Texas State nutrition professor offers tips for parents during baby formula crisis
There may be no one reason for the U.S. baby formula shortage, but experts can agree that a massive recall in February along with long-held policies by federal regulators that allowed just a few companies to corner the market and a slow response by FDA officials, has turned this into a crisis for parents.
What parents want to know is, how to feed the baby when there is no formula to buy?
Dr. Lesli Biediger-Friedman is an associate professor and graduate coordinator of the Texas State University Nutrition and Foods Program. This month she attended the 2022 National WIC Association annual Education and Training Conference, where she and colleagues presented “Chat with Maya: Innovating WIC with a Chatbot.”
Biediger-Friedman emphasized that parents should turn to WIC clinics, pediatricians and hospitals with formula needs. She also recommends the Healthy Children website from the American Academy of Pediatrics where Dr. Steven Abrams, a professor pediatrics and an Austin-based pediatrician, has a Q&A column about the baby formula shortage, “With the baby formula shortage, what should I do if I can't find any?”
Biediger-Friedman addressed some of the topics currently making the rounds on social media — including recipes from the 1940s and 1950s for homemade formula. “As far as making formula — yes, people used to do it, but we know much more now,” she said. “(Today’s) formula has micro-nutrients that infants need.”
Food safety is also a concern. “Homemade formula may not be as friendly to an infant’s developing digestive system,” she added.
“We promote breastfeeding,” Biediger-Friedman said. “But we must meet families where they are. There is a lot of judgment put on parents.” She added that Texas State dietetic interns have rotations at the Mothers Milk Bank at Austin.
Biediger-Friedman’s other advice for parents:
- Get connected to a parenting group in their area
- Do not hoard formula
- Watch the expiration or “best by” date on any formula purchased
- Be patient when switching formulas (infants have very immature digestive systems)
As suggested in the Abram’s article, when in a pinch, for babies over six months who usually drink regular formula, cow’s milk is an option but only for a few days until infant formula can be secured. Parents should talk with their WIC nutritionist and family health care provider about the introduction of first foods. Most infants will be ready for first foods around six months of age when the infant is “sitting up” and “showing an interest in food” Biediger-Friedman said.
The Nutrition and Foods at Texas State is in the School of Family & Consumer Sciences and offers a dietetics or nutrition with a minor undergraduate track, a Master of Science program in human nutrition and a dietetic internship to train registered dietitians. Students in the “Nutrition and Lifespan” courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels study the nutritional requirement associated with infancy, childhood and older adulthood.
Biediger-Friedman and Dr. Sylvia Crixell, retired professor of nutrition, led the research that resulted in the development of the Texas WIC ChatBot, Maya. With a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the chatbot was created first in English, then Spanish to assist WIC recipients. The chatbot provides information about eligibility, appointments, screenings, and answers to WIC-related questions. It was rolled out across Texas in 2020. Biediger-Friedman heads the evaluation team. She said that New York recently introduced their own chatbot for WIC recipients – named Wanda.