The dangerous shortage of infant formula in the United States due to a major recall has left American parents to go to great lengths to ensure they have an adequate supply for their children, leaving some wondering if the same could happen in Canada.
Abbott recalled a number of Similac dried products in February after four children, two of whom died, developed a bacterial infection believed to be linked to a formula manufacturing facility in Michigan. Abbott said tests on the products came back negative for the pollutants involved. The company had previously indicated that it could take six to eight weeks after a factory restart – which remains closed after four months of recall – for products to hit shelves.
A number of factors, including alternative options, have made the situation in Canada much less dangerous. Some retailers have experienced persistent recall in the pandemic-driven supply chain, while others have experienced little impact or only temporary shortages.
For parents who are worried or find themselves facing a deficiency, here are some tips and advice from the experts on what to do.
Talk to the doctor
Talk to your child’s pediatrician, family doctor, nurse practitioner, or even visit a clinic or pharmacy.
“The wiser thing is to seek some medical support,” Lianne de Souza Kenny, associate professor of human biology and the University of Toronto’s College of Health Studies program, told CTVNews.ca in an interview.
“Everyone should be aware of that and everything should be on board… Talk to the people in that space because they can give advice based on your child’s age, nutritional needs and any dietary restrictions.”
Danikka Frey, a mom in Waterloo, told CTV News Kitchener earlier this week that she stopped seeing the brand of the formula she usually uses in February.
“It was horrible. It was terrifying. I guess I probably wouldn’t be able to feed my son,” Fry said. “I spent hours one night driving around town trying to find this formula.”
The shortage is especially hard for those who live in rural areas who often drive hundreds of kilometers to buy groceries and don’t have the same options as city dwellers, SafelyFed Canada’s Michelle Branco told CTV News Toronto earlier this week.
Since the situation in Canada is still generally manageable, parents may have some luck shopping and going to smaller retailers instead, De Souza-Kenney said, but noted that this is much easier said than done, especially for those who They live in rural areas, those who do not have access to a car, or those who have other restrictions.
“This really talks about bigger issues that have always existed, but COVID-19 has shined a bright spotlight on issues related to inequality, health inequalities, black, indigenous, people of color, marginalized, poor and disenfranchised” — Kenny who specializes in research on health disparities and social determinants of health.
“It comes to mind that food security is directly related to this topic as something that people have struggled with for a long time and then the burden of the pandemic has exacerbated this… along with this group of parents, families and children who will be affected by this [shortage]there are sub-groups that suffer from constraints, financial constraints, but also live in food deserts and have difficulties with transportation.”
She said policy-level changes are necessary to fix these problems. In the meantime, for those facing immediate challenges besides financial or transportation constraints, community partners and agencies can help. She suggested that food banks, while a temporary solution, are another place that could help fill in any immediate gaps.
Is it okay to change brands?
Experts say switching brands of formulas is generally not a problem.
“There is no extreme variance in most brands. Many brands have a lot of the same ingredients,” de Souza-Kinney said.
“Switching brands is a practical and wise decision you may have to make temporarily, we hope.”
The only notable exception are children who have specific nutritional needs that require special attention. That’s why talking to a healthcare provider who knows your child’s needs is really important, she says. They can also help ease any concerns or answer questions about ingredients in a different brand.
Branko says switching brands is rarely a problem because the contents of most formulas are very similar and easy to digest, but she said children with medical conditions like dairy allergies are a concern. Other alternatives include breastfeeding more if possible, using donor milk and increasing the intake of solid food for older children.
What about donating milk?
For many parents, going to a breastmilk bank would not be an option. There are only four banks in Canada, located in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal. They only provide hospitals across the country or in some cases a prescription for families with sick children who have been discharged from hospital and at home.
Milk is also available in [select Alberta] Pharmacies For mothers who may be ill, milk is needed to fill the baby if the mother’s supply is low. Up to 10 bottles can be purchased, Janet Festival, CEO and co-founder of Calgary-based Northern Star Mothers Milk, told CTVNews.ca via email.
Festival and Debbie Stone, director of Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank, said there has been no increase in demand recently after the recall and that milk supplies to hospitals have been strong and stable.
With files from Pauline Chan of CTV News Toronto and Heather Senoran of CTV News Kitchener