There is no creature on this planet more miserable than a starving baby. Even non-parents like me have probably seen the stories about America’s increasingly desperate search for infant formula. There was even a viral recipe for a 1960s DIY baby formula that made the rounds on the internet. (Please, please, please, please don’t use some random recipe on the internet to make formula!)
The crisis has been so severe that the American Academy of Pediatrics has announced that during this maternity emergency, infants over 6 months old can have cow’s milk.
Other baby measures are taken to prevent our little ones from going hungry. President Joe Biden has invoked the Defense Production Act to prioritize the resources used to manufacture infant formula.
Austin’s Mothers’ Milk Bank has even opened its freezers to feed healthy babies. Usually, donated milk is reserved for premature and very sick babies. Fortunately, there has also been a marked increase in the number of potential donors approaching the milk bank.
As a former starving baby, I’m glad we have workarounds that work during this crisis. But this is not enough. It is crucial that we correct the underlying problem. It’s time for big changes in the way we feed the little ones.
How did we get there ? The current crisis can be traced to an Abbott Nutrition facility in Michigan that had contamination issues that sickened several babies. Two infants died. The company recalled various powdered products.
This facility provides much of the infant formula used in the country, as well as various other specialized nutritional products. Ongoing problems at this plant, along with supply chain issues, have resulted in near catastrophic shortages.
The problems of a single company should not impact the youngest American citizens. It’s hard to get data on Abbott’s market share, but judging by the scale of the disruption, we can assume it’s quite significant. Perhaps we should approach this situation as a motivation to diversify the production of American formulas. According to the report of The Washington Postfour companies manufacture 90% of the formula sold in the United States. These four companies Atlantic said, are those from whom the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program purchases infant formula. In other words, market intervention encouraged consolidation and created higher risk for families. That means you can blame old Uncle Sam for at least some of this mess.
Clearly, we need a formula incubator with incentives to help more formula makers take their first steps into the market. Yes, infant formula requires complicated and specific alchemy beyond the scope of home cooking, but a country with multiple space tourism operators can certainly attract more baby food companies. .
Contributing to the problem is the formula’s perhaps overly strict labeling. Infant formula labeling guidelines are so strict that some nutritionally sound formulas are not allowed to be sold in the United States because of the words on their packaging.
Going forward, Politico reports, the FDA wants Congress to ensure that infant food manufacturers notify them of possible future formula shortages.
There are many misinformed people who argue that this formula shortage should never have become a problem because people should breastfeed. Others point out that breastfeeding is not always possible for reasons classified as “no beeswax”. Meanwhile, “fed is better” is slowly replacing “breast is better” in some parenting circles.
It is disturbing that some parents who are both able and willing to breastfeed their child are embarrassed by completely reparable circumstances. This formula crisis is a good motivator to ensure that structural support for breastfeeding exists in every workplace. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 51% of companies have “workplace lactation support programs.” Additionally, “unsupportive work policies and lack of parental leave” have been cited by the CDC as reasons parents stop breastfeeding before they plan.
It is infuriating to read the stories of countless women who have been forced to flush workplace toilets during short lunch breaks. All working mothers who choose to breastfeed should be able to feed their babies with dignity, not just those with offices and assistants around the corner.
America could do a lot better to make life easier for parents. Maternity leave in the United States is among the shortest in the developed world, typically around six weeks. This is not the case everywhere. Laura Grevina from Riga, Latvia, a digital content creator, podcast host and mother of two, told me that maternity leave in her part of the world lasts about a year to a year and a half. It makes breastfeeding so much easier!
We have to make sure that no baby goes hungry. Politicians must be motivated to help: babies grow up to be voters.
Anna Hanks is a writer in Austin. She wrote this for The Dallas Morning News.