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Her premie baby needs hard-to-find formula. So she started a formula exchange.

Deliliah and Ashley Escobar
Posted at 5:41 PM, May 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-12 21:39:22-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Ashley Escobar wanted to exclusively breastfeed her baby, but Delilah was born three months premature. She had severe silent reflux and a cow's milk allergy, so Escobar had to switch to formula.

"Within days she was home so we've just been formula feeding ever since," Escobar said.

But, the type of formula Deliliah tolerates has not been easy to come by for several months now.

"We are having to travel to different localities asking family members from out of state if they see it to grab it and send it to us," Escobar said.

Deliliah and Ashley Escobar
Deliliah and Ashley Escobar

Nationwide, 40 percent of baby formula is out of stock. The problem is the result of supply chain disruptions and a safety recall, and has had a cascade of effects: Retailers are limiting what customers can buy, and doctors and health workers are urging parents to contact food banks or physicians' offices, in addition to warning against watering down formula to stretch supplies or using online DIY recipes.

But Dr. Janet West, a board-certified pediatrician with RVA Baby, agreed saying parents should avoid those options at all costs.

"A lot of times those recipes have dangerous components in them, or they're not nutritionally complete for your baby. And watering down formula is definitely dangerous because it can disturb your baby's electrolytes," West said.

West said if you need a special formula you should ask your pediatrician to reach out to a drug rep.

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She also suggested shopping at smaller chain stores that might not get as much foot traffic, and she said not to hoard formulas.

"The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends trying to stick to a 10 to 14-day supply so that other families can have access to the formula that they need," West said.

Elected officials are now getting involved with Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D - Henrico) tweeted Thursday that she discussed tariff relief, initiating new and immediate formula imports, and the possibility of using the Defense Production Act with the White House Chief of Staff.

President Joe Biden spoke with manufacturers and retailers Thursday about the plight facing families. The president discussed with executives from Mead Johnson and Gerber how they could increase production and how his administration could help, and talked with leaders from Walmart and Target about how to restock shelves and address regional disparities in access to formula, according to the White House.

"As far as production, there has to be some way that someone can help with production," Escobar said.

To try to provide some immediate relief to parents, Escobar started a Facebook page, RVA Formula Exchange, where people are sharing information about what stores have formula in stock, and offering to sell or give other parents extra formula.

Formula shorting May 12 2022 04.jpg

"It has been really fantastic. We've had so many parents, mothers, and fathers join, even grandparents looking for their family members," Escobar said.

Paula N. Garrett, MS,RD, State WIC Director at VDH, provided CBS 6 with the following statement:

The Virginia WIC Program continues to navigate through the formula shortage issues.  With the Abbott formula recall, Virginia WIC was able to expand formula options available to our participants. 

The list of the most recently updated Virginia WIC-approved formulas and substitutions can be located on our webpage at virginiawic.com.

The low inventory of formula is causing many of our participants to search at multiple authorized vendors to locate necessary products.  In some instances, Virginia WIC is able to order formula through our formula distribution warehouse for participants; however many of those items are backordered and out of stock as well.  

Virginia WIC continues to work with our participants and their healthcare providers to help locate the necessary formulas.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.