As baby formula shortage worsens, health officials warn parents against unsafe alternatives

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A worsening baby formula shortage is forcing some parents to take drastic measures that health experts warn could be harmful to babies.

In response, many major retailers have instituted purchase limits.

Some parents are trying to stretch their formula by mixing it with more water, others are trying to make their own formula at home; both of which could be very dangerous.

And people who are trying to help by buying formula to donate, may in fact be making the problem worse.

Sherrie Tussler is the executive director at the Hunger Task Force. She said, "I'm hearing moms expressing panic, 'I don't know what I'm going to do, I only have a week's supply of formula left. I've been to every store in my area.'"

But that mom actually lived in New Jersey. She called Tussler because she was that desperate for formula. Sherrie connected her to resources in her area.

Tussler had 20 pallets of formula a few weeks ago, now she's down to one. She said, "I come and look in here, see if I can find a can or two because a can or two will maybe get them through that crisis moment."

Specialty formulas are most scarce, but even standard formulas are in short supply. The latest data from Datasembly shows 40% of baby formula is out of stock nationwide.

Tussler says some people are buying up what would have gone to three or four parents. Some national chains have instituted purchase limits to try and keep supply on the shelves.

Some parents are trying to stretch what they have, but formulas are made with very specific combinations of calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.

Camila Martin, a registered pediatric dietitian with UW Health, said, "So if this is diluted with water, this can actually be really dangerous to an infant."

Martin says store-bought formula goes through a rigorous process in order to get FDA approval. But she adds, "homemade formulas can be quite dangerous, and have resulted in hospitalizations for patients that I've seen in the past."

Dalvery Blackwell of the African American Breastfeeding Network says this formula shortage has forced many women to rethink how they're feeding their babies. "We have noticed a number of women who are contacting our office to ask for additional support to actually re-lactate their baby."

Martin, the pediatric dietician, says parents should work with a registered dietician or nutritionist to find alternatives, even a primary care physician.

The Hunger Task Force has an interactive map to find locations that have formula. And Tussler says, "The Women, Infants, and Children program has always been a supplier of formula, and they may have some. They may have your brand."

Tussler says anyone with surplus formula can drive right up and drop it off at the Hunger Task Force at 5000 W. Electric Ave.

But if you're out shopping and you see formula on the shelves, she says do not buy it to donate even if you're trying to help. Tussler says leave it there so parents who are looking for it there will find it.

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