The national baby formula shortage is hitting the South Bay, prompting some stores to limit purchases as parents scramble to stock up on supply.
The months-long crisis has reached new heights in the last few weeks—with the national out-of-stock rate hitting 43% as of last week, according to retail data service Datasembly. California is seeing a better rate at 32%—but some families in Santa Clara County are feeling the pressure, with stores such as Walmart and Target setting purchasing limits on the sparse inventory.
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The shelves for formula at retailers on Monterey Road in San Jose are mostly empty as of Friday.
San Jose resident Ariel Perez said she has only breastfed her infant, Max, since he was born five months ago. But she’s on the hunt for baby formula for her two friends. Their babies, one- and three-months-old, rely on formula, Perez said.
“It’s scary for them because they couldn’t find their babies’ food,” Perez told San José Spotlight while shopping at a Target on Monterey Road. “We have been talking about it in our group chat.”
Perez said her friends drove from San Jose to Mountain View to look for formula. They have also been watching Amazon and other online retailers with little luck.
“I’m not impacted so I told them if they need, they can come over and use my breast milk,” Perez said.
San Jose resident Angie Ramirez said she feels lucky to have decided to breast feed her three-month-old son, Rahyo. Photo by Tran Nguyen.
Supply chain woes
Experts blame the shortage on supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The issue also worsened this year after a shutdown of a key production facility in Michigan in February. Two federal agencies are investigating the plant, owned by Abbott Nutrition, after reports of contaminated formula linked to the deaths of at least two infants, according to national news reports.
The infant formula shortage has also driven up demands for breast milk locally. The Mother’s Milk Bank, a 48-year-old nonprofit in San Jose, is seeing more inquiries from families and mothers, said Executive Director Jonathan Bautista. Donated breast milk is screened and tested before entering the system.
“With the increased media coverage of the formula shortage, we’re starting to see more families reach out to us just to get an understanding of what human milk is and what the benefit is for their babies,” Bautista told San José Spotlight. “We are also seeing an increase in moms who have excess breast milk and donate to the bank.”
Baby formula is becoming difficult to find in the South Bay. At a San Jose Walmart, customers are limited to five items of formula a day. Photo by Tran Nguyen.
The Mother’s Milk Bank, the oldest milk bank in the nation, has seen a 20% increase in demand for supply compared to last year—but Bautista said the demand is mostly driven by needs of premature infants in neonatal intensive care units at hospitals. The organization provides its supply to local hospitals such as Santa Clara Valley Health, Good Samaritan and Lucile Salter Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. The milk bank also provides services directly to families in need.
The shortage has prompted the White House to consider invoking the Defense Production Act, which would allow the government more control to address the shortage. President Joe Biden also asked states Friday to increase access to baby formula for families and mothers in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
There were more than 20,000 children and mothers in the county’s WIC program in 2018. California hasn’t updated the data for the last three years. The FDA is looking to streamline the import process for more formula, according to news reports.
Baby formula at a San Jose Safeway is locked behind a cabinet and requires staff assistance. Photo by Moryt Milo.
Santa Clara County officials said the national shortage has not impacted services and care at its hospitals.
“Our staff has been proactive in ordering formula and while our supply is tight, we have enough supplies for our patients,” county spokesperson Joy Alexiou told San José Spotlight. “In addition, our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit team has adjusted their formula recipe to make sure that all babies are receiving the recommended calories per day for optimal growth.”
San Jose resident Angie Ramirez said she feels lucky to have decided to breast feed her three-month-old son, Rahyo.
“If I were using formula, I would probably be paying way too much for it,” Ramirez told San José Spotlight outside of Buy Buy Baby on Almaden Expressway, noting she has started to see people reselling baby formula online at inflated prices. “My baby’s food is non-negotiable.”
For more county resources, click here. Families can also call 1-888-WIC-WORKS to get help paying for baby formula.
Contact Tran Nguyen at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.
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