Amid the devastating baby formula shortage, moms are the only ones helping moms

Amid the devastating baby formula shortage, moms are the only ones helping moms

USA News

Moms in local communities are helping other parents find formula amid the national shortage. And it’s the only good news right now.


In the Facebook group for mothers in the Roxborough neighborhood of Philadelphia, where I’ve been a member since my daughter was born six months ago, there are dozens of posts about baby formula. 

There are angry rants about the national formula shortage and the lack of action to solve it, and more angry rants about the people who are shaming formula-feeding moms. And then there are posts from moms offering extra formula and pumped breast milk to anyone who needs them. 

America is in the midst of an unprecedented baby formula shortage that, instead of uniting a country around the common goal of keeping babies fed and alive, has become a partisan football and new woman-shaming talking point. Talking heads on cable news grouse about undocumented immigrants getting formula while politicians pass blame on the Food and Drug Administration, the manufacturer or other politicians.

Shaming moms who don’t breastfeed

Then there are the oh-so-helpful commentators on Twitter shaming moms who don’t breastfeed, tritely stating that breastfeeding is “free” (it’s absolutely not, just look at all the bras, clothes, nursing pads, breast pump supplies and more I’ve had to buy, plus all the work hours spent pumping).   

As a mother of a six-month-old baby who has both been breastfed and formula fed, I’ve spent days doomscrolling and alternately crying and shaking with fury at the way mothers and babies are being treated right now.

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We’re in a crisis caused by economics, a pandemic and government decisions, but the response has been to blame mothers, ask them to work harder to make it work when society has failed them, to re-lactate or to spend their time and money scouring the country for a can of price-gouged formula. The only people showing up for mothers, it seems, are other mothers. 

That’s an exaggeration, to be sure, but as a mother who feels scared and alone, that’s what it feels like. I always wanted to breastfeed, but my daughter had severe jaundice at birth and she needed to be supplemented with formula while in the hospital. 

Five months later,  a new medication caused my supply to plummet. I spent hours “power pumping” to get my supply back and was devastated every time my daughter screamed after nursing, desperate for more to eat than I could give her, giving her bottles of breast milk as I looked at my dwindling freezer stash with increasing panic. I even considered stopping the medication, thinking surely my health could not be more important than keeping my baby fed. 

More: Formula shortage reveals GOP’s compassion for American babies, anger over nourished immigrant ones

Every parent of an infant is affected

So yes, I mostly breastfeed, but I’m not unaffected by this shortage. Every parent of an infant is affected. At any time, our babies could need more than we can give them. And it’s a heartbreaking feeling of hopelessness to think that, not because of any failing on our part, we might not deliver what our children need. Which is why it’s so disappointing to be met with scorn or ignorance instead of support. 

Becoming a mother is incredibly isolating. No one but another mother can quite understand what you’re going through, and mothers and parents are the only ones who truly realize the horror of not being able to feed your child.

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Maybe that’s why so many mothers I know have become amateur formula sleuths, scouting shelves at every Costco and CVS in the area for a specific brand and variation another mother needs. Others are offering to pump for their neighbors, an arduous and uncomfortable task. 

A month ago, I already knew the formula shortage was a problem because I follow other mothers on social media. But no one outside of those circles was talking about it. Now it’s major national news, but I still feel scared, outraged and alone – except when I check that moms Facebook group. One mother found 10 cans at Target and offered to buy it for anyone who needed it. Others are offering unfinished cans. 

I gave away the formula we got when my daughter was a newborn and kept just in case. That “just in case” moment is now, and there are babies who need the formula more than mine. 

Let’s find solutions: Let’s not waste time placing blame over baby formula shortage

The capacity for our society to blame and shame women apparently knows no bounds. But the capacity for people to help each other is pretty big, too. We need our institutions to fix the formula shortage, and it seems like they’re starting to do more than just talk about it.

In the meantime relying on our village is the only way we’re going to get through this. I’d love it if that village was made up of more than just other moms. 

Kelly Lawler is USA TODAY ‘s TV critic. Follow her on Twitter: @klawls

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