Moms Turn to Social Media, Drive Miles for Products amid Baby Formula Shortage: 'It's Very, Very Scary'

Moms open up to PEOPLE about the difficulty they’re having feeding their children as the nationwide baby formula shortage worsens

Grocery store shelves where baby formula is typically stocked are locked and nearly empty in Washington, DC, on May 11, 2022. - It's a parent's worst nightmare. The United States is in the grip of a severe shortage of baby formula -- with a mass product recall aggravating pandemic supply chain woes -- sending families on sometimes desperate hunts for the vital supplies. And it's been going on for months, according to Sara Khan, the mother of three children ages 10 years, seven years and six months.

A feeling of desperation is lingering over many parents as the nationwide baby formula shortage worsens each day. For mothers who are unable to breastfeed their children — for several possible reasons — formula is the only option for their infant to eat and obtain the necessary nutrition.

As new data by Datasembly showed the national out-of-stock rate hit a high of 43 percent for the first week of May, parents are doing whatever they can to find alternatives while stores remain empty.

"I go driving up to 50 miles to look around, checking online, asking my friends who live in different states to see if they can find formula and ship it out to me," Rita Kailani, whose 2-year-old daughter must be formula-fed due to an underlying disease, tells PEOPLE. "There are a few Facebook groups too, where people have been selling formula online and I just follow them and see if they have the ones that we use."

"You do what you got to do to feed your child," she adds. "I'm not trying to buy people out in the stores, but if my child is only formula fed, and can't eat anything else then yeah, I'm gonna have to. I have to support my child."

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baby formula
baby formula

Kailani explains the added difficulty to find formula because her daughter needs a hypoallergenic product. She says she's beginning to panic as she notices people who don't need formula are buying the products and "selling them for triple the price on eBay."

And as her home supply of formula runs low, she says the shortage is becoming a nightmare as pediatricians tell her, "There's nothing we can do."

Lindsey Sehrer, a mom of two, was hoping to breastfeed both her children but quickly learned from a lactation specialist that she was unable to produce.

While she successfully formula-fed her now 2-year-old daughter, she tells PEOPLE that amid the formula shortage, feeding her 7-month-old son has been even more of a hassle because he requires specialty formula to accommodate his bad reflux.

Sehrer has relied on driving to nearby cities in hopes of finding stores with formula in stock and asking friends and family to check their local stores as well.

"It's a very, very scary thing to walk into Target and see, the shelves are completely bare," she says, explaining that buying other products than her son's typical formula brand is "nerve wracking" because "you don't know if that formula is really going to work for your child."

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The nationwide shortage heightened in March when Abbott Nutrition's powdered baby formula was recalled due to possible contamination of cronobacter and salmonella. The recall led to several retailers limiting customer purchases as panicked families attempted to stock up.

"After the recall I noticed very quickly that [stores] were rationing formula and that immediately just put fear in my eyes," Sehrer says. "When I wake up in the middle of the night to give him a bottle I'll try and check online because a lot of times, companies will do their restocks in the middle of the night, but even then, it says out of stock, and I haven't seen the formula in stock in store in months."

Sehrer admits it's becoming difficult to have to pay the extremely high prices for any formula brands available but says she doesn't have "a backup plan" to feed her son. She notes that, while she knows not to, she's seen other moms on social media groups take desperate and unsafe measures to give their kids formula.

"It's incredibly scary to see that some people are making homemade formula and watering down their formula and all these things that are just completely unsafe for children," she says.

Health experts warn that homemade formula is dangerous for infants as it's not FDA-regulated and held to high standards as commercial infant formulas.

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baby formula shortage

Devon Miller tells PEOPLE that she feels lucky that her son is pushing 1 year old and can hopefully transition to cow's milk as she's down to her last week's worth of formula with no signs of finding alternatives to buy.

She admits that there are a lot of parents feeling "mom guilt" amid the shortage because of their inability to breastfeed, noting that her son has severe eczema and couldn't breastfeed.

"I worry for the other formula moms who are feeling a lot of guilt for not breastfeeding, especially now if you can't find the formula to feed your baby," she says. "I initially had that mom shame of 'Should I have tried harder?', but I look at my son's skin now versus how red it used to be and know formula was the better option than breastmilk. That's why I would rather stop formula all together now at 11 months, and let someone else have it."

Though options seem scarce, pediatricians are offering tips and alternatives for parents struggling to feed their children.

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