This article first appeared in Kidsburgh.org, a media partner of NEXTpittsburgh. Sign up here for Kidsburgh’s free newsletter filled with local resources and expert advice on raising healthy, thriving kids in southwestern PA.

In recent weeks, many families in our region have been struggling with the nationwide baby formula shortage. Allegheny Health Network is offering this advice to help parents take the best possible care of their babies:

  • When supermarkets and big-box stores are out of formula, check local drug stores or baby supply stores. Call first to ensure they have a supply on hand. When searching online, stick to well-known distributors and pharmacies rather than auction sites. Social media groups, food banks and charity organizations may also have leads on where to buy formula.
  • Most babies are OK with any available formula. (The exception is for babies who need an extensively hydrolyzed or amino acid-based formula such as Elecare, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.) If you have some of the formula your baby is used to, you may want to mix it with the new formula to minimize any digestive upset.
  • Do not attempt to make more baby formula by adding more water, or use homemade formula recipes circulating on the internet. These practices are not safe and can lead to nutritional imbalances, health problems and even death.
  • Toddler formulas are safe for a few days for babies who are close to a year old, and “premature” formula can also be used safely for a few weeks.
  • For babies age 6-12 months who drink regular formula, cow’s milk may be used for a brief period of time. Make sure to include iron-rich solid foods in the baby’s diet. Do not use goat’s milk, almond milk or other plant milks. Soy milk fortified with protein and calcium may be used in an emergency for babies about a year old.
  • Breast milk banks are available on a very limited basis to high-risk babies such as those born prematurely or with low birth weight and can provide safe, pasteurized breast milk; however, it is not safe to share breast milk amongst friends, relatives or acquaintances.
  • Babies older than 6 months can also begin to get nutrition from solid, pureed food.
  • If you can breastfeed, do. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding as the sole source of nutrition for infants up to 6 months. If you initially decided not to breastfeed or stopped early, it is sometimes possible to resume breastfeeding — a process called re-lactationAHN Lactation Consultants can also be reached by calling 412-578-7030.
  • Don’t make the shortage worse: Buy only a 10-day to two-week supply, to help everybody have a chance to buy what they need.

“We certainly understand that it can be frightening and frustrating to not be able to find formula at your neighborhood store, or not be able to find the type of formula your baby requires,” says Joseph Aracri, DO, System Chair, Pediatrics at Allegheny Health Network. “We are hopeful that recent actions taken by, or under consideration by, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will help address this problem.”

The potential reopening of a domestic formula manufacturing plant, and the potential loosening of restrictions on imported baby formula, will hopefully help, Dr. Aracri says. But the current shortage may last several weeks longer.

In the meantime, he says, “we urge parents to contact their pediatricians with any questions they may have and to try to remain calm as we work through this difficult situation.”