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How to switch baby formula in a smart, safe way

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Posted at 12:49 PM, May 20, 2022

ATLANTA, Ga. — The company at the center of the nationwide baby formula recall and shortage, Abbott Nutrition, has reached a deal with the Food and Drug Administration to resume production at its plant in Michigan, but it will still likely be months before stores are well-stocked with baby formula.

In the meantime, there are smart and safe ways parents can change their child's baby formula in a pinch.

Melissa Zaslow is a new mom who has had a rough time navigating the formula shortage and keeping her two month old, Eli, fed and comfortable.

Eli has been bouncing between breast milk and different kinds of formula. Panic set in at a recent appointment with Eli's pediatrician.

"When they checked his stool at the doctor, they said there was a microscopic spec of blood," Zaslow said. "It turned into a nightmare. Projectile vomiting, spitting up non-stop, rashes, facial acne."

Zaslow continued to try and follow the advice of the pediatrician and specialists on what to feed Eli, but she kept running into roadblocks.

"I can't really describe the helplessness that I'd felt when I started looking at all these names of formulas online and texting my pediatrician and saying, 'It's not happening. We can't do it. It's not available,'" Zaslow said.

That deep frustration is something pediatric nurse and infant care expert Laura Hunter is hearing a lot from her clients.

"They're desperate, and they're scared," Hunter said.

Hunter is the co-founder of Moms on Call, which is a complete infant care guide. Hunter advises her clients on the best ways to switch baby formula.

She said it's important that parents stick within the four main categories of baby formula.

1. BASIC: Milk-based
3. SENSITIVE: Usually free of lactose
4. HYPOALLERGENIC: Three subcategories of partially hydrolyzed, extensively hydrolyzed, free amino acid-based

Hunter said always to consult a pediatrician when switching within the hypoallergenic category.

"The biggest thing is that when we switch from a category to another category, the body isn't used to that. So, a lot of times you'll have more gas, fussiness and spitting up. So, we're trying to limit that," she said.

Mild symptoms, if any, are normal when switching formula within a category and should only last a few days, according to Hunter.

However, there are indications when a doctor should be called immediately.

"If you have excessive spitting up of more than a handful, it's forceful, blood in the stoool, rash or we notice hives that come up," Hunter said.

If the child is eating very little or not at all, these are also signs that there could be a more serious issue with switching formula.

Eli is now thriving on a combination of breast milk and a formula in the basic category. His doctors discovered that the hypoallergenic formula he's been consuming was at least part of the problem.

"That's all I can ask for is a sleeping baby," Zaslow said. "It feels like happiness and great success."

Zaslow has been swapping containers of formula through Facebook and friend groups. Hunter said there are three questions that should be asked before making such a swap.

1. How was it stored? The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that unopened containers should be kept in a cool, dry place in an indoor space. They should not be kept in vehicles or garages. If the can is open, it should be stored in a cool, dry place inside with the lid tightly secured, but it should not be kept in a refrigerator.

2. How long has the formula been open? The CDC reports that most baby formulas need to be used within one month.

3. What's the expiration date? The CDC reports to never use formula after the "use by" date on the container.