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Pediatricians share advice on formula shortage

Baby milk formula on kitchen background
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The following tips for parents were provided by Dr. Tokunbo Akande, pediatrician at the Sanford Children’s Clinic in Bemidji; Dr. Rachel Cooper, pediatric hospitalist at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center; and Dr. Colleen Swank, pediatrician and vice president, clinic for Sanford Health in Bemidji.

Risks of alternative formulas

All formulas are made with a very specific balance of nutrition, vitamins, minerals and electrolytes. Unlike older kids and adults, babies’ bodies are not fully developed enough to handle a wide variety of foods and beverages with different nutritional content.

Any homemade formula or improperly mixed formula carries a risk of very serious illness. For example, changes in the salt and water balance in babies’ bodies can cause their brain to swell and potentially cause seizures or even death.

Changes in the potassium in a baby’s blood can make their hearts beat irregularly or even stop. Feeding homemade formula not only doesn’t give babies the nutrition their bodies need, it can be very dangerous. Likewise, babies under 6 months should not drink plain water. We don’t recommend juice for any child but especially for small babies.

For babies under 6 months old, cow’s milk, goat’s milk and alternative milks, like almond milk, soy milk or oat milk are not safe.

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Table foods

For babies about 4 months or older, if they can sit up in a highchair safely, it is OK to move to table foods faster, as long as they are an appropriate texture that the baby cannot choke on. Pureed and strained lentils are a good source of iron. A baby who is taking table foods will not require quite as much formula, even though formula is still going to be their main source of nutrition.

Medical formula

The good news is, unless your baby is on a medical formula, most formulas are interchangeable.

Your baby might have some belly discomfort, but they will usually get over this. It is much safer to switch formulas than use homemade formula.

Most of the generic brands, from places like Target or Costco, are the same as their name brand alternatives. If they are available, they are safe and healthy.

If your baby is on a medical formula, that should be easier to get hold of since fewer babies use it. If you are having trouble locating formula, contact your doctor to discuss alternatives.

Overseas or preemie formula

Formula from overseas or preemie formula is OK for a few days in a pinch, but should not be used for long periods of time. Term infants do not need the extra calories of preemie formula, and formula from overseas is not FDA approved.

Donor breast milk

Donor breast milk is great but should come from a milk bank. Informal breastmilk sharing carries risk of disease transmission and should be avoided.

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