlett, has her family and friends from other cities and other states constantly looking for formula for her.
She’s hit several roadblocks, including having to throw out some of Scarlett’s formula when the recall happened, and having an Amazon package full of formula and baby food stolen off of her porch.
“It’s become this whole treasure hunt just for food for my daughter,” said Beadle. “And it’s frustrating and heartbreaking.”
Beadle is getting by with a combination of breast milk she pumped and saved when Scarlett was first born, breast milk she was given by a friend and the liquid concentrate version of Scarlett’s formula.
The liquid version costs about $60 for a week’s supply, Beadle said, which is why she tries to ration it by also using the breast milk.
Beadle isn’t the only one struggling to find options to feed her baby, according to those who work with parents of young children.
Tasia Davidson said she’s seen a similar lack of supply in her work as the We Care Shop coordinator for YPN, a Cedar Rapids nonprofit that works with young parents and families. The shop provides essentials to parents who participate in YPN programs, but recently hasn’t always been able to fulfill formula-related needs.
Davidson said she has been recommending that parents try new brands when they can, but a lot of parents are worried their babies won’t adapt quickly to the change.
“We’ve had people calling and asking if we could help them with formula and we just either don’t have what they’re looking for, or we might have a different brand of it, but they don’t necessarily want to switch their kiddos to that different brand,” Davidson said.
Dawn Hunter, the director of client support for Bridgehaven Pregnancy Support Center, said a lot of the clients she works with had to change formula brands because of the recall, and some are still struggling to find what they need.
Through their Earn While You Learn program, Bridgehaven supplies parents with some basic needs, including formula, but the supply has been dwindling.
“We went through all of our stock of Similac formulas (after the recall) and we had to throw away a lot. It was really sad to see how much we had to get rid of … knowing that we already had a shortage on the shelf for our families,” Hunter said.
Kouessiba Anato usually gets one can of formula per week from Bridgehaven for her 5-month-old son, but after the recall, she had a hard time figuring out what to feed him.
Anato said she had several cans of formula that were affected by the recall that she had to get rid of. She works with the Iowa Women Infants & Children program to buy formula, and it took a few days from when the recall was announced to when WIC was able to help her get a replacement.
She ended up continuing to give her son, Godson, some of the recalled formula until she could find another option. Anato said she was scared of the possibility of Godson getting sick from the formula, but said she had to feed him something.
She didn’t use the recalled formula for long. She tried different options, including a natural yogurt mixture that ended up giving Godson diarrhea, and a different type of formula that one of her friends gave her.
Eventually, Anato was able to work with WIC to start getting a different brand of formula that had the same qualities as the one she was using before. Godson has adapted well to the new formula, and Anato is glad he’s been able to adjust.
“(Babies) are fragile. Any mistake can affect their life, can be fatal for them,” Anato said.
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