Wisconsin mom crosses state lines to find baby formula for infant son

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — At the center of the nationwide baby formula shortage is a single factory: Abbott Nutrition’s plant in Sturgis, Mich., which has been closed for more than three months because of contamination problems. It is the largest such plant in the country and a source of leading brands like Similac.

This week, U.S. officials announced a deal with Abbott that paves the way to restart production at that facility. President Joe Biden’s administration also announced more imports of baby formula from overseas. Neither step will have an immediate effect on tight supplies that have left many parents searching for formula online or in food banks.

Local parents are searching for short-term solutions.

Amanda Westphal of Holmen has been crossing state lines to get the formula her son needs.

“Lucas is 9 months old … I’m not fully able to meet his needs with my supply, so that’s where supplementing with formula comes into play with Lucas,” explains Westphal. “It really causes anxiety when you go to the store and you walk up and the shelves are bare.”

Westphal found a temporary solution: Her mom bouight formula outside of Wisconsin and sent it her way.

“I’m really grateful for that,” Westphal said.

However, she is afraid the store where her mom buys formula may be out of stock soon.

Dr. Colleen McCurry, a physician at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, said, “If the shelves are empty, there are no options. So it’s really tough.”

There are alternatives, McCurry said, adding, “Cow’s milk or goat’s milk — could a baby do OK on it if they’re over six months? Yes.”

But McCurry says those alternatives are not a long-term solution.

When it comes to the youngest children, they are not an option at all.

“Under 6 months though, because of babies not being as mature and not able to handle a variety of liquids and things, they really should have formula,” McCurry said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also urges people not to water down formula or create a homemade formula.

McCurry said things could get better in July, but mothers are worried about what to do between now and then.

“It’s really important not to stock up,” McCurry said. “We saw this in the toilet paper crisis of 2020. You want to buy enough, but you don’t want to buy so much that you have more than you can use.”

The AAP also advises that people do not buy more than a 10-day to two-week supply of formula at a time to ease the shortage’s impact.

Congress also is working on legislation to make baby formula more affordable. A vote on those bills could come this week.