“I’ve started noticing a trend where there are certain states where there’s a plethora of formula available and a full inventory of baby formula, and then there’s this plethora of states where they’re completely sold out,” said said Riles, noting that New York is among the states where she has received a lot of requests.
According to federal data, New York consistently ranks among the top five states in terms of total births per year. In 2020, the last year with numbers, New Yorkers had more than 209,000 newborn mouths to feed. New York was not among the states hardest hit by formula shortages last week, according to a Bloomberg report. But about 69% of stores were out of stock.
Toni Mieses, a new mom who lives in Washington Heights, said she’s shunned social media in favor of having hawk-eyed family members watching the formula around town. Initially, Mieses used a Walmart brand recommended by her pediatrician. But about six weeks ago the store stopped allowing online shopping and Mieses didn’t have a Walmart nearby.
She switched to a Target brand, but had a similar problem.
“I would say about a month ago, that’s when it really started to dwindle on the shelves,” Mieses said.
Now her daughter is taking Enfamil, a brand that Mieses’ mother was able to find at a supermarket in East Harlem near her work. She said her mother, grandmother and stepfather were looking for the formula in other stores and asked their local supermarkets to reserve cans for them.
“So I feel a bit more confident now,” Mieses said.
While some babies need specialized formulas, in most cases healthy babies can switch formula brands, said Dr. Andrea Deierlein, nutrition and reproductive epidemiologist at the NYU School of Public Health.
“There might be a little transition period,” she said. “But the formulas are highly regulated in terms of the ingredients they must contain. So if you just compare formulas in terms of vitamins and minerals and different nutritional makeup, they’re very similar.
However, the shortage of infant formula has real consequences for the nutrition of children. Pediatrician Dr. Taisha Benjamin is chief medical officer for the Community Healthcare Network, which operates clinics for low-income patients in the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.
Benjamin said one of his patients takes Similac NeoSure, a brand for premature babies that provides more calories than regular formula. The brand was not recalled, but became hard to find due to pressure. So the child’s mother switched to regular formula.
“The baby may not be gaining enough weight,” Benjamin said, “but something is better than nothing.”