• Charlene Sims, Journal staff

Health department assists in the search for infant formula

Updated: Jul 22

PLEASANTON – As the new mothers across the nation scramble to find baby formula, Linn County Health Department continues to work on locating formula for mothers and babies in the county..

Vicki Brown, director of the Infants and Children Supplemental Food Program (WIC) for the health department, said that the health department was trying to find places that do have the formula and are connecting mothers with those locations.

She said she was shocked that the closing of one plant that makes formula has made it so hard to find. Health department workers had been searching for other locations that produce formula but found no alternative.

Brown said that they are referring mothers to doctors’ offices who often have sample formula, and whenever they get a tip from someone about a place that has a stock of it for sale they give out that information.

She said that at many stores it is on a first-come basis, and they will not hold it if someone calls for it.

A 12.5-ounce can of formula can feed a young infant for two to three days. Because WIC is a supplemental program for income eligible mothers, they give vouchers for nine cans a month. An opened can of formula is only good for one month.

The vouchers are in debit-card form, and while the program did specify Similac originally, that has been changed to include other brands.

Often mothers are not able to get out and get it immediately because of transportation issues. This can put rural mothers at a higher disadvantage in trying to get to a store and purchase formula.

Brown said that if shoppers come across Similac Advanced or Sensitive with an orange label and want to help local mothers out, they should purchase it and take it to Concern Inc. in Mound City. That gesture would be a donation because they would not be reimbursed for their purchase, and the health department is not allowed to directly distribute the product.

Brown recommends that mothers try to develop a network of people, family members and friends, who can check at stores for the formula. She said she knows one mother who had family in Washington sending her formula.

Some mothers have had to take their babies to the hospital or have resorted to homemade formulas.

Brown said that a big concern for her is that mothers might dilute the formula to stretch it and that could be harmful to the baby’s nutrition. When asked about other options like homemade formula like mothers used in the 1950s before the advent of commercial formulas, Brown said that the WIC program and health department could not recommend any of those options.

Brown said that the WIC program promotes breastfeeding of infants unless there is a medical reason not to. WIC agencies are required to create policies and procedures to ensure breastfeeding support and assistance is provided throughout the prenatal and postpartum period.

Besides the fact that mothers who breastfeed do not need to worry about the availability or cost of formula, breastfeeding has many other pluses for both the mother and infant.

According to information provided by U.S. Department of Agriculture on the WIC website, breastmilk is the best food for babies. It has all the nutrients that a baby needs for proper growth and development. It is easier for babies to digest and is always the right temperature. Breastmilk may reduce the risk of ear infections and colds and may reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes and other diseases.

Breastfeeding can help mothers recover more quickly from childbirth, reduce the risk for certain breast and ovarian cancers, and may help mothers lose weight after childbirth.

Shortage of formula began on Feb. 17, when the Abbott Nutrition plant in Sturgis, Mich., which produces Similac Advanced, voluntarily recalled powder formulas produced there. The plant closed to make necessary changes to their plant. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not find the deadly bacteria near the production line, Abbot did admit to lax safety protocols. Several babies were sickened and two died after drinking the formula.

At similacrecall.com, Abbot issued a voluntary recall of powder formulas – including Similac, Alimentum and EleCare – manufactured in Sturgis. The recall does not include any metabolic deficiency nutrition formulas.

The Abbott website reports that the lot numbers that should not be used start with a 22 through 37, not including the letter at the beginning. Example: L31465SH00. If your lot number is outside of this range, your lot is not impacted. The dates on the recalled powder formula have an expiration date of April 1, 2022, or later.

No Abbott liquid formulas are included in the recall, nor are powder formulas or nutrition products from other facilities.

National Public Radio reported that FDA Commissioner Robert Califf testified to Congress on Wednesday that the Abbott plant is “several weeks away” from reopening.

There are other options offered by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, hhs.gov, a few of them are:

  • Call 211, the United Way helpline, they may be able to connect a person to a source of formula.

  • Find an accredited milk bank through the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA), www.hmbana.org, that distributes donated breast milk to mothers in need. Please note that some may require a prescription from a medical professional.

Brown said that she and anyone at the health department want to help mothers find formula. It does not matter whether they are in the WIC program. The Linn County Health Department number is 913-352-6640.

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