Infant + ToddlerParenting & Motherhood Tips

The Low Down on the Baby Formula Supply Chain Issue

The baby formula supply chain problem has been felt all across the country. Sure, it was hard not to have easy access to hand sanitizer at the beginning of the pandemic, but parents everywhere agree that nothing is worse than food insecurity for their children.

Why is this happening and what is being done about it?

In this article, we take a look at the baby formula supply chain problem’s origins, and what is being done now to fix the issue.

How It Started

For formula-dependent families, it began in February. That’s when major manufacturer Abbott Laboratories announced a recall owing to bacterial infections that were traced back to product lines produced in their Michigan facility.

Months have passed, and families all across the country continue to scramble for baby formula. But is this problem really due to a single product recall? In a twist not quite worthy of an Agatha Christie novel, it turns out that much of the problem stretches back further, to the start of the pandemic.


Labor shortages

Since March of 2020, manufacturers of every variety have experienced acute labor shortages that have impacted their ability to produce products at the rate they are used to. Even when they have all the components that they need—a rarity, as we will soon discuss—they lack the capacity to swiftly turn them into the product.

Formula companies have been no exception to this problem. Production rates have been down for the two years leading up to the shortage we are now in the middle of.


Supply chain problems

Then there are the supply chain problems. Formula manufacturers, like producers of every kind, have experienced difficulty getting the raw materials they need to manufacture their products. Sometimes this is because of accessibility to the material itself, other times it’s a transportation issue.

Like most employment sectors, transportation has experienced employee shortages, some temporary, owing to pandemic-related leaves of absence, others more ongoing.

These issues have combined and compounded to make it very difficult to produce at the rate of consumer demand.

When Abbott began pulling products off the shelves it may have felt like a sudden development but it was really just adding fuel to a fire that has been burning for two years.


How Bad is the Problem?

As of late May, approximately 74% of baby formula shelves are registering as out of stock. Actual accessibility may range depending on where you find yourself in the world. However, most families with a need for formula have experienced significant difficulty in finding it.


Who is Experiencing the Most Hardship?

With shelves at just over a fourth of their usual capacity, it’s safe to say that the supply issues are as close to universal as something like this can get. However, there are some groups of people who may feel the problem more acutely.

One of them is people utilizing the WIC program. Only certain formula products are WIC compatible. If these products are not in stock—and they often aren’t—WIC users have to speak with their providers to find approved solutions. This process can take time and make it even harder to find formula.

Parents can ease the burden of WIC users by trying their best not to buy WIC-compatible formula when possible.

People in rural communities may also struggle more than urban consumers. The reason for this is mostly logistical. A city dweller may have easy access to multiple stores, increasing their odds of finding a place that has formula in stock. Simply by playing the statistical odds, they will be able to find something suitable in one out of every four stores.

People in rural areas may have easy access to only one store. If it is out of stock, they are out of luck.


What Should You Do?

Doctors are advising against parents making their own formula, even from recipes found online. The common medical consensus suggests that homemade formulas are typically calcium deficient—a shortcoming that can lead to significant developmental challenges.

Cow milk has been suggested as a temporary alternative to formula in children who are six months or older. Doctors say not to let it become a permanent solution, as it will limit the child’s access to iron.

Breastfeeding is considered the healthiest and most sustainable alternative to formula for parents who are capable of it.


Getting Formula

There is no proven method for finding formula during the shortage. Many parents have found success using their social networks. Making social media posts asking for help getting formula may improve your chances of finding it.

Short of this, consider speaking with your pediatrician. They may have formula supplies in stock, or even sample size portions from manufacturers.

The majority of major retailers have placed purchasing limitations on formula, making it impossible to stock up for the long term.

Also consider looking at smaller locations, including locally owned convenience and grocery stores or make sure to check the highly reliable My Organic Company store.


An End in Sight?

Abbott has recently been granted permission to resume production at the plant that was closed down. This means that formula supplies should increase significantly in the weeks to come. However, even this result will take time.

Abbott says that its plant will need around eight weeks to return to its typical production volume. This means that parents can expect shortages for most of the summer.



If modern consumers have learned anything since Covid it’s that now isn’t a good time to need much of anything. Formula, unlike many of the items impacted by supply chain disruptions, is non-negotiable. When you need it, you really need it.

While there is no obvious solution to the problem short of the anticipated production resurgence, parents have been getting by with a combination of persistence and community support. It’s a challenging situation, but for now, parents must keep their eyes peeled for formula on the shelf, and hope that an end to the problem is in sight.

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TWL Working Mom

Jennifer is the owner of TWL Working Moms. She is a full time teacher, a mom & step mom, and NBCT Facilitator. Jennifer lives in Washington State and is a born + raised New Yorker. In her spare time, she loves traveling, yoga, the beach, writing, listening to books and drinking coffee.

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