Formula shortage forces parents to get creative

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Two specialty Similac formulas, NeoSure for premature babies and Pro-Sensitive for babies who have a hard time digesting regular formula, both pictured, are among the hardest to find amidst a nationwide formula shortage in the U.S.

Shortages across the United States are putting parents into a panic as they wonder if they will be able to find the correct formula for their babies, and in Marshall County, the situation is no different.

Marshalltown mother Jess Althaus has recently been struggling to find basic Enfamil brand formula for her three-month-old son, who was born in the 10th percentile weight range. Althaus said by month two, he had lost quite a bit of weight, so they began taking him to Ames for weekly checkups. During that time, they would stop at Sam’s Club to pick up formula.

For a while, Althaus said their preferred formula was in stock, but after their appointment last Monday, she discovered the shelves were empty. Employees at Sam’s encouraged her to order online, but she had no luck.

“We finally got him to take this formula well without spitting up and losing a lot of weight. So by the time we finally found a formula that works, and he handles well, is when we hit the point where it’s like, now this formula isn’t available,” Althaus said.

Althaus looked for equivalent formulas in different brands, but she was still unable to find it. Eventually, she reached out to other community members via Facebook posts asking anyone who sees the formula to let her know. She was able to acquire formula that worked, but the fear of running out is still very real.

“I probably haven’t felt this scared in a very long time because my baby needs to eat and formula is his only option right now,” Althaus said. “I can’t not have it.”

Even though Althaus was unable to find the brand she generally purchases, she was grateful her son didn’t need specialty formulas and had the ability to try other options. She reached out to their healthcare provider and got several other recommendations, but some parents just don’t have that option.

“It’s so terrifying to imagine. Let alone what I’m going through, let alone these other parents, what they’re going through when they have an even smaller selection of formula to try,” Althaus said.

Jasmin Banderas, a crisis services/family support worker with Child Abuse Prevention Services (CAPS), said several of the families she works with in the CAPS Strong Foundations program are finding it difficult to find specialty formulas for premature babies, or for those who need sensitive formulas.

On top of the shortage issues, many of the families Banderas works with face other challenges such as language and transportation barriers. While some parents can drive to Ames or Des Moines to look for formula, it isn’t possible for others.

One specific family Banderas is currently working with needed NeoSure formula — which is specially made for premature babies — but they didn’t have the transportation to seek it outside of Marshalltown, and the mother does not speak English.

The mother found it difficult to understand the situation surrounding the shortages, and to help her combat these challenges, Banderas got in touch with the mother’s health care provider at McFarland Clinic.

“I thought it would be a good idea to reach out to her physician to see if there was anything else that could be done, whether it was that the baby could take a different formula. And of course, we would need permission from her provider to make sure that was OK since he was a preemie and just to see how they were working around the issue with some other families,” Banderas said.

From there, Banderas and the mother were able to come up with some alternative formula options. McFarland gave her a can of formula to help her get by, and then they were able to go a slightly different route after speaking with the provider.

The doctor suggested three other formulas and shared specific instructions on how to mix each of these formulas to meet the dietary needs of the baby. Since the mother was also using WIC — a special supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants, and Children — to purchase formula, the doctor provided prescriptions for each of these formulas so the mother would be able to purchase them.

“I would really encourage a lot of families to do that, to maybe talk to their providers to find out the safest way to go about getting the formula that they need,” Banderas said. “I’m not sure if a lot of families know that they can do this.”

The shortages are creating additional strain for families amidst inflation and record high gas prices, but the Associated Press reported that 78,000 pounds of specialty baby formula from Europe arrived in Indianapolis on Sunday. Relief for struggling parents, even if temporary, may finally be on the way.


Contact Susanna Meyer at 641-753-6611 or



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