By Jackie Matthews

Feeding babies has always been a focus and stressor for parents. In 2022, a shortage of formula for infants gained international recognition as a crisis requiring immediate relief action. Supporting the effective improvement for infant nutrition is essential as early malnutrition is linked to chronic health problems and increased infant mortality (Borger et. al, 2022). There are a great many risk factors influencing a birth parent’s ability to provide adequate nutrition through breastfeeding/chestfeeding and/or formula. One of the identified risk factors for self-reported insufficient milk is poor maternal mental health (Segura et al, 2022). Fear about the parent’s ability to feed the infant will not further the goal of improving the client’s mental health (or milk outcomes). To help stem the impacts of this formula shortage, it is essential that counselors actively work to connect clients with resources AND improve the mental health of parents as a component of critical infant nutrition support. Further, counselors need to identify and advocate for the mental health and well-being of parents as a critical route to supporting infant health outcomes. This article provides  7 suggestions for supporting parents during this difficult time. 

  1. Provide Information  

Counselors can provide information about resources in their region as well as up-to-date information from federal responses. For example, Health and Human Services ( published a fact sheet called “Helping Families Find Formula During the Infant Formula Shortage” (attached to this document) which provides phone numbers and resources for potential avenues of support. A notable resource linked in this document is a doctor’s order for urgent need of formula. Counselors can help clients navigate through these systems and get emergency supplies of formula for their infants. Counselors can also work with local food pantries and hunger prevention programs to connect clients with resources. 

  1. Validate Feelings

Being a parent of an infant is hard enough without the effects of a global pandemic, war in Ukraine, stress about politics or worst of all, a shortage of the food you need to adequately provide for your child. Birth parents already face tremendous challenges and decisions when it comes to breastfeeding and/or formula feeding. One of the ways that counselors can be supportive to birth parents right now is to join them in a person-centered approach to validate the feelings of fear and overwhelm. While other forms of support (anxiety-reduction or solution-focused interventions) might be a great fit, it is important to validate the fears, feelings and challenges of this particularly important and vulnerable population. 

  1. Support Supplementation 

The careful regulation of formula is an important public safety measure. In a time of lack of formula, which hopefully will be temporary, it is essential that infants are provided with food. One thing counselors can do is to help parents sort through their feelings about providing alternative sources of nutrition during the shortage. Work in consultation with the pediatrician (if possible) to help the client come up with alternative solutions if no formula can be found. For example, in some cases it might be appropriate to feed whole milk for a short time or to make baby food. For example, the University of Maine Extension provides resources helping parents learn how to make their own baby food ( Some parents may be able to supplement the infant’s nutrition with readily available alternative food sources. Supporting parents learning how and when infants can safely start to get nutrition from other sources may help prevent malnutrition. Additionally, helping parents tune in to alternative sources of nutrition may empower the client and mitigate the feelings of helplessness caused by this shortage. 

  1. Create Formula Banks

Many parents are taking to social media to connect with each other and share formula and breast milk resources. Counselors and mental health professionals can assist this process by creating fundraising efforts for formula and/or formula banks to provide free formula to clients who cannot afford the inflated prices on this scarce and precious resource. 

  1. Chestfeeding Grief, Loss and Anxiety

It is critical that counselors provide space for birth parents to explore their feelings about chestfeeding. When clients have not been able to provide milk, they may feel a sense of loss. Some parents will feel acute disappointment and may blame themselves. To have this loss further impacted by a national formula shortage is an important and challenging complexity that might need to be addressed in therapy. 

  1. Addressing Disparities and Disproportionate Effects

During this shortage, the price for what formula is available has skyrocketed. This situation further highlights disparities as many parents are not able to afford these prices. Counselors can play a role checking in with clients who have small children (directly or in the family) and actively work to seek nutrition support for infants in low SES and/or marginalized communities. 

  1. This Too Shall Pass

Parents with hungry infants that they cannot feed are in one of the worst nightmares a human can experience. They may not be at a place where they can hold hope or see the (hopefully) temporary nature of the shortage. One of the roles of a counselor in this situation might be to be a keeper of the bigger picture, to gently remind clients that this will not last forever and that they do not have to face it alone. 


Borger, C., Paolicelli, C. P., & Sun, B. (2022). Duration of Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Participation is Associated With Children’s Diet Quality at Age 3 Years. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 62(6), e343–e350.

Segura, P. S., Richter, L., Rhodes, E. C., Hromi, F. A., Vilar, C. M., Adnew, M., Nyhan, K., & Pérez, E. R. (2022). Risk factors for self‐reported insufficient milk during the first 6 months of life: A systematic review. Maternal & Child Nutrition, 18, 1–29.

Fact Sheet: Helping Families Find Formula During the Infant Formula Shortage

View in Spanish at 

To address infant formula shortages in the wake of Abbott Nutrition’s voluntary recall of certain powdered infant formulas, the Biden-Harris Administration is working to ensure that infant formula is safe and available for families across the country. Yesterday, President Biden spoke with retailers and manufacturers, including Walmart, Target, Reckitt, and Gerber, to discuss ways to get more formula quickly and safely onto store shelves. He also announced a series of actions, including cutting red tape on the types of formula parents can buy, calling on the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general to crack down on price gouging and unfair market practices, and increasing the supply of formula through increased imports.

Thanks to these efforts, manufacturers have ramped up production 30-50 percent, bringing total production today above pre-recall levels with a different mix of products and sizes now available in the market. Still, it’s clear that too many families continue to encounter challenges obtaining infant formula—especially families of about 5,000 infants as well as some older children and adults with rare metabolic diseases that depend on specialty formulas.

If you are unable to readily find formula, please consult the following resources that may be able to assist:

Manufacturer Hotlines

  • 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)

Community Resources

WIC-Eligible Families

General Guidance

  • Call your OBGYN or pediatrician to see if they have in-office samples or can suggest a similar formula that may be more readily available in stores and is nutritionally similar to your infant’s typical formula.
  • You should not water down formula, try to make formula at home, or use toddler formula to feed infants. Don’t discard formula unless it is expired or is part of the recall. Check your formula’s lot code to see whether or not it was affected by the recall.
  • You can find more guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics (