Since the end of 2021, baby formula has become difficult to find in states all over the country, marking one more worry for parents amid the COVID-19 pandemic about a potential formula shortage. Compounding the issue is the recent Similac formula recall, which is making finding formula even more challenging, and causing parents and caregivers concern over how they'll be able to continue to feed their babies.

Now, major retailers like Walgreens are being forced to ration formula.

"Due to increased demand and various supplier challenges, infant and toddler formulas are seeing constraint across the country," a Walgreens spokesperson told NPR. "We continue to work diligently with our supplier partners to best meet customer demands."

USA Today reports nearly 30% of popular baby formula brands may be sold out at retailers across the U.S. Parents across the country have reported shortages and rations at Target, Costco, Long's and other retailers—both in-store and online.

Recent formula recalls, inflation and supply chain shortages have all resulted in an unprecedented amount of inconsistency in the formula market, making it one of the supply categories most affected by the pandemic.

The pandemic is causing supply-chain delays

Parents have been reporting shortages of Enfamil, Gerber, and other popular formula brands at stores across the country. According to The New York Times, the shortage is likely the result of a few issues: the supply chain causing ingredient shortages, staff shortages that are causing production and transportation delays.

Related: What parents need to know about the Similac recall

The Wall Street Journal reports that retail chains like Walmart and CVS place the blame on supply issues, saying formula manufacturers are running low on ingredients and packing materials while also navigating labor shortages.

Formula manufacturers, however, say they have enough supplies but retailers aren't stocking their shelves with products quickly enough (also likely due to labor shortages). Formula shortages also vary based on location, and The Wall Street Journal also points out that many relocations have occurred throughout the pandemic.

The Infant Nutrition Council of America acknowledged there are some supply issues.

"Broadly, there are reports of challenges across retail supply chains, from transportation and logistics to some anecdotal evidence suggesting pantry-loading behaviors, which can put increased pressure on in-store inventory," a spokesman for the group said in a statement.

Related: Chrissy Teigen & 11 celebrity mamas normalizing formula

According to retail research from market research company IRI, baby formula accounted for more than $4 billion in U.S. sales in 2021, a 4.5% increase from 2020. KK Davey, the client engagement president at IRI, tells CBS News that the current shortage has grown worse during the last month.

Davey says the average national in-stock rate before the pandemic was 95% for major brands of formula powder. As of last week, rates of availability across 10 national retailers ranged from 98% to 75%. In major cities like Seattle, Wichita, and Tucson, powdered formula was less available.

"Some of the shortages are related to procuring the raw materials, some of it in production, some of it is in packaging…and then labor shortages in the factory, transportation," Davey confirmed.

Reckitt, the company that makes Enfamil, told CBS News it has "ample supply" of its formula products.

"We have taken steps to ramp up production and are currently shipping 50% more product, to address issues as fast as possible," a Reckitt spokesperson said in a statement. 

Other major retailers and formula companies also confirmed to CBS News that they are each dedicated to ensuring parents and caregivers will have the formula they need moving forward.

Related: Time-saving formula tips our editors swear by

Facing shortages and the possibility of having to switch formulas is stressful for new moms and dads alike, no doubt. Here are some possible solutions in the meantime.

Tips for navigating the formula shortage

  • Call around to your local stores to see if your formula is in stock. If not, ask if and when they expect to receive more product.
  • Consider switching to a direct-to-consumer brand. The newly launched, FDA-approved ByHeart offers a subscription-based service as well as cans available for one-time purchase to get formula delivered to your door.
  • Try the generic version. Most store-brand formulas are very similar in composition to brand-name formulas. Try comparing labels to find one that's similar in makeup to your previous formula.
  • Switch to liquid formula. Though it may be slightly more expensive, you may have better luck finding a pre-mixed version in stock.
  • Use a brand not included in the Abbott Nutrition recall. Only four formulas have been recalled, meaning the other options are still safe to use. It's also worth noting that none of Abbott's liquid formulas are included in the recall.
  • Reach out to local parent groups on social media. You can usually find moms willing to share any excess formula they may have on-hand.
  • Call your pediatrician's office to check on their formula supply. This is a good option especially if your baby is on a specialized formula for allergy or nutritional reasons.

Talk with your pediatrician about switching formulas if you are experiencing supply issues, or if you have any questions or concerns regarding the shortage.

A version of this post originally appeared on Jan. 28, 2022. It has been updated.

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