The baby formula shortage has reached crisis level in recent weeks. While the issue is finally being addressed on a national level, it could take months for shelves to be restocked. For some families, however, that might not be soon enough.
Carrie Fleming of Pell City gave birth to her daughter, Lennix, at the end of January. She learned early on she would not be able to breastfeed as planned; she was never able to produce enough milk for her daughter.
By the time she arrived home with her new baby, it was evident Lennix had tummy issues far exceeding what constituted “normal.” Two pediatricians and nine formulas later, Fleming landed on PurAmino Hypoallergenic Infant Formula, a Mead Johnson product. It was the only formula that eased baby Lennix’s symptoms from severe acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Lennix’s allergies are such that there is no real replacement for the formula that works for her.
“This formula helps us so much,” Fleming said. “I feel like we have been robbed of her being a baby and now that we have this formula, it’s been a lifesaver and it’s helped a lot and we can’t go without that.”
When the Abbott recall hit soon after Fleming began using it for her baby, it made an already tough situation much more challenging.
“I was able to find some of her formula in the first couple weeks, plus I had received some from my pediatrician,” Fleming recalled. “When we went back to the doctor, she gave me more. I felt okay at that point, but a little worried at the same time. In April, I started to get scared. I was on the last can and couldn’t find any anywhere.”
It was then the new mom took to Facebook to see if any of her connections knew where to find PurAmino or had any leftover cans they would be willing to sell. Her posts blew up and caught the attention of the New York Times. Fleming was immediately contacted for an interview. Soon after, ABC and CNN reached out, as well.
“From the New York Times article, a gentleman in Canada saw my story and called to specifically ask for me, so they sent him my information,” Fleming said. “He had some of Lennix’s formula and told me he would send it to me free of charge because he knew what it was like to be on that journey with his son, who also needed that same formula for his medical condition. He had extra and wanted to send it to me for my baby.”
In the meantime, Fleming had family and friends searching, calling and traveling to help her find formula for her baby. The last shipment she was able to locate came out of New York and cost $245 for one case.
“It’s hard to fathom this is a situation that’s happening to us right now,” she said. “I know I’m not the only one. It’s heartbreaking to know there are so many families going through this. There was no way to prepare for it, either. You don’t want to hoard, but what are you supposed to do?”
In the last week, the formula shortage issue has been brought to the forefront as Congress and the Biden administration took emergency measures to remedy the crisis situation. President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA) just days ago, ensuring manufacturers have the necessary ingredients to make safe formula in the United States. He also launched Operation Fly Formula to fast-track formulas from overseas that fall within FDA safety standards until production is back on track. Over the weekend, Abbott CEO Robert Ford apologized for his company’s role in the nationwide formula shortage and vowed to ensure it would never happen again.
Still, for desperate parents like Fleming, the months-long struggle to safely feed her baby has spiraled out of control and caused her to question more than the shortage alone.
“Why is there such catastrophic loss with one plant shut down,” she asked. “Whenever Covid hit, look how fast we ran out of masks. Then a week later, we had them; and a surplus at that. Why can’t another food based plant open to help with the shortage? To me, we’re in a crisis situation already and I’m not just talking about the formula we use, but on a broader scale.”
Fleming’s main goal, however, is to bring attention to the horrifying situation that many American families have found themselves in these last few months.
“This is unacceptable and this can’t be,” she said. “I just hope my story helps illustrate the bigger picture to get formula back to babies.”