Laurie Alexander, of West Price Hill, is researching how to get baby formula from outside the United States.
She’s three months pregnant, and while she’s breastfed her three babies, she has always had to supplement with formula. The shortage of baby formula now is worrying her, even though her delivery date is six months out and federal officials say help is on the way.
“It’s very scary,” Alexander said. “I’m looking at the U.K. and Canada. I’ve been trying to stock up on it early.”
The nationwide shortage is alarming parents of babies who need it. In the Cincinnati area, nonprofits that help lower-income moms and women of color say the problem is exacerbated for their clients, who are suffering the most from ever-rising costs with inflation and often, a lack of transportation.
Baby formula shortage:White House, Congress take steps to address shortage. Don’t expect relief overnight
‘Critical need’:military plane delivers infant formula from Europe to Indy
Alexander said baby formula costs, including shipping and delivery, are hard to manage, but she’s trying to get cans little by little. She and her husband both work and are struggling with rising food prices for their family as it is. Her boys are 5, 8 and 6. Her husband has three kids, 16, 14 and 11, and the cost of feeding the family has skyrocketed in recent months. Even basics, such as eggs, bread and milk are hard to maintain, she said, and the family does not qualify for federal assistance.
“It’s crazy,” she said. “This is all coming out-of-pocket.”
Groups that help moms, kids say clients’ health is at risk
Santa Maria Community Services President and CEO H.A. Musser, Jr., said the organization’s employees have seen the baby formula shortage impact the families it serves in Cincinnati’s Price Hill neighborhoods.
“It is especially difficult for families that are living in poverty and those who are facing language barriers. We do not yet know the health and economic consequences they may face if the shortage continues,” Musser said. The nonprofit helps families attain their educational, financial and health goals. Last year, 43% of its clients were Hispanic or Latino.
Nutrition experts are noting the disparity for women of color and those who have lower incomes.
“There’s no question in my mind that the formula shortage is disproportionately impacting lower-income women, women of color and women in our urban and rural versus suburban areas,” Kate Bauer, associate professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health said in a May 18 Michigan Public Health News Center article.
Lower-income women often live paycheck to paycheck, rely on public benefits to buy formula and wouldn’t have had the financial resources to stock up on formula “months ago, when they saw this coming,” she said.
“It’s a huge, huge problem,” said Sophia Bosse, a registered dietician and certified lactation counselor with Cradle Cincinnati Connections, a support to Cradle Cincinnati, which provides resources and education to pregnant people and new moms in efforts to curb infant mortality. “We’ve definitely got quite a few families having trouble not only finding their baby’s formula but also another, equivalent formula.”
Bosse said a lot of the clients receive a supplemental nutrition benefit through WIC, the Women, Infants and Children program, which distributes about half the infant formula in the United States. But that doesn’t guarantee enough formula for their babies.
WIC often comes with guidelines that say what brand and how much of infant formula a mother can purchase at a time.
The program gives families vouchers to purchase formula, said Janelle McClain, executive director of Cincinnati-based nonprofit Breastfeeding Outreach for Our Beautiful Sisters. If the formula is not available, moms may have to use their regular food assistance card to buy formula at another store, and that compounds problems of affording other groceries for their families, she said.
There could be some relief coming: On Wednesday, the Ohio Department of Health said it has applied for waivers from the federal government to give low-income mothers more choices when selecting baby formula.
‘There is no formula’
Sister Patricia Cruise, president and CEO of the outreach ministry Healthy Moms and Babes, said help can’t come soon enough.
“This is a very serious, serious, serious issue. It is at a critical point,” she said. “There is no formula.”
The ministry serves moms and babies in 18 neighborhoods in Cincinnati’s urban core. Most are Black women and their babies, but the organization has seen a sharp increase in the past few years of Latino clients, Cruise said. Altogether, Healthy Moms and Babes serves about 2,000 babies and their moms a year. It includes a van service that brings basic needs, like diapers and pregnancy tests, period products and referrals for assistance, to each neighborhood so that moms don’t have to worry about driving costs or transportation.
Most clients follow the Healthy Moms and Babes Facebook group for tips and posts about van stops, Cruise said, so the group has shared U.S. Health and Human Services bulletins about what to do – or not do – while the formula shortage is happening.
Breastfeeding outreach group sees client uptick
Breastfeeding Outreach for Our Beautiful Sisters has seen an uptick in clients who want to learn how best to breastfeed since the baby formula shortage started, McClain said.
The organization helps pregnant women with breastfeeding education and support and stays with them after their babies are born. About 97% of its clients are African American women, records show, and about 90% qualify for government assistance.
Last month, a woman who’d finished a breastfeeding education session told others in the group she planned to breastfeed because of the issues with formula recalls and shortages.
Breastfeeding Outreach for Our Beautiful Sisters partners with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Cradle Cincinnati.
Shawn Graves of Anderson Township became a client while pregnant more than two years ago and still occasionally breastfeeds her child. She’s relieved she has been able to breastfeed, said she’d always planned to do so, but she’s worried about Facebook friends who are scrambling for formula.
“I don’t think formula should even cost! Everybody has to eat,” she said. “I wanted to try to jump and donate if I could, but I don’t think I have enough (breast milk).”
Donating breast milk, baby formula
The Ohio Health Mothers’ Milk Bank in Columbus has not seen an increase in requests for breast milk, but it has seen more people wanting to give, said spokesperson Katie Logan. Most of the bank’s milk goes to hospitals for infants in neonatal intensive care units, she said, and a small portion goes to parents who reach out with a need.
To receive the milk, parents must have a prescription from their pediatrician, Logan said. She recommended that parents concerned about the formula shortage call their pediatrician for advice. If they’re advised to try donor milk, they may call the OhioHealth Mothers’ Milk Bank at 614-566-0630 to begin the process.
Cruise said Healthy Moms and Babes occasionally gets a small donation of formula but has to be cautious about expiration dates. She encouraged those who want to donate formula to get in touch with Healthy Moms and Babes at 513-591-5600.
“If there is access to formula,” she said, “we have the ability with our mobile home and our cars to get that directly to our babies who need formula immediately.”