According to the most recent estimates, 43% of formula is out of stock at retailers across the country. That baby formula shortage means many parents are scrambling to find the infant nutrition their babies desperately need—and experiencing a lot of added stress and anxiety in the process. 

We’ve heard from parents who are driving incredibly long distances in search of formula. They’re returning to stores daily to check stock. They’re placing online orders for pickup, only to have them canceled before they arrive. They’re calling around to friends and family to check stores near them and ship formula across state lines. They’re reaching out on social media to buy cans from other parents. 

For already busy and tired parents, that’s a mountain of added pressure. 

Related: The formula shortage is just the latest crisis society has heaped on mothers

In an interview with Yahoo Finance Live, I shared what we’ve been hearing from the Motherly community in terms of the impact the formula shortage has had on parents. 

Watch the interview here:

Here’s how the formula shortage has been impacting parents

Parents are left to their own devices—and going to great lengths to find formula for their babies

“My husband and I have made 3-hour round trip excursions to buy piecemeal tubs of formula. We have had to switch brands and types frequently and hope that our son tolerates the change,” says Amy H. 

Wondering where formula is most in stock? Here’s how US cities rank on formula supply right now.

Parents are grappling with added stress, frustration and guilt

“The formula shortage is really frustrating and scary. As a mom who was unable to produce much breastmilk, this adds additional layers to the guilt of being unable to breastfeed,” says Hayli C.

Parents are reassessing their budget to be able to afford the higher prices of formula as a result of inflation and supply chain issues

One mom shared: “My husband and I have had the conversation that we will adjust our grocery budget any way necessary to get formula.”

Some parents have been forced to switch brands multiple times based on what’s in stock

“This has been tough. I have been forced to switch formula brands at least two or three times since December just to find formula because of this shortage,” says Johanna W.

This isn’t a new phenomenon—Motherly first reported on formula shortages back in January, but things have only gotten worse since then. The shortage is especially hard for parents of babies who need specialized formula and can’t easily switch brands based on what may be available at any given time. If that’s the case for you, consult with your pediatrician, who may be able to specially order formula for your child. 

Related: Here’s how the White House is handling the U.S. formula shortage crisis

What to do if you can’t find infant formula:

Reach out to your child’s pediatrician

“If parents are unable to find formula for their child, they should reach out to their pediatrician to discuss best alternatives to their usual formula brand,” says Peggy Chapman, MD, a pediatrician with One Medical. Some providers may also have formula samples on hand for you to take home. Your OB-GYN may also have samples available, too.

Do not water down or ration infant formula 

Even if your preferred formula is out of stock, don’t try to make it last longer by adding more water or rationing it out, both of which can lead to dangerous nutrient imbalances for your baby. “Most babies will do fine on an alternative even if there are slight differences in the formulation,” notes Dr. Chapman.

Do not attempt to make your own formula

“Infants’ vital organs, including the brain, are not fully mature and therefore may be injured when given formula that has not been tested for safety and adequate nutrition. This includes homemade baby formulas. Feeding homemade formula should be avoided,” stresses Dr. Chapman.

Avoid giving babies under 6 months cow’s milk

“Infants less than 12 months old should not be given whole cow’s milk since it can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and can lead to anemia and digestive problems. Infants 12 months and older can safely drink dairy (cow’s) milk as long as the amount is less than or equal to 24 ounces a day.”

“Like cow’s milk, goat’s milk is not an appropriate food for infants less than 12 months. Goat-milk-based formula, on the other hand, can be safe for babies. Ask your pediatrician before giving your infant goat-milk-based formula,” notes Dr. Chapman. 

Call a manufacturer hotline

The Department of Health and Human Services offers hotlines you can call if you are unable to readily find formula. From the HHS, they are:

  • Gerber’s MyGerber Baby Expert: reach a certified nutrition or lactation consultant by phone, text, Facebook Messenger, web chat, or video call, who can help you identify a similar formula that may be more readily available
  • Abbott’s Consumer Hotline: call 1-800-986-8540
  • Abbott’s urgent product request line: ask your OBGYN or your infant’s pediatrician to submit an urgent product request by downloading and completing the form - PDF 
  • Reckitt’s Customer Service line: call 1-800 BABY-123 (222-9123)

Reach out to a community resource

Also, according to HHS, try reaching out to community resources. They have provided some outlined below, as well as a resource for WIC-eligible families.

  • United Way’s 2-1-1: dial 2–1-1 to be connected to a community resource specialist affiliated with United Way who may be able to help you identify food pantries and other charitable sources of local infant formula and baby food.
  • Feeding America: call your local food bank to ask whether they have infant formula and other supplies in stock.
  • Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA): certain HMBANA-accredited milk banks are distributing donated breast milk to mothers in need; please note that some may require a prescription from a medical professional. Find an HMBANA-accredited milk bank.
  • For WIC-eligible families, contact your local WIC office to identify or obtain additional sources of infant formula nearby.

Read more from the Department of Health and Human Services on how to find formula until production fully ramps up.