Empty shelves and out of stock: WNY parents struggle to find baby formula

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Baby formula is the latest hard-to-find product flying off store shelves after supply chain problems and contaminated product forced one of the largest U.S.-based manufacturers to close earlier this year.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States is no stranger to product shortages, but this product is absolutely vital for newborns. The shortage is being felt across Western New York. Parents say they have been searching for formula and they are willing to drive to get it.

“I just got the last two cans that are similar to the formula that she’s been on at the Target in Depew last night,” Amherst resident Caitlin Hoekstra said.

The Hoekstra family is trying to make it through the national crisis until their 9-month-old, Gabby, is old enough to drink regular milk. Now, most store shelves are empty, and online retailers are out of stock.

“It’s definitely scary, and she loves to eat, so we are trying to keep her fed for the next few months,” Hoekstra added.

Lactation specialist Polly Thoman said parents have a few options to feed their little ones, including breast feeding, using social media to find new, unopened formula or the New York Milk Bank, which requires a prescription from a pediatrician.

“They take donations from mothers who are breast feeding and have extra breast milk,” Thoman said. “Those mothers are screened and they go through a bloodwork process to make sure they are healthy.”

Thoman added that parents should not try to make formula themselves because it could be dangerous for newborns.

“Evaporated milk, which is cow’s milk, may be really hard on your newborns liver and kidneys and the protein allergies that could happen,” Thoman continued.

One local legislator is trying to use Erie County’s power to get a stockpile in the area. Similar to what happened during the PPE shortage, Minority Leader Joe Lorigo is collaborating with other county officials to provide formula at cost to parents.

“There is no reason that parents or caregivers should struggle finding basic nutritional needs for their children,” Legislator Lorigo said.

Talking with a doctor may be the best way to find the right course of action for families with children.

“As parents, it’s always one more thing,” David Hoekstra said. “Even with this pandemic, you have no other option but to just endure.”

The Federal Government said it expects this shortage to last at least another two weeks. They are hoping to stock store shelves by the end of the month.

Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.