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Parents are struggling with a shortage of baby formulas in the Chicago area. “It’s kind of scary.” – Chicago Tribune

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In the first months of her life, Ashley Strom’s daughter felt uncomfortable: she often vomited, writhed from acid reflux and slept poorly.

She was diagnosed with cow’s milk protein intolerance. Strom tried a dairy-free diet while breastfeeding, but it seemed that even the smallest, hidden amount of dairy was bothering her daughter Chloe’s stomach. She then transferred her daughter to the mix, trying two types, before finally finding one that agreed with her called PurAmino.

“As soon as we tried this blend, pretty immediately, we started to see some improvement, and two weeks later it became like a new baby,” Strom of Northbrook said. She was relieved to see Chloe smiling and comfortable.

But in recent weeks, amid a nationwide shortage of baby formulas, PurAmino hasn’t always been easy to find. At one point Strom checked store websites four or five times a day and went to Facebook to ask if people had anything in stock.

“Knowing that this is directly related to the happiness of my whole family and the health of my daughter, it fills me with tons of anxiety,” Strom said.

For months, many types of formulas were difficult to find in part due to supply chain problems and the recall of some formulas made by Abbott Laboratories, a company based in the northern suburbs. Ebat recalled these formulas against the background of the investigation The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said it is considering complaints of Cronobacter sakazakii infection among four infants who reportedly consumed a baby powder mixture manufactured at Abbott in Sturgis, Michigan. All four were hospitalized, and Cronobacter may have caused the deaths of two infants, according to the FDA.

Ebat said in a statement: “A thorough review of all available data shows that the infant formula manufactured at our Sturgis plant is not likely to be a source of infection in reported cases and that there was no outbreak caused by products from that plant.”

In the Chicago area, about 34% of formulas were not available at local stores in the first week of May, compared to 28% in early March, according to Datasembly, a company that selects data from publicly available retailer websites. and apps to assess product availability. In the last two weeks, about 40% of the formulas were not available across the country. Compared to the fact that in the first half of 2021 across the country they were not available from 2% to 8%.

As a result, many grocery stores and retail pharmacy chains, including Jewel-Osco, Walgreens and CVS Health, now limit the number of formulas that people can buy at one time.

Formula manufacturers say they are trying to improve the situation. A statement from Abbott said it was “a priority to produce baby formulas to help replenish stocks in the market, as well as daily airlift products from our FDA-registered facility in Cuthill, Ireland”. Enfamil, a brand of formulas manufactured by other manufacturers, reported on its website that it supplies 30% more product to meet increased demand.

However, the shortage has forced parents from all walks of life to look for certain types of formulas or change brands and hope for the best. About a quarter of babies born in the U.S. in 2018 were exclusively breastfed during the first six months of life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which means most babies drink formula or in addition to breast milk. or instead. it is.

“It’s kind of scary to go shopping if you have a child who is their main source of nutrition,” said Alex Goodfellow, CEO of Share Our Spare, an organization that helps provide nonprofits in the Chicago area with essentials for little ones. children such as diapers, wipes and mix. “Nervous annoying to think: what am I going to do tomorrow? We’re almost done. ”

Goodfellow, who has a 15-month-old daughter and lives in Ravenswood, recalls a winter when her daughter was still using the mixture and she had to go to three stores to find the main mixture. That’s not what many families hoping to Share Our Spare can do, she said. Some areas, especially on the south and west sides of the city, not many pharmacies or grocery stores.

“I have the opportunity to do it because I have a car. I have no problems with access, ”Goodfellow said. “A lot of our families have gone shopping, and they have a problem with access – they only have one local treasure or one local CVS.”

Share Our Spare had to clear most of the formula from its warehouse due to the Abbott recall, Goodfellow said. Thanks to donations, Share Our Spare still has formula on the shelves, but not as much as usual, she said.

Deficiency can also be serious for children with significant medical problems.

Many children undergoing treatment under the eosinophilic gastrointestinal disease program at Lurie Children’s Hospital are relying on the mixture to meet their nutritional needs, said Dr. Joshua Wexler, the program’s medical director. Many of these children have chronic inflammatory disease, in which one or more foods can cause allergic inflammation in the esophagus, and have been on EleCare Jr, a formula developed by Abbott for children 1 year of age and older. EleCare affects the recall.

In recent months, Wechsler has watched some patients lose weight because they can’t get as much mixture as they need, and some have been hospitalized.

Some of the families have tried to find additional EleCare Jr or alternatives at other companies or through Facebook, while others pay hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets, if it’s usually covered by insurance, on sites like Amazon and eBay, he said.

“It was a pretty big fight to try to handle it,” Wexler said.

This has also become a problem for many parents whose children do not have special medical needs. The FDA has stated that parents should never dilute the mixture, use a homemade mixture or buy an imported mixture online, as it can be fake. If a regular baby or infant formula is not available, the FDA advises parents to talk to their pediatricians for advice.

8-month-old daughter Brooke Carlson drank Similac Pro-Advance well. But in mid-April, shortly before leaving town, Carlson realized she needed more to not finish after returning home.

She called several CVS stores and tried Instacart and Target, but couldn’t find it anywhere. She went to Facebook and wrote if anyone had anything extra. Similac is one of the formulas influenced by Abbott’s recall.

Carlson’s pediatrician suggested she try similar formulas, such as those sold at Costco. She did not dare to change brands, knowing that her daughter reacted well to Similac. “They can spit or fuss more, and no one wants to do that,” she said of the switch.

But she bought the formula at Costco, and her daughter drank it with no problems, to her relief.

“It causes you great anxiety,” Carlson of Northbrook said. “You have to find a solution.”

Strom, whose daughter is intolerant to cow’s milk protein, has also found a type of solution. She was eagerly searching the websites of stores that had PurAmino, and was buying enough to now have more on hand. However, she doesn’t want to buy too much and make it harder for other families in the same situation.

In her home the formula is a necessity.

“I could always say she was cute and see her real behavior, but now you can really tell what kind of child she is,” she said of her daughter. “Seeing how your child is struggling every day to smile and be able to play has changed lives for us.”

lschencker@chicagotribune.com

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