By Peter Niko Scarlatos
The United States has been dealing with a serious baby formula shortage in recent months. Many mothers are struggling to find baby formula, which is what feeds their young babies. While there are major effects to a problem like this, this is also an opportunity for anyone having trouble during this time to come together. WRHU’s Niko Scarlatos has the story.
Ambient Sound: Repeated tone of groceries being scanned
There are so many problems currently being dealt with in the United States. From the COVID-19 pandemic to the rise of gas prices, the last thing Americans need is another issue to stress about. Unfortunately, their stress levels are not going to decrease anytime soon. The reason for that…a major baby formula shortage. For those wondering, baby formula is defined as a food that is used solely for infants that is simulated to best imitate human produced milk. There are some mothers that struggle to produce their own milk through breastfeeding so baby formula serves as the backup option.
Amanda Bugiada, mother – “So I did begin with breastfeeding and then I went into supplementing because I did have some issues that hindered my breastfeeding.”
Amanda Bugiada, a mother of two who is expecting her third child this October, has had extensive experience using formula with her first two children.
“With my son, he was tongue tied and once he got to four months old he just needed more formula than I was able to produce. Then with my daughter, we both got thrush when she was like two months old so then I had to start supplementing with formula with her as well.”
Amanda is one of millions of mothers with young babies who are now faced with this unprecedented shortage of baby formula in the U.S. It has been getting considerable coverage in the media:
Newsclip sound of reports on baby formula shortage
While the statistics are not clear as to how many women are affected, according to the CDC, up to 75% of mothers depend on baby formula for their babies after 6 months. One of the key reasons for this product’s shortage is a supply chain issue that was a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was also a recall from a company called Abbott Nutrition following the investigation of at least four babies suffering from bacterial infections. It has become one of the many major problems that President Joe Biden has been forced to confront in recent months, along with high gas prices, the war in Ukraine, and the remnants of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cut – Joe Biden
Despite all of these dilemmas, hospitals are making sure they do all they can to get what they need to feed newborns.
Kayla Valera, a maternity nurse at Stony Brook Hospital – “We have been told that hospitals will receive it before other people receive it because we have to have it but even still, we use multiple different variations of formula and we have not had a loss of any of them.”
Kayla Valera is a maternity nurse at Stony Brook University Hospital. She points out that some babies are required to take certain variations of infant formula. This is why it is so important that hospitals receive each and every type of formula on the market. With that being said, mothers who have just given birth would usually be sent home from the hospital with baby formula but that is no longer an option.
Kayla Valera – “It’s more of a liability at this point because obviously formula does expire so we can’t be liable for giving people things that expire because they could come back and say ‘well this was given to me from the hospital and it’s expired.’”
Needless to say, this shortage is causing stress for families and young mothers on many levels. It’s also creating stress for expectant mothers at a time when they should minimize stress at all costs.
Amanda Bugiada – “For mothers soon to be mothers, I wouldn’t stress it too much because if your baby is still inside you, you don’t want to put that stress on the baby. There’s always going to be something to worry about, there’s always going to be concerns, always going to be issues, but there’s a big community out there, people that I see on social media, friends or strangers that when they go to a store they’re taking pictures when there’s stuff in stock.
During a tough time like this, it is crucial that those who are being affected work with each other, whether it’s making attempts to find solutions or even just being there for comforting purposes.
“I think that it’s just at the time right now it’s just a difficult time and that things will work themselves out and you don’t need to have this bulk stock as long as you have what you need at the time, that’s all that matters. If people are going and stressing and buying everything out than the people that have to go container to container, they’re going to have the most difficulty.”
As mentioned earlier, statistics according to the CDC show that about only 25% of mothers with newborn babies breastfeed their children until reaching the age of six months old. This is why there is so much concern right now about the baby formula shortage. Kayla Valera, the Stony Brook University Hospital maternity nurse, says she gives mothers a range of options.
Kayla Valera – “So the world as a whole is more focused on breastfeeding right now. Premature babies we always encourage breastfeeding to the moms because it is better for the baby itself because of their premature guts. For regular babies, obviously they tend to tolerate anything better than a premature baby but for us we kind of leave it up to the parents and we will encourage them if that’s what they want but we definitely not, just because of this, increased that because a lot of moms can’t breastfeed for a lot of reasons. Medications they take or they have had prior surgeries and things like that so we will talk to them about it and offer it as an option of course but we’re not pushers.”
While this is an issue that we should never have to worry about, there are mothers out there taking that extra step by doing whatever they can to help those in need. For example, Carmela Shimansky has been hosting events that allow people to come and donate baby formula at drives on Long Island so that mothers who desperately need it, can receive it. Most recently, she held one in Oyster Bay.
Carmela Shimansky – “The main goal is for families that didn’t have someone to run to a store. Everybody is like ‘you’re just going to create a shortage.’ We are not creating a bigger shortage. We are getting it from families that obviously have a surplus or have some leftover because their baby is no longer taking formula anymore and we’re giving it to families that can’t make it to the stores.
Carmela Shimansky has been surprised by the unbelievable response from the community.
“There’s plenty of posts, especially in my facebook group that have parents saying it’s here but by the time you get there, I mean you’re talking not even a half hour, it is gone so we started to do this so that families knew on this date, you can come. They were there at 10 o’clock an hour before, knowing, because I said that we had it, that it was going to be there. We were so happy to help these families be able to get it for them and give it to them because they’ve been looking.”
Despite all the concerns that many have thrown out there, the turnouts for these events have been better than anyone expected.
Carmela Shimansky – “We had two families that dropped off Similac Alimentum and I mean I’m not talking about one or two bottles. One family dropped off five cases. In those cases, there are 12 bottles. Another family dropped off 40 of them. We had some other people come and drop off a few more. We’re excited, it’s growing, which is a good thing.”
Carmela is seeing first hand the process of parents supporting other parents.Those who have struggled to find formula themselves, understand the difficulty and are willing to help others. She also talked about how rewarding it feels to watch the reaction of the parents who get the formula that allows their child to survive.
Carmela Shimansky – “We’ve had a father that cried and we were balling in tears because it’s such a relief for them. We’ve also had sample cans that’s a lot of what has been donated. The sample cans are not that big, just 7.5 ounces so they are not huge but it goes a long way, especially if these poor babies are literally on their last can this is something they’re depending on so when they get that last can, the relief on their face just to know that they’re okay for the next couple of days is huge. It’s sad and good at the same time because you’re so happy that you gave it to them but it is so sad to have to see everyone go through this.”
The nation as a whole has continued to struggle without a timeline of when this shortage will come to a halt. President Joe Biden along with members of congress are working hard to keep the issue of the baby formula shortage a priority. However, the local efforts are enough to help the community for now.
Carmela Shimansky: “My best advice is try to get to that ‘one parent to another’ page and spread it around because we are donations only. We do not sell so if they need it and we don’t have it right now, we will definitely try and help them find it.”
If you or any loved ones are in need of baby formula or would like to contribute to the cause, Carmela Shimansky, alongside Councilman Steve Labriola and the Oyster Bay town board, are currently hosting another baby formula donation drive from now until July 15th. More information can be found online and on facebook. For WRHU and the Long Island Advocate, I’m Niko Scarlatos, reporting from Long Island, New York.