Local pediatrician shares what you should and shouldn’t use as alternatives to baby formula

SPOKANE, Wash. — The search for baby formula has led to empty shelves and scrambling parents.

“It was between my husband and I, we went to seven different stores before we found a store that had any formula on the shelves,” Rachel Faulkner said.

The government promised solutions on Friday, but they cannot come sooner for families.

Parents are doing whatever they can to feed their babies. Some are even driving hours away to get specific brands of formula.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say ‘just breastfeed.’ It’s not that simple, it’s not,” Faulkner said.

Faulkner has been struggling to find formula since November. The shortage goes back months because of the pandemic and supply-chain issues. But now, a top producer has recalled some products and shut down its factory because of health and safety concerns.

Faulkner’s daughter Alethia is almost a year old, which means she can soon switch to whole milk.

“If you’re one of those parents who has a child who has turned one year of age and you don’t have an appointment for another three or four weeks, you are fine to transition them to whole milk unless you have a particular health concern,” said pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Kalisvaart of Spokane Pediatrics.

Kalisvaart says families should not be afraid of trying out new brands during the shortage, saying it’s OK to get away from name-brand products.

Families can also mix different brands to try and make formula last longer. She added that parents should call their pediatricians if they have questions and if they are desperate.

“A lot of times we do have samples in the office that we’re more than willing to give families in order to help them get through this,” Kalisvaart said.

Kalisvaart said it is very important that parents don’t dilute formula to make it last longer.

“Which can lead to low sodium levels in the children, leading things to like seizures and neurological issues also,” Kalisvaart said.

She warns against using formulas from other countries, saying they may not be FDA regulated. And do not use “do-it-yourself” recipes at home because there are vitamins in formula that you can’t make in your kitchen. She says parents also should not use goat milk.

“Goat’s milk actually lacks some essential nutrients and vitamins. Children can become anemic and actually have profound, even some neurological effects from not having proper nutrients,” Kalisvaart said.

If parents are still struggling, they can find donated breastmilk, but do it from a screened milk bank like the Northwest Mothers Milk Bank in Oregon, which provides milk for babies who have medical needs. Groups like Nuture Lactation on the South Hill can also help families find screened, donated breast milk if families are in dire need.

“They do really stringent screening on it to make sure there are no infections are passed and things like that. That’s what we recommend,” Kalisvaart said. “I know it’s going to be your gut instinct to help out somebody, but at the same time, you don’t want inadvertently potentially give the child something that could have lifelong consequences.”

Families can also look on social media for others giving away or selling formula as well as check smaller stores, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Toddler formulas are also not recommended for infants, Kalisvaart said, however, the AAP said if absolutely necessary, it can be safe for a few days.

While moms like Faulkner wait for solutions, she’s doing what she can to help feed Alethia.

“I work at a thrift store, so sometimes they have formula come in and I can get it there. It’s been frustrating” Faulkner said.

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