‘This is not fun’

Local parents trade, search for formula amid shortage

Cori Woodard is seen here with her daughter. (Provided photo — Cori Woodard)

SARANAC LAKE — As the national baby formula shortage continues, some parents in the North Country are driving long distances in search of baby formula, neighbors are volunteering time to hunt at big box stores and parents are trading formula over social media. Meanwhile, some infants are going without the healthiest formula they need, and one mother is urging parents to check formula produced by Abbott Laboratories for recalls.

The current formula shortage was caused by a product recall from Abbott, one of the country’s largest suppliers, but Cori Woodard of Keene said formula’s been harder to find for much longer. When her 2-and-a-half-year-old son was on formula in 2020, there were shortages then, too, she said.

“It started when COVID started but it’s picked up in the past few months,” Woodard said.

Now, she and her husband, Nick, are searching for the Enfamil brand Gentlease formula their 7-month-old daughter needs for best digestion. It’s a common formula, but with the shortage, it’s been really hard to find.

“Before, it was like, if you went to one store and they didn’t have it, if you went to another one, they would have it,” Cori said. “But now it’s kind of hit-or-miss and you have to get there as soon as the shipment gets in.”

Cori said a can will last her a day, and then she’s on the hunt again. The search is constantly resetting. Sometimes it will take a day or two before she can find more and her daughter will go without it for a bit.

Cori said she keeps breast milk stored for those days, but because it causes gas, her daughter can’t eat as much as she needs. The gas and the hunger make her “cranky,” Cori said. That’s difficult for a developing child and difficult for herself and her husband.

“If we give her anything else she gets fussy,” Cori said.

Usually, Cori said they were always able to find some through family or friends. But recently, even their network of shoppers has hit dead ends. Cori said this week was the most desperate she’s been, so she turned to Facebook and asked for help.

She doesn’t have a car, so she can’t go searching from store-to-store herself, and most stores have a three-can limit, Cori said. But she said people have found ways around that and some are stockpiling formula, hiding it in the store and coming back to buy it.

“Don’t buy more than you need,” Cori pleaded. “If you have extra, reach out to mothers around the area.”

Cori has dealt with the low supply of formula the entire time she has been a mother to young ones, and she hopes an end is in sight.

“Hopefully very soon, because this is not fun,” she said.

A recalled can

Brittany Nicole, of Moira, said she had been given a can of Similac by her pediatrician because they were out of the brand her 2-month-old son drinks. Similac is produced by Abbott Laboratories, the company with a plant in Michigan that was shut down by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in February because of a bacteria contamination, which hospitalized several infants and killed two. So she double-checked her can of formula.

“The lot code on the box did not match the recall code and it appeared to be safe, but once I opened the box, the lot code that was stamped on the can itself completely matched the recall,” she wrote in a message. “So I called the pediatrician to let them know and they ended up calling everyone else they had given the samples to.”

She said to check the lot numbers on the can instead of the box. Nicole said she started the Facebook page “Northern New York Formula Exchange” to share this information and “because (she has) seen how helpful people are willing to be right now.”

On the exchange, parents trade formula, people with extra can share it and people searching for specific types can request cans.

“Nobody wants babies to be hungry and a lot of people are willing to help each other find the formula they need right now, or even share extra they might have,” Nicole wrote.

The Facebook group was only started on Thursday, but it has over 100 members and numerous posts.

“The page has been going great already,” Nicole wrote. “I’ve seen exchanges made, and I have someone from the page on their way to my house as we speak to pick up a sample can of Nutramigen formula that I won’t be using.”

Nicole’s son drinks Enfamil brand Infant formula. It’s not a specialty formula, but Nicole said even that’s been difficult to find.

“It has recently gotten really bad in this area,” Nicole wrote in a message. “In March when he was born I had no problem finding formula, but now I rarely see the kind I am looking for. I’ve spent a lot of time, mostly at night when my kids are sleeping, searching online for formula to come back in stock to order because it’s so hard to find in the stores now.”

An extra pair of eyes

Becky LaDue, of Saranac Lake, said she had been seeing the news of the formula shortage and gas prices being historically high, so when she was going to Plattsburgh on Friday, she decided to see if anyone needed her to look for formula at a big box store. She didn’t realize how large the need was until she posted and saw responses rolling in.

LaDue’s kids are in high school now, but she remembers when they were newborns and needed formula. Back then, her husband didn’t know what kind to buy so he bought five different types.

“I just remember feeling like ‘Oh my goodness, thank God,'” she said. “But what happens if your baby, that’s the only way they’re fed, and there’s no formula around?”

LaDue said she doesn’t want the focus on her. She wants people to be thinking of and helping out the parents who are searching for formula in a rural area during a national shortage. She added that it was tough for her to hunt around for formula. She had to go to several stores and still couldn’t find everything. She said she can’t imagine how scary it is for the parents.

The Sam’s Club store manager was helpful, LaDue said. The day before, he told her there was a mother in the store with a crying baby who was searching for formula, so he was sympathetic. He was calling other stores in town, as well as Plattsburgh’s social services office, to tell her where to go looking.

LaDue was able to find some of the specific formulas mothers were looking for, but not a lot of them. The formula shelves in Plattsburgh were spotty and some cans even had locks and alarms applied to them to prevent theft. There were also some three-can limits.

One woman she was shopping for told her to just grab two cans and leave the third for someone else.

In a Plattsburgh parking lot, she said she overheard two mothers talking about looking for formula. She said it’s shocking that in the U.S., in 2022, it seems every mother of a newborn on formula is spending all their time searching for formula.

LaDue spent her Friday afternoon coordinating with parents to drop off what she brought back. She said she plans to go back to Plattsburgh later this week.

Some people just can’t breastfeed, she said, and formula can’t be diluted because it will lose nutrients.

LaDue urged the community to be on the lookout for the parents of young ones around them and said many parents and infants depend on formula.


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