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As baby formula shortage persists, experts offer tips for parents struggling with finding formula

A supply chain management assistant professor with the University of Tennessee says we may still be months out from seeing shelves fully stocked again.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — More than a year after the nationwide baby formula shortage began, some parents are still struggling to find formula for their babies.

Lori Wade, who owns Knoxville Baby Lady, focuses on helping parents navigate life with newborn babies. For the past year, she has also helped them deal with the ongoing formula shortage.

"Newborn babies eat several times a day and, if you are not breastfeeding, you have to feed your baby," she explained. "And, you know, you are at the mercy of the formula companies and trying to get it is a huge issue."

She calls the shortage a stress-inducing experience for parents during what can already be a very stressful time for them.

"One of the thoughts that parents have had is not only do I have to think about labor and all the supplies that I need, but now I need to think about how am I going to feed the baby," she added.

Lance Saunders, a supply chain management assistant professor at the University of Tennessee, agreed with Wade. He recalled the issue started when Abbott Laboratories, one of the only baby formula providers in the U.S., had to shut down one of its biggest plants.

"So when you take one down, the ability to make up for that domestically is very hard to do," he added. "We just do not have the capacity."

Saunders explained there are four companies that control the majority of the baby formula industry: Abbott Laboratories, Mead Johnson Nutrition, Nestle USA, and Perrio Company. That means that when one faces issues, it makes it hard for other companies to pick up the slack.

For that reason, Saunders said many parents are still struggling to find formula a year into the shortage. That struggle is particularly hard in rural areas, where options tend to be more limited.

"If I am in a rural area and the store next to me is out, I probably do not have another store close to me," he commented. "Whereas, if I live in West Knoxville, I probably have six stores within a half a mile that I can go check to see if they have formula."

Even though it may still be a while before we see things go completely back to normal, Saunders says there is something you could do to prevent the shortage from getting any worse: avoid panic buying.

"Toilet paper caught up because toilet paper is not a perishable item," he explained. "With baby formula, it is a perishable item."

For those parents having a hard time finding baby formula for their children, both Wade and Saunders have some tips to share:

1. Talk to your doctor and/or hospital. Your doctor might be able to recommend a substitute in case you are struggling to find the formula your baby is used to. Also, doctors and hospitals sometimes have formula samples they can give out.

2. Reach out to family and friends who live in a different area than you because they may be able to send you formula if it is available where they live.

3. Check social media, particularly Facebook. Some groups can have information on availability in certain areas.

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