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Formula shortage causes uptick in breastfeeding interest among new moms, but it's not for everyone

Both Sanford Health and Essentia Health in Fargo report more inquiries from new mothers about breastfeeding.

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File photo via Flickr
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FARGO — New mothers at Sanford Health who are physically unable to breastfeed their babies are finding themselves in a panic with a nationwide shortage of infant formula wearing on.

Jackee Haak, director of Sanford Family Birth Center and a board-certified lactation consultant, said formula is provided at the hospital, but the concern comes after mom and baby go home.

“It’s stressful anyway, trying to figure out the best way to feed your baby … and this has just added an extra layer,” Haak said.

There will always be new moms in those situations, but local health care facilities say the formula supply challenge has prompted an uptick of interest in breastfeeding.

Haak said a high percentage, about 81%, of local moms already feed their babies breast milk, at least initially.

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Some who might not have been considering it have decided to give it a go to bridge the gap through the shortage, she said.

Essentia Health is also seeing more interest.

“We definitely have expectant moms that have more questions … if they’re medically able and are wanting to learn more about breastfeeding,” said Melissa Christoffersen, Women’s and Children’s Patient Education and Lactation Program Manager.

Haak said there also seems to be increased interest in informal milk-sharing methods that date back generations.

Those who would have never considered feeding their baby someone else’s breast milk might be more open to it, she said, faced with the prospect of them going hungry.

“Moms are always really good at finding a network of people that can help,” she said.

Hospital birthing centers offer multiple kinds of support for breastfeeding, but for some moms, it’s just not an option.

Undergoing surgery, taking incompatible medication and an inability to produce enough breast milk are some of the reasons women are unable to breastfeed.

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Other barriers include lack of access to a lactation consultant, maternity leave, a reliable breast pump and ability to pump milk at work.

“All of these things play a role in breastfeeding, because it does take time and it does take work,” Haak said.

The infant formula shortage is blamed on multiple factors, including a massive formula recall months back and supply chain issues that began cropping up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the week starting April 24, it was estimated more than half of baby formula on store shelves in North Dakota was sold out.

On Sunday, May 22, a military plane loaded with 78,000 pounds of specialty formula from Europe landed in Indianapolis for distribution in the U.S.

The formula is specially designed for infants and toddlers who have certain allergies or other medical conditions.

“Those kids really have no other options,” Haak said.

Making homemade formula or trying to dilute a manufactured brand to make it last longer is never a good idea, Haak said, citing hospitalizations of babies in other parts of the country due to those practices.

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On May 16, Abbott Laboratories announced it would resume production of baby formula at its Michigan plant on June 4 following the recall and shutdown earlier this year.

That move is expected to ease the formula shortage in the months to come.

“I want moms, with everything going on, to know … regardless of the feeding method, that we're here to support them,” Christoffersen said.

Related Topics: NEWSMDFAMILY
Huebner is a 35+ year veteran of broadcast and print journalism in Fargo-Moorhead.
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