Even The Woodlands is feeling the baby formula hunger pangs

By: Sean K. Thompson
| Published 05/13/2022


THE WOODLANDS, TX – Oftentimes, national headlines tend to lose the immediacy in our local bubble; the earthshaking, business-crushing lockdowns other states endured during the height of the pandemic predominately stopped at the borders of Montgomery County, for example.

‘Unprecedented’ shortage has parents scrambling to find nutrition for their infants

However, one particular nationwide news story is affecting every parent of a youngster in The Woodlands. The baby formula shortage that is dominating headlines everywhere has reached our own shelves.

What caused the national shortage?

At face value, a recall was the catalyst. Abbott, a major producer of infant formula, was investigated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after the deaths of two infants. The FDA and CDC stated that the fatal infections stemmed from a pathogen found in Abbott’s Michigan plant. As a result, several brands of formula were recalled. It should be noted that Abbott has maintained that sealed containers found at the home in question were found to not have the pathogen, only an open container, and has suggested that the pathogen was environmental to the home and not its plant. The investigation is ongoing.

Ordinarily, recalls don’t have such immediate and overreaching results. However, current supply chain issues coupled with increased demand for formula as more families are coming out of pandemic-based sedation caught suppliers and distributors flat-footed and short-handed, creating a perfect storm of rapidly emptying shelves in a panic scenario reminiscent of the toilet paper shortage at the onset of the COVID pandemic.

A contributing factor to the panic-buying is the barely-monitored and regulated postings on social media and television network sensationalism; panic sells newspapers and commercials, and panic empties shelves.

Is The Woodlands experiencing a shortage?

Amazingly, yes. Woodlands Online spoke with a local OB/GYN, Dr. Marco Giannotti, who has a private practice and works closely with Memorial Hermann Medical Center – The Woodlands. “I actually started asking patients if they had noticed any unstocked shelves, and they informed me that they indeed were noticing significant shortages,” he said.

Giannotti, who has been an obstetrician/gynecologist for 29 years – 25 of them here in The Woodlands – describes this shortage as “unprecedented.” He relates stories of his patients traveling “from Costco to Walmart to CVS” and finding empty shelves, or grabbing every can they can if they do happen to luck upon a stocked-up store. “A difference between the toilet paper shortage and this is, as adults we could make do with small amounts of or alternatives to toilet paper,” he said. “Here, it’s mothers, tired, harried, postpartum, recovering from childbirth, and worried who are experiencing the fears of how they can feed their infants.”

What are some ways to ease the burden of the shortage?

This is a tricky question. Some non-experts such as Bette Midler have taken to social media to suggest relying purely on breastfeeding. Giannotti stresses that sometimes breastfeeding simply can’t happen, or happen enough to be a fix-all.

“Some mother’s simply can’t breastfeed,” he said. “Sometimes, babies have particular nutrition needs that can’t be fully met by breast milk and need formula supplementation. Even before this shortage, many mothers rely on particular formulas based on needs like allergies; sometimes the nutritional intake needs to be soy-based, for instance.”

Fortunately, Memorial Hermann – The Woodlands has a premier lactation service that Giannotti and his practice make full use of. “We can help, even weeks after the typical learning period, teach women how to properly breastfeed. This can also be a positive opportunity for those mothers who were on the fence about whether or not they wanted to breastfeed; we can address their concerns and also help extend the breastfeeding period for those mothers who already do so.”

When asked about the possibility of mothers using home-recipe alternatives, Giannotti stresses that he has heard from several pediatricians that it is not a good idea. “OBGYNs and pediatricians talk to each other, and they’ve told me that they can’t recommend that families create their own formulas, nor should they dilute their existing formulas to stretch them out. While it might help in the short term, the long-term effects could be dangerous.”

In fact, the Food and Drug Administration issued this warning on the matter:

The FDA advises parents and caregivers to not make or feed homemade infant formula to infants. Homemade infant formula recipes have not been evaluated by the FDA and may lack nutrients vital to an infant’s growth. It is important for parents and caregivers to remember that infant formula can be the sole source of nutrition for infants and is strictly regulated by the FDA.

Dr. Giannotti reveals that several Facebook groups have sprung up as mothers help each other. “I suggest those searching for formula find those groups on Facebook, or order through Amazon, as long as they can confirm the authenticity and safety of what they purchase.” He is joyful in hearing about the number of mothers who – despite their own trepidations – form a communal bond to ensure maximum benefit for their children.

When can we see the shelves fill back up?

“This is a tough situation, especially for postpartum mothers,” said Giannotti. “People tend to panic-buy, and that coupled with how quickly this situation came about, practically with no warning, made this an odd predicament that largely went unnoticed until it was too late.”

A best-guess scenario is that this situation could last for another two months. Not only is time needed for the Abbott plant in Michigan to resolve its issues and start back up – a conservative estimate being about two weeks – but then enough of the product has to be manufactured, packaged, and distributed.

“There is hope around the corner,” said Giannotti. “As long as people use their common sense and common courtesy, and as long as we have resources like my practice and the wonderful people at Memorial Hermann here in The Woodlands, with good judgment these families can get through this.”

Comments •
Log In to Comment