After two months of uncertainty, families in Marin using formula now have a backup supply.
“Last week, we just received a large supply of formula from the state to consider as our backup for all low-income families who cannot find formula in local stores,” Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County Public Health Officer. . “Now we are even more sure that families will not go without formula milk.”
Willis said the additional state supply went to the county WIC office — for women, infants and children — in San Rafael. WIC serves low-income families by issuing vouchers that they can redeem at stores for infant formula.
The WIC office also distributes the supplemental formula directly to its clients, said agency staff member Flory Chambers.
“I sent a teletext message earlier this week saying we now have a formula,” Chambers said. “I sent it to about 250 of our mothers who use formula.”
She said the response was immediate from some WIC customers whose local stores are running out of supply.
“A person called me from Novato and said they couldn’t find the formula at any store in their area,” Chambers said. “She said she would just come and get some, because she didn’t want to keep shopping.”
Although some families have struggled to find a formula in recent weeks, Marin in general has been less affected by the nationwide shortage than some other, mostly rural California counties, Willis said.
This lesser impact, Willis said, was partly due to the high percentage of Marin mothers of newborns who chose to breastfeed their infants instead of using formula.
“About three in four babies under the age of one in Marin are at least partially breastfed,” Willis said. He added that some babies, especially after 6 months, have a mixture of breast milk and formula.
“This is true across all income groups, which is a remarkable success in promoting health equity,” Willis said. “Breastfeeding is one of the best strategies, from a public health perspective, for healthy babies.”
Apart from the health benefits, breast milk is free, so it helps economically. In the current crisis, the high rate of breastfeeding across all income groups has helped Marin be more resilient, Willis said.
“In this case, we were more resilient to market issues than anyone could have predicted,” he added.
There were 2,353 births in the county between May 2021 and April this year. That translates to about 2,300 babies under the age of one in Marin, Willis said. Of these, 609, or about 25%, are WIC clients.
“About 300 of our WIC families use formula and 150 rely exclusively on formula,” he said. “That number was small enough that every single one of those families was able to find formula during this crisis.”
Dr. Lisa Leavitt, a pediatrician at Marin Community Clinics in San Rafael, said staff have been scrambling in recent weeks to help some clients find the appropriate formula.
“The vast majority of our mothers come home after giving birth and breastfeed,” she said. “But then, for a whole host of reasons, there were other families who chose to use formula who struggled.”
One family, for example, needed a special therapeutic baby formula, Nutramigen, because of the infant’s genetic issues, Leavitt said.
“We ended up providing it to him,” Leavitt said. “The clinic struggled. We kind of begged and borrowed from our pediatrician colleagues in private practice.
The primary infant formula used by WIC in Marin is Enfamil. In addition, Nutramigen, which helps with milk protein allergies, and Gentlease, which helps babies with sensitive stomachs, are also supplied by WIC.
Even though the Marin Community Clinics office in San Rafael doesn’t typically stock formula, that changed during the shortage, Leavitt said. Office workers ended up buying supplies themselves from stores so customers could have them when they arrived, Leavitt said.
“We had to send a few people because there was a limit to how many cans one person could buy at a time,” she added. “We had to get a little creative. This has not been easy.
Several Marin stores, such as Prime Time Nutrition in San Rafael, only serve WIC customers. They are the top priority for receiving formula supplies, according to Chambers. Other grocery stores that stock the formula and accept WIC vouchers include Marin branches of Safeway, Target, Cardenas, Lucky and Smart & Final, according to WIC.
The county has been checking stores regularly since the shortage began to make sure they have enough supplies, Willis said.
“This crisis was a wake-up call for all of us as we had taken the federal supply chain for granted and the vulnerability if we relied on just one manufacturer,” Willis said.
The nationwide infant formula shortage is due to supply chain issues and an infant formula recall linked to bacterial contamination at Abbott Nutrition’s manufacturing facility in Sturgis, Michigan, in february.
The federal government has been working on strategies to increase the production of infant formula domestically and also to ensure that new supplies are imported from other countries.
“Compared to other states, California is doing better, but shortages are still a concern,” Willis said.
On Thursday, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a resource list to help families considering imported formulas ensure they are safe.
Marin officials said while the new state supply should help alleviate some of the county’s supply issues, they are still offering resources to any families with questions about infant formula products or brands. .
“If you have any questions about acceptable formula, contact your child’s pediatrician or the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services Division of Family Health at 415-473-6889 or www.marinhhs.org “said Laine Hendricks, spokeswoman for the county. .
Willis, in a joint statement earlier this month with public health officials from other Bay Area counties, offered some advice.
“Avoid making your own formula at home, diluting formula to make it last longer, using expired formula, using cow’s, goat’s or plant-based milk for milk formula, or giving formula to infants,” the statement said. “This can reduce the amount of nutrients a baby gets and can lead to serious potential health complications.”
Willis added that the county has resources to help breastfeeding mothers.
“If you are currently breastfeeding, continue if possible,” he added. “We recognize that this option may not be viable for everyone.”
If a person is partially breastfeeding, they might consider contacting a lactation care provider — in person or via telehealth — to help ensure they can maintain or increase their milk supply by breastfeeding more, he said. -he adds.
Families using formula milk should consult the child’s doctor before replacing any brand of formula milk.
“For most babies, if their usual brand of formula isn’t currently available, it’s okay to switch to a similar version,” Willis said.
If the baby needs a special formula, Willis advises parents to consult with the child’s pediatrician before making any substitutions.
“Babies need the right balance of nutrients – not too much or too little – to grow and be healthy,” he said. “It’s important to a baby’s health that parents use products that meet federal standards to ensure formula is safe and free of harmful bacteria.”