BABY FORMULA SHORTAGE CAUSES STRESS FOR KEYS FAMILIES

Several types of baby formula are missing from shelves of an Upper Keys store. KELLIE FARRELL BUTLER/Keys Weekly

Tomoe Ventura’s year-old grandson Kairo has a milk protein allergy. Recently, the frustrated Marathon grandmother found herself scrambling to find baby formula. 

“We didn’t have it in Marathon and I called CVS in Big Pine and they didn’t have it and they told me they did not have anything hypoallergenic,” said Ventura. She finally found it at the Winn Dixie in Big Pine. “I was prepared to drive to Florida City yesterday.”

Tavernier pediatrician Dr. Stanley Zuba has been hearing similar stories every day from patients. He said the nationwide formula shortage is hitting home, challenging parents and caregivers up and down the Florida Keys. 

“It’s definitely an issue, especially when it comes to the special formulas, like the hypoallergenic formula specifically,” said Zuba. “If we have any samples we always will give them out but unfortunately now, we’re out of samples.”

Supply chain issues compounded by the closing of an Abbott factory in Sturgis, Michigan have left shelves looking pretty bare. That is putting stress on new parents, like Key Largo residents Daniella and Natasha Rodriguez.

 “It’s been scary; it’s been pretty tough because at the beginning we were trying different formulas and she wasn’t liking any,” said Daniella Rodriguez. “We had to try out the formulas and finally she liked this one and here we are with a shortage.”

Their daughter, 5-month-old Luna Izabella, is thriving on a product that closely resembles breast milk. Rodriguez’s wife tried to breastfeed Luna but was unable to do so because of a medical condition. “She couldn’t produce breast milk. She was really sad.” 

Arianna Nesbitt is the CEO of the Florida Keys Healthy Start Coalition, which unites people and resources to improve the health and wellbeing of pregnant women, children and their families. “Our goal is to keep babies healthy,” said Nesbitt. 

In 17 years with the organization, she has never experienced anything like this. “We had one family that called and said ‘I’ve been to every store in Marathon and in Key West.’ She was panicked and we happened to have two cans in our office. So that was an easy fix.” 

Nesbitt said Keys community members are taking care of each other through this formula shortage. “Today we had a family in the Upper Keys frantically looking for a kind and we’re fortunate enough that we have a family in the Lower Keys that ordered too much.”  The two families were connected and the problem was solved, at least for now.

Many parents and caregivers are also turning to social media, like Facebook groups, to help each other find hard-to-come-by types of formula. Nesbitt urges anyone who is having a problem finding formula to reach out to the coalition for help. “You’re not alone. You don’t have to be sitting there in your kitchen panicking that you don’t know how to feed your baby.” If you are having problems finding formula, visit www.keyshealthystart.org/requests-need-help.

Pediatrician Dr. Stanley Zuba cradles a one-month-old patient. He is hopeful the formula shortage will ease soon. CONTRIBUTED

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has also issued tips to keep babies safe during the shortage. Among them: never dilute infant formula. Diluting formula with water or other liquids can be dangerous and even life-threatening for babies, leading to a serious nutritional deficit and health issues. Also, the department says not to use homemade formulas, which often lack or have inadequate amounts of critical nutrients. 

Zuba has been a pediatrician in the Upper Keys for 25 years and believes when it comes to the shortage, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. “I’m hopeful that this is going to improve in the short term rather quickly.” For starters, plans are underway to reopen the Abbott factory in Michigan and the FDA is looking to ease restrictions on importing foreign-made formulas. 

When supply does return to normal, Zuba said, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends store brand formulas over the name brands.  He says they are made in the same factories and during these tough economic times, could provide a little relief to parents. “They are exactly the same formulations, they have hypoallergenic brands, they have sensitive brands, and Gentlease brands and they are about half the price.” 

For now, the Rodriguezes are relieved they found one box of their daughter’s formula brand at the Key Largo Publix and a friend secured another at a Miami Publix. “It’s been very scary for us, for sure.”

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Kellie Butler Farrell is a journalist who calls Islamorada home. Kellie spent two decades in television news and also taught journalism at Barry University in Miami and Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, UAE. She loves being outside, whether spending time on the water or zipping down the Old Highway on her electric bike, Kellie is always soaking up the island lifestyle. Kellie and her husband own an electric bike rental company, Keys Ebikes.