CASA GRANDE — Friday morning, Shana Mickelson, 23, of Casa Grande stared in disbelief at the empty shelves in the baby formula aisle at Walmart.

With a weeks-old infant, she felt a sense of worry and stress over how the nationwide shortage of infant formula would impact her newborn, Rosie.

“It was scary looking at the nearly empty shelves in Walmart,” she said.

Nationwide, parents are scrambling as baby formula becomes tougher to find, due in part to supply disruptions and a safety recall by Abbott Nutrition at its Michigan plant earlier this year. Products made at Abbott’s Casa Grande plant were not involved.

Despite the shortage, Mickelson considers herself lucky. She breastfeeds and pumps breast milk but supplements her baby’s food supply with formula. When Mickelson returns to work in a few weeks, baby Rosie is likely to start consuming more formula.

“For me, the shortage hasn’t been too bad yet,” she said. “I am breastfeeding. But I know not everyone can breastfeed. With my oldest, I couldn’t breastfeed. So I worry about those moms whose babies can’t breastfeed or moms of multiples. This must be even more scary for them.”

At Shope’s IGA in Coolidge, customers now call the store on a regular basis to find out if any shipments of formula have been delivered, said Tom Shope, store owner.

Aside from some of the advanced formulas, Shope’s IGA has not had a delivery of baby formula in months.

“People want to feed their babies and we’ve been out of formula for a while,” Shope said. “I’d like customers to know we’re trying. We’re doing everything we can to get formula for our customers, but there’s only so much we can do.”

Shope, who has spent a lifetime working in the grocery store industry, said the limited availability of infant formula is one of the worst supply shortages he’s ever seen impacting consumers.

“I’d say it’s even worse than the toilet paper shortage we had during the early days of COVID,” he said.

While some stores throughout Pinal County are receiving limited shipments of infant formula, most are placing limits on how much customers can purchase.

When she was in Walmart on Friday, Mickelson said customers were allowed to purchase a maximum of five containers of formula.

She said the limits were fine for Rosie, who eats about 3 ounces every two to three hours, alternating between breast milk and formula.

“Those limits would be hard for parents who can’t breastfeed or for parents who have multiples,” she said.

The shortages have people turning to social media to find supplies or advice, said Pamela Karpelenia, a parent and a moderator on the Facebook chat group CG Chat.

“We’ve seen the community offer tips in where to find formula and making homemade formula,” Karpelenia said. “Some people advise others on the legality on selling WIC (federally supplied) products.”

Concern over the shortages on Friday prompted Pinal County Public Health to post an update on the situation on its Facebook page.

“The current and ongoing infant formula shortage has been caused by several factors, including the recent formula recall and continued supply chain issues,” the health agency wrote.

The post included a link to its website that offered tips for parents struggling to find infant formula.

Among the suggestions offered by Pinal County Public Health are:

  • Asking a pediatrician for samples or discussing with a doctor the possibility of switching to an alternative formula
  • Calling food pantries
  • Using store finder apps for specific formula types

Pinal County Public Health discourages parents from adding more water to the formula to stretch it out.

“Adding more water to the formula to help stretch out a can of formula is not appropriate or safe to do,” the agency said. “It is extremely important to always follow the instructions provided on the formula can or those provided to you by your infant’s pediatrician.”

It also advises against using homemade formula as infants need a specific balance of nutrients to help support healthy growth and development.

Some recipes for homemade formula are not safe and do not meet basic nutritional needs, Pinal County Public Health said.

The Arizona Department of Health Services in a blog post Friday said local Women, Infants and Children Program clinics are helping connect clients to alternatives until supplies return to normal.

“To provide families with more flexibility, we have since the beginning of the infant formula shortage made available additional can sizes of Similac and certain other brands for WIC families, and this will continue,” the blog post said.

About half of WIC families receiving formula use Similac Advance Infant Formula and supplies of that brand have been fairly stable.

“About a third receive Similac Sensitive, for which store supplies have markedly increased in the past week. There also are increasing supplies of Abbott soy Isomil, used by a smaller number of WIC families,” the blog said.

For those unable to find specifics allowed through WIC benefits should contact WIC at 1-866-960-0633 or the Arizona WIC Shopper Helpline at 866-927-8390.

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Melissa St. Aude is the Arts & Entertainment editor at PinalCentral. She can be reached at mstaude@pinalcentral.com.

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