Weeks into the national shortage, Sacramento remains the city most affected by the lack of baby formula.
According to data compiled by Datasembly, Sacramento ended the week of May 28 with an out-of-stock rate of 94.6% — tied with Atlanta as the worst in the nation.
On Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order meant to prevent price gouging due to the formula shortage. The order prohibits vendors from selling baby formula at a price more than 10% higher than it was on February 17, before the shortage hit.
“California continues to take urgent action to support families feeling the impacts of the nationwide formula shortage,” Newsom said in a news release. “We’re connecting families in need with helpful resources and working to improve access for all parents and caregivers to keep California families safe and healthy.”
As the order takes effect, baby formula shelves at many local stores remain bare.
Dr. Adrienne Hoyt-Austin, a pediatrician and certified lactation consultant within the UC Davis Health system, told The Bee that while Sacramento seemed mostly spared when the formula shortage first swept the nation in late April, she felt the shortage hit the city in full force last week. Over the course of the last week, she said, she has consulted with mothers about the formula shortage in “every single visit.”
“This is a national failure to protect babies and protect their families, and to prioritize infant nutrition,” Hoyt-Austin said. “That’s really disappointing as a pediatrician.”
Rosemont mother Amber Blaire said that finding formula for her 12-month-old daughter has become a daily uncertainty. Blaire has resorted to driving as far as Roseville in search of formula, or refreshing grocery apps like Instacart for overnight restocks in store inventory. If she did not stay constantly “on top of it,” she said, she would not be able to find formula at all.
“I’m also dealing with a lot of guilt because my baby’s old enough to be off of it,” Blaire said. “When I do find it, I feel guilty for giving it to her because some other baby that’s younger might need it more. I have to remind myself, like, ‘Man, this is food.’ There’s a lot of emotion in it.”
According to Hoyt-Austin, the first step she gives patients who are worried about the shortage is to consider other formula brands. So long as the infant is used to cow-milk-based formulas, they can switch to a different brand with the same caloric content.
In emergency situations in which a family is completely out of formula, Hoyt-Austin said, she has worked through various channels to obtain emergency formula from partners in her health system. Those concerned about running out of formula should immediately contact their physician, she suggested, as they may be able to take similar measures or discuss options for formula replacement.
Hoyt-Austin also shared that parents with children who are close to 12 months can consider switching to standard cow milk should they be unable to obtain formula. Babies in the 6-to-12-month range often have more options, such as short-term formula replacement or an increase in complementary foods.
“We want parents to know that we’re here for you and we will help you through this,” Hoyt-Austin said.
Moms ‘looking out for each other’
In addition to physicians, some Sacramento mothers are turning to each other for help. The shortage has caused many mothers to join impromptu Facebook groups in search of the correct formula to feed their infants.
Blaire said that Sacramento mothers have been “looking out for each other” in recent weeks, using online communities to alert others to grocery stores with formula in stock, trade formula brands or supply others with any spare formula or breast milk they have on hand.
But trading and reselling formula online poses additional risks for some parents, like Serenity Larson, who said that she was scammed over Facebook when she paid $45 for formula that was never delivered to her. Larson said that formula sold online was also often more expensive than it would be in stores.
The online networks extend beyond Facebook. On Reddit, for example, users have shared photos from stores that have recently filled their shelves — most recently, the Costco in Citrus Heights. Managers at the Costco location were unable to comment.
“It has been hard, and I’m not completely sure what to do,” Larson said. “I’m just finding ways to help him, and if I find other formula for moms, I give it to them for free. I lose a bit of money on that, but I don’t want someone to feel like they’re getting scammed, or if someone is in desperate need, I’m willing to get their formula.”
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