Amid U.S. baby formula shortage, Dartmouth Health Children’s pediatricians offer guidance for keeping babies safe, healthy and fed

Image of person's hand preparing a bottle of baby formula

The quality and safety standards are strict, so (generic formulas) are safe and comparable to the brand name versions

Susanne E. Tanski, MD, MPH

The United States has experienced a shortage in baby formula for months. Supply chain challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic were the first major impact on formula manufacturing. A formula recall and related shutdown of a production facility in February have made it even harder for families to access their regular brand—causing them to scramble between in-person and online searches.

This situation is frustrating and scary for many families. Pediatricians with Dartmouth Health Children’s want parents to be empowered with knowledge on how to keep their babies healthy and fed during this crisis. One of the most important things to know is that other brands of formula than what a family usually purchases are perfectly safe and suitable, including generic store brands, says Susanne E. Tanski, MD, MPH, section chief of Pediatrics at Dartmouth Health Children’s. If a specialized prescription formula is needed, your pediatrician can help with obtaining it.

“Nearly all store brands are manufactured by the same company and just labeled for the individual store,” Tanski said. “So any of the store brands are identical and interchangeable by type, for example by regular, gentle, soy, sensitive or hypoallergenic. The quality and safety standards are strict, so these are safe and comparable to the brand name versions.”

It’s also critical during shortages to resist the urge to hoard formula. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends purchasing only a 10-14-day supply to lessen demand, and several major retailers already have quantity limits in place. On the same token, “stretching” your supply by adding extra water to the formula, or making your own formula at home, can be dangerous to your baby, says Erik M. Shessler, MD, associate medical director for Dartmouth Health Children’s and chapter president of the New Hampshire Pediatric Society.

“The biggest risk for infants would likely be if families were to dilute the formula they have, which could lead to potentially dangerous salt level imbalances or poor growth,” Shessler says. “Families should also avoid switching to a non-Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved brand or using homemade formulas, which have an increased risk for contamination and inappropriate ingredients.”

Dartmouth Health Children’s also recommends the following tips until the formula shortage is resolved:

  • Follow the “use by” date on formula containers.
  • Only use infant formula for babies younger than 1 year instead of toddler formula or plant-based milks.
  • Avoid purchasing formula from international sources (which do not meet FDA standards).
  • Contact your pediatrician for support anytime you feel you need it.

About Dartmouth Health

Dartmouth Health, New Hampshire's only academic health system and the state's largest private employer, serves patients across northern New England. Dartmouth Health provides access to more than 2,000 providers in almost every area of medicine, delivering care at its flagship hospital, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH, as well as across its wide network of hospitals, clinics and care facilities. DHMC is consistently named the #1 hospital in New Hampshire by U.S. News & World Report, and recognized for high performance in numerous clinical specialties and procedures. Dartmouth Health includes its Dartmouth Cancer Center, one of only 51 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the nation, and the only such center in northern New England; Dartmouth Health Children’s, including the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, the state’s only children’s hospital and clinic locations around the region; member hospitals in Lebanon, Keene and New London, NH, and Windsor, VT, and Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire; and more than 24 clinics that provide ambulatory services across New Hampshire and Vermont. Through its historical partnership with Dartmouth and the Geisel School of Medicine, Dartmouth Health trains nearly 400 medical residents and fellows annually, and performs cutting-edge research and clinical trials recognized across the globe with Geisel and the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, VT. Dartmouth Health and its more than 13,000 employees are deeply committed to serving the healthcare needs of everyone in our communities, and to providing each of our patients with exceptional, personal care.