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Nationwide shortage of baby formula hits home for North Fork families

To feed her 4-month-old son, Gwen Fuller of Riverhead relies on a specific formula: Enfamil Sensitive formula. Due to medication she takes, breastfeeding was not an option.

In recent weeks, as the shortage of baby formula began to affect families across the country, Ms. Fuller found herself in the unenviable position of scrambling to find enough boxes of her specific formula. 

“It’s really scary,” she said. “It’s basically working one box at a time, you know, or one canister of formula at a time.”

After switching formula brands, traveling across Long Island to try to find her son’s specific formula, she is considering paying an extra $30 on delivery fees to get the formula delivered from Canada, she said in a recent interview.

“Not everyone has the $30 extra just to get the delivery,” Ms. Fuller said.

Shortages due to pandemic supply-chain problems were exacerbated with the February shutdown of a factory in Sturgis, Michigan due to a potential bacteria outbreak. The factory remains closed as of early this week. Abbott Laboratories, the baby formula manufacturer, reached a consent decree agreement Monday with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to reopen the shuttered factory in two weeks, pending court approval. After the factory reopens it could take an additional six to eight weeks for product to reach the stores.

Jillian Secaida of Mattituck, mother to a 2-month-old boy, tried five other formulas before landing on Enfamil Neuropro Gentlease, which worked for her son. Then the shortage hit. The formula became difficult to find.

“It’s frustrating to finally find one that works and then you know, not be able to find it anywhere,” she said. “It’s pretty stressful.”

With more than 40 percent of baby formulas out of stock nationwide according to Datasembly, families across the North Fork are also relying on friends and family members across the country to help them in their search.

“We have a friend in another state that said she has plenty and she’ll send some down to me,” Ms. Secaida said. “I have family in other states that are going to look in their stores to see if they have anything.”

Greenport native Karre Brown, who moved last year from Riverhead to North Carolina, also asked friends and family members across the country for help finding her 6-month-old daughters’ formula, Enfamil Gentlease.

“My family, they’re all looking in their different areas around the country, really helping and that lessened the weight,” Ms. Brown said. “But just going into the stores and seeing the empty shelves and seeing the other mothers out there… It is bad,” she said.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office released a statement last week compiling resources for families in the state during this shortage.

“In light of the recent formula supply issues, the Department [of Health] has increased communication with formula manufacturers to monitor the production of can sizes, supply, and shipments,” the statement said.

Some recommendations from the State Department of Health include:

• Calling your OBGYN or the infant’s medical provider to see if they have office samples or can suggest another formula more readily available in stores that is nutritionally similar.

• Contacting your local New York State Women, Infants and Children vendor site to find a list of WIC approved vendors who may have formula in stock.

• Visit smaller stores and drugstores that carry formula.

For the full statement, click here.

Ms. Brown says it’s time for families navigating this shortage to put their pride aside and ask for help when they need it.

“Ask for help, talk to your friends, talk to your doctors or to pediatricians, go to the food bank, go to the churches,” Ms. Brown said “Babies have to eat.”