Many families who are stuck at home for the coming week from Coronavirus quarantining are facing a concerning question: What if my child needs more baby formula?

With food delivery services like Instacart or Prime Now showing blackouts or several days delayed, some parents have taken to stockpiling formula to make sure they have the supplies they need. Yet others are insisting that stockpiling is the wrong answer—and that those who are overfilling their pantries with excess formula are taking product from other families in need.

At least 75% of babies receive some formula in the first year of life. Parents rely on this product and potential shortages are making parents anxious.

What's the right thing to do?

Experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics say that parents should keep 2-4 weeks of formula on hand at any given time. Dr. Steve Abrams, chair of the AAP Committee on Nutrition says "most families who have 2-4 weeks supply are in good shape," and asks that parents not stockpile formula so that all parents are able to access the formula that they need.

If you're having trouble finding the exact formula brand you typically use, Dr. Abrams suggests families be flexible if possible, particularly for those who don't use specialty formulas.

Under no circumstances should parents water down formula, as the exact formulation is needed to give babies enough calories. And, adding water to formula can cause a dangerous drop in a baby's sodium level, which could lead to serious complications such as seizures.

If absolutely necessary, and under the guidance of your pediatrician, Dr. Abrams says, parents of 9-12 month olds could offer their babies whole cows milk for a limited time if they are unable to find formula. They should not substitute with juice, and should talk to their pediatrician before making any radical changes in their child's diet.

Parents can also call their pediatrician's office, even the after hours line, if they need emergency formula, as doctors offices' often have free samples available or can help facilitate a delivery.

If you find yourself in an emergency where you need formula and are unable to access it through delivery, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:

  • Feeding America is a nonprofit network of 200 food banks. Many provide free baby food, infant formula, diapers and other supplies. Find your local food bank.
  • Dial 2-1-1 to be connected to a community resource specialist who can help you find local resources. The number can be dialed from almost anywhere in the U.S. You also can get help online.

Beware of coronavirus misinformation: Posts about free cases of baby formula are false

Misinformation is spreading faster than any virus during this pandemic. There are Facebook posts and comments suggesting that formula brands are giving away free cases of formula to parents who call the customer service numbers printed on formula packaging.

This is false. Formula companies are not sending free formula to parents at this time.

Motherly reached out to Enfamil and the company issued the following statement: "We want to provide the Enfamil Community with as many answers as we can and clarify some misinformation during these uncertain times. Enfamil is fully committed to ensuring every baby gets all the Enfamil they need. We have been working with our employees, suppliers, and distributors to maintain availability and safe, high-quality production of our formulas in the coming weeks. Enfamil products can be located through our Enfamil Store Locator and purchased directly from our Enfamil Shop at our regular retail prices. Contrary to rumors in some online social networks, we are not distributing free cases of formula. We are instead focused on ensuring equitable availability for every baby."

The companies behind other popular formula brands have issued similar statements.

Similac states: "We are aware of a post being circulated that offers free formula. Currently Similac is not offering free product through our consumer relations line. Instead, we are doing everything we can to ensure adequate supply at all retail for all of our customers who need it."

Gerber told Snopes: "We are aware of rumors claiming that Gerber is giving away free formula in response to the out of stocks. While this is not true, we are committed to our goal of supporting babies and families with dependable, affordable nutrition," noting that coupons do still work.

The supply chain is still working and these companies stress they are working to get formula onto store shelves and delivered to homes without interruption but they are not giving away cases of formula.

This post was first published March 16, 2020. It has been updated and will continue to be updated as new resources become available.

Having a newborn is challenging at the best of times, but during forced isolation and in a climate of fear and uncertainty, it can become overwhelming.

The coronavirus pandemic is setting up our communities for genuine mental health concerns. This may be especially true for new parents. When will 'normal' life return? How will I pay for diapers and baby food? Will my mom be able to help us now? What if my baby or my family get COVID-19? Unfortunately, no one knows the long-term impact or answers just yet.

Most families have built a network of social support by the time they have their first child—if they don't already have a support system, they develop one through various baby classes and groups set up for parents. The creation of the village can be instrumental to the mental health of new parents. Social distancing, the lockdown of cities, and isolation will inadvertently affect the type of support available.

Keep reading Show less
Our Partners