Shortage of baby formula is felt in Connecticut as some offer help

Lactation consultant Danielle Freeman has experience helping women start breastfeeding their babies after long intervals after birth – but for parents wondering if it’s an option to transition their babies through coming weeks while the formula is weak, she is quick to add that it is not a quick fix process usually taking a few months or more.

After a February recall by Abbott of Similac formula produced in Sturgis, Michigan, pinching global inventory as customers shop for alternative products, Connecticut is now grappling with an acute formula shortage. Abbott is one of four manufacturers that supply 90% of the US market, along with Nestlé USA, Mead Johnson and Perrigo.

The Food & Drug Administration announced this week that it had cleared Abbott to restart production of Sturgis, with the company warning it would take months to bring Similac inventories back to normal levels. Separately on Wednesday, U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, introduced legislation in Congress authorizing $28 million for the FDA to send inspectors overseas to review new suppliers who have formula available for export. to the United States.

The Connecticut Department of Public Health said last week it was working with alternative distributors and manufacturers for emergency relief supplies, without specifying what success it had had to date. DPH has released a list of approved alternatives to Abbott’s Similac product, advising parents to check with their local health clinic for help finding retailers who may have products in stock or ask their pediatricians for additional supplies. The department has a list of additional tips on its website at portal.ct.gov/dph/WIC.

For parents who find formula supplies in stores or online, the American Academy of Pediatricians advises people to buy no more than a two-week supply, stating that while everyone adheres to this rule of thumb, there should be enough supplies for the infant population until production. and imports fill the void.

As families scour stores, websites and social media for any inventory — some get help from strangers with a soft spot for their predicament — many mothers who breastfeed or pump irregularly have otherwise worked to make it their routine, according to Monica Belyea, board chair of the Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition.

“If they were breastfeeding and supplementing with formula, now they’re trying to exclusively breastfeed,” Belyea said. “Beyond the first, soon after the baby is born, it’s really hard to go back.”

Over the six months between October 2021 and last March, the Connecticut Department of Public Health recorded 16,662 births in the state. Add babies born in the previous six months since April 2021, and 35,419 babies were born in Connecticut over the 12 months through March.

Only 7% of Connecticut mothers have never given breast milk to their children, according to the latest DPH survey published online for the Connecticut Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System. That’s far lower than the national rate of 16% reported by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

For mothers who have never breastfed or who have switched exclusively to formula milk otherwise, it can take several weeks or more for the body to prepare itself to produce milk even with the help of medication, according to Freeman, the consultant in lactation based in Hamden.

“She’ll want to work with a lactation consultant to establish that routine,” Freeman said. “If it’s a longer period from when she had the baby or stopped, it may be a bit more work for her, but it’s possible.”

Freeman said mothers stop breastfeeding for a number of reasons, including job demands and attitudes; someone to turn to for a specific challenge; or a general lack of support at home or in wider circles. For those who never start, any of these obstacles can be a cause, as well as fears of discomfort or pain at the start of the diet.

Even mothers who have been breastfeeding from the start worry about supply disruptions in case they need it as a fallback option, according to Sarah Upton, a Middletown resident who is the Middlesex County coordinator for It Takes A Village.

Upton is among those who donated to Milk Bank Northeast, a nonprofit in Newton, Mass. which has local collection depots in Danbury, Farmington, Glastonbury, Guilford and New London, as well as two dozen others from Maryland to Maine. Information is online at milkbankne.org, with options such as drop-off sites or door-to-door pick-ups.

“They do a quick phone questionnaire and then they send you an insulated box and you schedule a pickup,” Upton said via email. “Super easy for the dealer.”

Ken Dixon contributed to this report. Includes earlier reports by Peter Yankowski.

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