Empty shelves as baby formula shortage grows worse

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) --- A national shortage of baby formula is putting a strain on families. Experts say the problem began during the pandemic and grew worse amid supply chain issues and product recalls.

Abbott Nutrition recalled several batches of powdered formulas like Similac, Alimentum and EleCare. The recall followed consumer complaints about possible bacterial infections in infants. Soon after, an infant died and the recall was expanded.

It's estimated that about 30% of baby formula is out of stock across the country. It's a huge challenge for parents who need a certain brand or are trying to stay within a budget.

"It's very sad and frustrating," said Sylvia Ramirez, a first-time mom who lives in Waupaca County.

Ramirez says this weekend, she and her husband will have to drive two hours to the Milwaukee area to look for the baby formula they need for their 8-month-old daughter, Anna-Marie.

"You feel as a failure of a mother when you can't go to the store and buy your formula and it's not on the shelf," said Ramirez. She's been forced to switch brands twice due to formula shortages…most recently she switched to a store brand at Sam's Club.

She says her baby has been on the new formula for two weeks and now the store is out of it in her area.

"This weekend we're hoping to travel down south to Milwaukee and Waukesha where they say they still have it and get enough so we can at least survive for the next two to three months," she said.

Ramirez hopes to find what she needs but Milwaukee area organizations say formula shortages are an issue statewide.

"It's effecting our mothers greatly," said Melinda Wilcoxson of Bellies and Babees, an organization that helps connect mothers across Milwaukee County to resources they need. "We ourselves are having hard times finding formula for our clients because that is one of the services that we offer to them," said Wilcoxson.

For women who can't breast feed, having easy access to formula is crucial. "Some women don't produce milk, some babies don't latch so the formula is the only way to get nutrition," said Wilcoxson.

For Ramirez, she's holding on to hope that things will turn around soon. "I don't really know how much longer we're going to have to deal with this but it's very nerve racking," she said.

Major retailers like Walmart, Target CVS and Walgreens are limiting the amount of formula you can purchase at one time. Some moms say other stores are price-gouging. For parents having trouble finding what they need, there are organizations working to help families.

Bellies and Babees suggests parents search different areas for what they need. If transportation is an issue, the organization says Instacart could help get your order delivered to you. Experts also recommend taking safety precautions and consulting a doctor before switching your baby's formula or trying any alternatives.

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