As families navigate recalls and supply chain challenges, our region is feeling the effects of the national baby formula shortage.

Stores across the Louisville area are seen with empty formula shelves and purchasing limitations in the baby aisles, resulting in parents searching for new products or methods of feeding their children.

The low availability of formula is forcing families to consider alternatives, some that may not be entirely safe or healthy. Laura Serke is a registered dietitian and lactation consultant with UofL Health – UofL Hospital – Center for Women & Infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and aims to educate families on the risks of some practices and safer options.

While our community faces this shortage, it may be tempting to dilute formula to make the product last longer.

“We definitely are concerned that we are going to have parents diluting down formulas which can be very dangerous,” said Serke. “We’ve seen kids in the past in the emergency room having seizures because of diluted formula.”

Additionally, homemade formula recipes are circulating the internet as temporary solutions to this shortage. Homemade formula is not a safe alternative, for it may have too many or too few nutrients needed for your child and either extreme can make infants very sick.

“We worry about problems with the stomach or intestines, the kidneys, or even the liver,” Serke said. “Dehydration can happen quickly in infants.”

Parents should shop different stores including grocery stores, super centers, drug stores, and reputable online vendors.  For each formula, there are often several forms available including liquid ready to feed, liquid concentrate, and powder.

Serke pointed out “While these vary in price, the most important thing to know is the proper preparation method and handling precautions.”

Wash hands, sanitize the feeding equipment, and clean a workspace in a food safe area like the kitchen.  Check the expiration date and if the formula was included in the recall. Liquid formulas are sterile until they are opened.  Ready to feed formula requires no mixing. Liquid concentrate formula must be mixed half and half with safe water. If the rim of the concentrate can is exposed, clean it before opening and use a clean can opener.

Powder formula is not sterile and should be mixed with safe water heated to 158 F (70 C) then rapidly cooled in an ice water bath. If preparing for later use and unable to use heated water, use chilled safe water to bring up to refrigerator temperature more quickly. If preparing for immediate use and unable to use heated water, mix with safe water.

It’s important to pour only the needed formula in the feeding container and keep all remaining formula stored in the refrigerator. Opened or prepared liquid formula can be stored for up to 48 hours. Prepared powder formula should be mixed each time it is needed.  If that is not possible, it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Freezer tape is an easy way to label “use by” dates and times.

“While we all have certain brands we like, parents should be open to using other brands of formula,” said Serke.

For many types of formula, there are several reputable name brands and generic store brands with very similar ingredients and nutritional value.

“There are often standard, sensitive/gentle, or even basic hypoallergenic formulas on the shelf,” said Serke. “The preterm and elemental hypoallergenic formulas are hard to find and should be saved for infants with a medical need.”

If you’re struggling to find your preferred formula, we recommend reaching out to your pediatric provider to find the best alternative for your child’s needs. Locally, the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) are working beyond their regular operations to ensure family needs are met. Other assistance programs include Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Metro United Way, and Feeding America Food Banks.

If you are breastfeeding, but perhaps you’re struggling and worried about facing the formula shortage, talk to a certified lactation consultant or the local La Leche League about breastfeeding support. UofL Health – UofL Hospital – Center for Women & Infants offers free breastfeeding support. For information or lactation assistance, call 502-562-6081.

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Laura Serke

Laura Serke, RD, CSPCC, LD, IBCLC, is a registered dietitian in the Neonatal ICU and Women’s Care Area at UofL Health - UofL Hospital. She is a certified specialist in Pediatric Critical Care Nutrition and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and graduated from the University of Kentucky with a dual degree in dietetics and exercise science. In the NICU, Laura is active with the infant nutrition technicians and is the unit’s lead human milk analyzer. Laura is passionate about patient-family centered care and practice improvement.

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