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With the national shortage of infant formula, the Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) and Erie County Office of Consumer Protection (ECOCP) recently provided information to parents and caregivers struggling to find infant formula.
ECDOH recommends breastfeeding as the sole source of nutrition for at least the first six months when possible. It said breastfeeding protects infants against infections, as well as diabetes and obesity in adolescence and adulthood. ECDOH encourages parents to consider, if possible, pumping breast milk instead of using infant formula. Residents are reminded that insurance companies must cover a breast pump and supplies at no cost to pregnant members or members who just gave birth and are breastfeeding. However, breastfeeding is not possible for some families, and infant formula is a safe alternative.
"If you cannot find your child's infant formula brand, I recommend you call the infant's medical provider to see if they have samples or suggest a similar formula that may be more readily available in stores that is nutritionally similar to meet the infant's needs," Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein said. "Using toddler formula or cow’s milk to feed infants, watering down formula, trying to make infant formula at home, using breastmilk from a friend or online group or giving an infant solid food to stretch the formula supply can be harmful to your baby and can negatively affect their growth and development."
ECOCP is warning residents that, with the current infant formula shortages seen around the country, there has been an increase in scams that take advantage of parents in need. Fake websites, scammer profiles on social media, and high-priced resellers aim to exploit consumers during this shortage.
"The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently released a consumer alert with advice to help avoid infant formula scams," said Director of Consumer Protection Jennifer Andres. "They recommend that parents research the company or product before purchasing from a business or a product they are not familiar with. The FTC also recommends that parents use a credit card when purchasing infant formula from an unfamiliar business, because credit cards provide a higher level of consumer protection than other payment methods. When buying formula online, it is also important to read the shipping information on the ad; if the advertisement does not include shipping information, the business is supposed to ship your order within 30 days."
The NYS Division of Consumer Protection has also issued guidance to ensure consumers make informed decisions, especially online purchases. It said, “Before purchasing any formula, be sure to safety check the product for any recalls and read the product specifications to ensure you are purchasing the right product.”
Andres said, "It is illegal for businesses to charge excessive prices for essential goods or services during abnormal market disruptions. If anybody believes price gouging is going on, don't hesitate to contact my office at 716-858-1987. It is scary enough to face the potential of running out of formula to feed your little one, but getting scammed can be prevented if you are diligent and informed.”
Catholic Charities is the administrator of the local Women, Infants & Children program. WIC subsidizes infant formula, among other nutritious foods, for low-income families. Erie County residents interested in the WIC program can call 716-218-1484.
√ Erie County Department of Health: www.erie.gov/health
√ Erie County Office of Consumer Protection: https://www3.erie.gov/consumerprotection/
√ New York State Department of State, Division of Consumer Protection, Guidance for parents during baby formula shortage: https://dos.ny.gov/news/consumer-alert-nys-division-consumer-protection-offers-guidance-parents-during-baby-formula
√ U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Questions and Answers Concerning Infant Formula: https://www.fda.gov/food/people-risk-foodborne-illness/questions-answers-consumers-concerning-infant-formula
√ U.S. Health and Human Services, Information for Families During the Formula Shortage: https://www.hhs.gov/formula
√ FDA, Infant Formula Safety Dos and Don’ts: https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/infant-formula-safety-dos-and-donts
√ HealthyChildren.org, Ask the Pediatrician: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/tips-tools/ask-the-pediatrician/Pages/Are-there-shortages-of-infant-formula-due-to-COVID-19.aspx
√ A list of comparable formulas for allergies or other special health needs are available at https://naspghan.org/recent-news/naspghan-tools-for-hcps-affected-by-formula-recall