by Joneteau Coppin
The impact of the baby formula shortage in the United States market has already been felt in Barbados and parents have been complaining about the lack of options available.
Around April, some parents realised their child’s favourite formula was harder to find.
“Easter weekend was the worst, I was looking for formula and I drove all over Barbados, calling everywhere (supermarkets, gas stations, shops, searched online) looking for formula,” said Rosemary Lynch, a mother of a 10-month old baby.
“I couldn’t get any Enfamil, Similac or Lactogen. The only milk on the shelves were for preemies or Klim. I got one store that had Similac and they were selling it at $40.
“I called Massy Distribution to find out the price so I could buy in bulk and they told me they were out of stock until the second week in May. I had bought enough milk that lasted to the beginning of the second week of May.”
And when she followed up again, the shipment still had not been received.
“I cannot find the Enfamil or Lactogen she uses so I’m forced to use Nestle Klim because that is all that is available. Klim is really for children over one, but I have no other choice.”
When contacted, a representative from Massy Distribution said he could not comment at this time.
The baby formula shortage came as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the closure of the Abbott Nutrition facility in Sturgis, Michigan. The facility, which produces Similac and other popular formula brands, was closed in February after two deaths and four hospitalisations which were linked to bacterial contamination.
President of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Anthony Branker stated last week: “The supply is not as fluid as we would like it to be but we still have some products which we have been delivering to supermarkets. Baby Formula is not a product where you can pick up a generic brand.
“Parents are being very cautious about switching to unknown brands and so therefore there is a hesitancy, but we are hoping that supply will come back to some level of normalcy next month. One supplier has stated that they have four weeks of stock currently and a shipment is already in transit. Another supplier who is out of stock expects to have the shipment in by May 28th. There are two inventories on the island and more coming.”
Meanwhile, consultant paediatrician, Dr Gillian Birchwood, believes now is a good time to address thinking and attitudes towards breastfeeding, especially in the workplace.
Birchwood, who is based at the Premier Paediatric Clinic in Upper Collymore Rock, St Michael, stated: “As a country we may need to urgently find ways to support mothers who are back out to work to keep them breastfeeding. That won’t apply to all mothers, as some can’t breastfeed, or they have children who can’t have breastmilk for medical reasons.
“A severe shortage (of baby formula) means we will see babies with malnutrition and poor growth. I would be very concerned about people making decisions (like cutting corners by watering down the formula) that will have medical consequences on their babies, parents have to be very careful what they put in their babies’ mouths.”
Dr Birchwood said the reliance on baby formula in Barbados was partly because the workplace culture locally has not addressed all of the needs of women, and as such, women do not have the adequate facilities for them to pump at work so they have to take the convenient option.
She also believes that women in Barbados are not given enough advice in the antenatal period which would allow them to feel comfortable with the process of breastfeeding, and so they erroneously assumed their babies were not getting enough milk and switched to baby formula.
The paediatrician warned that families should not resort to making alternatives.
“I strongly advise against that because they are not safe and they do not meet the baby’s nutritional requirements. Plant based milks, such as almond milk, are definitely not acceptable either as they don’t give the vitamins and minerals needed. We’ve had cases of babies having malnutrition from them right here in Barbados.
“Another thing that is popular here now is using moringa seeds; again, not acceptable. It is important to speak to your paediatrician about what is healthy for your baby because they are all different and see what will work for your family until the shortage ends.”
Before the heavy dependence on baby formula, Barbadians used goat milk, cow milk and cornmeal pap to feed their young babies as an alternative to breast milk.
Senior Health Sister at the Winston Scott Polyclinic, Sister Rosanette Cooke said she could not support the use of the goat’s and cow’s milk as breastfeeding was the preferred method to feeding babies.
However, in the instance that a family would be unable to breastfeed or get formula for a child that was under six months old, she said there were baby cereals from various brands that would provide the required nutrients.
Cooke said babies past the age of six months should be able to handle solids but stressed that the consistency of the solids would be dependent on the child.