Home Babies needs Shortage of baby formula affects low-income moms in Miami

Shortage of baby formula affects low-income moms in Miami

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By Gabriela Enamorado Miami Times Contributor (Gabriela Enamorado for the Miami Times) (Sasha Ortiz) (Gabriela Enamorado for the Miami Times) (HSCMD) (Jackson Memorial Hospital), The Miami Times

May 31, 2022

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The baby formula shortage, reflected in empty or nearly empty shelves at local stores, like this Walmart in North Miami Beach, is having an increasingly anxious impact on local parents.

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(Gabriela Enamorado for the Miami Times)

Visit any Miami-area grocery store and you’ll likely see empty shelves where formula milk boxes once stood. The nationwide shortage has Miami mothers struggling to find formula and frantically going from store to store to find what is now a scarce commodity.

Parents struggle to meet the needs of their babies, and low-income ones, usually black or brown, suffer the most. An infant formula shortage that began last year in November gradually worsened in February after one of the country’s largest infant formula suppliers recalled several major brands.

Sasha Ortiz is the mother of an 8-month-old child in Hialeah who depends on formula. The one she needs is Enfamil Gentlease. Her family is currently dependent on her boyfriend’s income as she focuses on motherhood, and finding formula for her daughter has become a tall order.

Sasha Ortiz, mother of one.

(Sacha Ortiz)

“A lot of the time my boyfriend has to go to several different stores to get the formula,” Ortiz told the Miami Times. “At Publix you have to go to customer service to get it and they limit quantities. It’s pretty annoying to say the least.”

Ortiz receives assistance from Women, Infants & Children (WIC), a federal program that works to ensure adequate nutrition for mothers and children in low-income populations. She gets seven cans of formula a month from WIC, but it’s not enough to feed her baby.

“It’s not always enough,” Ortiz said. “It helps, but it’s not enough. I’ve known people who have had more, but I don’t know what it’s based on.”

In Miami Gardens, Angeles Pierre faces a similar problem. After walking down the baby formula aisle of her local Publix, she couldn’t find the Enfamil her baby needs. It was the second grocery store she had visited on the day we met her, having stopped at her local Walmart to also find empty shelves there.

Nearly empty baby formula shelves like this one at a Miami Publix are the norm across the country.

(Gabriela Enamorado for the Miami Times)

Pierre is a black woman on a budget who also relies on WIC to help provide formula milk. She gets seven cans a month from WIC and visits Publix once a week to pick up more.

“Sometimes I go to Walmart, Winn-Dixie, or smaller grocery stores, but I can never find the formula I need,” she said.

Pierre is physically able to breastfeed, but like many mothers, she doesn’t always have the time to do so.

“I think it’s good that some women have the opportunity to breastfeed, but I work a lot and I don’t always have time to [do that]”, she said. “I can only breastfeed in the morning if I have time and maybe in the evening before my baby falls asleep.”

All over Miami, mothers have similar stories. Racial and economic disparities affecting who has access to needed resources have become even more glaring. Organizations such as the Healthy Start Coalition of Miami-Dade (HSCMD) recognize inequities and work to close the gap.

Jeannette Torres, Interim CEO, Healthy Start Coalition of Miami-Dade

(HSCMD)

Jeannette Torres, interim CEO of HSCMD, strives to provide equal resources to women of all backgrounds.

“I think, especially for nonprofits, it’s the #1 goal to minimize or eliminate these racial and economic disparities,” she said. “It is impossible to say that some communities are not more affected by the shortage. Unfortunately, this is only the reality at the moment.

HSCMD partners with WIC, and one of the ways they work together is to establish a streamlined process for referrals.

“For every case that we receive, not just that particular issue, but the services that come with nutrition or breastfeeding support, we have what’s called a ‘hot transfer,'” Torres said. “Since it comes from us, in less than 24 hours, WIC contacts the client. This is the #1 collaboration we have with WIC. They receive the file immediately and contact [the parent] right away. Not just for formula, but also for breastfeeding.”

Torres says HSCMD provides free services and supports mothers from the time they are pregnant until their child turns 3 years old. HSCMD provides care case management, mental health support and breastfeeding support.

“Breastfeeding is definitely the best option, not only for the baby but also for the mom,” she said. “I understand that for X, Y, Z reasons some moms can’t do it. We tend to judge them right away. For those who tend to judge, I think they need to be aware of the difficulty to “It’s not only a decision for the mother, but also for the family. The mother needs that support.”

Sharon Burbelo, Maternal and Family Health Liaison, Jackson Memorial Hospital

(Jackson Memorial Hospital)

Sharon Burbelo, Maternal and Family Health Liaison at Jackson Memorial Hospital, says this provides all mothers, regardless of race or economic status, the same opportunities to learn about breastfeeding and its benefits.

“We are able to help mothers with anything they need in their breastfeeding journey,” Burbelo said. “We have the support, the tools and the knowledge to help them be able to successfully breastfeed their babies. Staff are well educated in helping mothers latch their baby to the breast, positioning their baby, making moms comfortable, helping moms with hydration and providing a calm environment conducive to breastfeeding. ‘feeding with milk.”

Jackson — a public hospital — welcomes everyone regardless of insurance and has all types of plans in place.

“Breast is the best and here at Jackson, we’re ready to help moms day and night, no matter how old the baby is,” Burbelo said.

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