PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Parents across Tampa Bay, and the nation, are in a desperate dash to find the formula they need to feed their babies. It’s a topic ABC Action News has been covering for months since a Similac recall and existing supply chain issues started crippling baby formula supplies.
Local parents said the shortages are getting worse and bare shelves are becoming more common.
St. Petersburg mom Kimberly Culbertson can't believe how difficult it is to find formula to feed her 6-month-old son, Carson. She’s even driving hours to find it.
“It’s literally like a two-and-a-half-hour drive sometimes. Sarasota, Bradenton, Tampa, Brandon. We have done all of those drives,” she explained.
More often than not, she is finding empty shelves as her cupboard supply of Enfamil Neuro Pro Gentlease dwindles. Culbertson is down to one package containing two tubs.
“Which he goes through one tub every four days,” she elaborated.
Culbertson’s family in Kansas and Illinois are now shipping her formula whenever they can find it at their local stores.
Bradenton mom Katie Moore is also making daily supermarket runs.
“We check Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, Winn Dixie, Publix. I check every day,” she said.
Moore is now feeding her 6-month-old son whatever she can find. Right now, that’s three different types of formula including Similac Advance, Similac 360 Total Care, and Similac Pro-Advance.
“I’m just hoping for the best that whatever recipe changes are within the formulas he won’t be reactive to,” she added.
Moore has found better luck getting pre-mixed liquid formula, but it can be much more expensive.
“He drinks 6-8 ounces a bottle, five bottles a day. That comes out to $100 a week. That’s a lot,” she said.
In Hudson, Cheyanne Steelman is also struggling to find formula for her 3-month-old. That’s surprising to her because she uses a typically easier-to-find brand: Parent’s Choice, Walmart’s generic version.
“It makes you want to cry. You kind of look at the empty shelves and it breaks your heart a little bit,” Steelman said with emotion.
On Friday, she checked in with Walmart stores ranging from Spring Hill to Tampa and could not find any available cans.
A large Similac recall is compounding an existing supply chain shortage, and with many stores now limiting supplies, the few cans available are often quickly snatched up in-store and online.
“When we buy off of Amazon.com or Costco.com, they’ll let us add it to the cart but when we go to pay for it, it says it’s back-ordered and will be there in five weeks. That doesn’t help us right now,” Culbertson added.
In just the past two weeks, Datasembly’s Grocery Price Index shows baby formula jumped from being out of stock 31% of the time in April to being out of stock 40% of the time now. That’s significant, according to pediatrician Lisa Cronin at North Pinellas Children’s Medical Center in Westchase.
“This formula shortage is really causing a lot of stress and anxiety for parents,” she explained. “As parents, our first instinct is to feed our children.”
Cronin suggests parents switch to any generic formula they can find that’s similar to the product you use.
“These generic versions of formula are safe. Formulas are tested and evaluated so strictly in the United States that switching to a generic equivalent is going to be so close to the same thing and your baby shouldn’t even skip a beat,” she added.
If you’re on a specialty formula, Cronin suggests talking to your baby’s pediatrician who may have an emergency stash or a formula company contact that can quickly ship some to you.
What Cronin doesn’t want to see is parents getting so desperate that they go to extreme measures.
“It is very dangerous and very severe things can happen to babies who are taking homemade formula or formula diluted or not mixed property according to the formula recipe,” Cronin explained.
She also said parents should not feed babies under 12 months of age whole cow's milk, almond milk, or goat’s milk, which may not have the correct ingredients or electrolytes to help a baby grow and thrive. Cronin said doing those things can cause seizures, severe vomiting, or brain complications in infants.
Formula manufacturers are working to speed up production, but Tampa Bay parents tell ABC Action News it can’t happen soon enough.
“I really feel the formula shortage is the new toilet paper. We are just in dire need over here,” said Moore.
Culbertson said she’s also run into people taking advantage of the reduced ability to find formula.
“We’ve been noticing people who do not have kids buying formula and trying to sell it to us on Facebook. It’s kind of awful. It’s pretty bad,” she added with dismay.
Pediatricians also suggest trying not to hoard or panic-buy formula which can make shortages worse. They recommend you only buy two to three weeks ahead, if possible.