‘I don’t know what else to do:’ Cleveland-area pediatrician spearheads formula drive to help families through – cleveland.com

Pediatricians Dr. Jessica Madden, left, and Deanna Barry meet at Barry Pediatrics in Bath Township as part of Madden’s formula drive aimed at helping families through the formula shortage. Barry’s practice, Barry Pediatrics, is serving as a collection point. In only a week, Madden’s team has distributed formula to almost 30 families, and more than 60 families have submitted online requests for formula. (Julie E. Washington, cleveland.com)
CLEVELAND, Ohio — When pediatrician Dr. Jessica Madden heard about the nationwide formula shortage, her mind flashed back to when her 2-month-old daughter developed an allergy to cow’s milk and depended on formula to survive.
“I put myself in the shoes of all those parents struggling to find formula,” Madden said. “I can’t even imagine (what it’s like) to feel like you can’t provide the nutrition for your baby. I don’t know what else to do. But I can’t do nothing.”
Madden, whose practice is Primrose Newborn Care, decided to take action. She organized a formula drive to collect unused cans of infant formula and distribute them free to any families who need them.
In only a week, Madden’s team has distributed formula to almost 30 families, and more than 60 families have submitted requests for formula through her business website since Sunday. The bedroom of her guest house in Willowick is filling with cans of donated formula.
“Our goal is for each family to get about a week’s worth of formula at a time,” Madden said.
Recently, Madden took several cans of formula to Barry Pediatrics in Bath Township. Madden’s friend, pediatrician Deanna Barry, is helping the formula drive by using her office for collections and pick-ups.
Madden added her cans to those Barry had stacked in a back room, and discussed a mom who was scheduled to pick up supplies that evening.
Barry praised Madden’s commitment to families in need. “To take on this extra load shows her heart,” Barry said.
“Rightfully so, parents are panicking,” Barry said. “I’m sure people are desperate. My heart is heavy for them.”
The shortage, which is affecting all types and brands of formula, has some parents driving for miles to locate formula — especially those who need specialty products that are critical to infants’ health.
The empty store shelves are an additional pressure on families already stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation and high gas and grocery prices. Families with babies who have special formula needs are especially worried.
“With a baby’s health history, they may need certain formulas so (parents) can’t go to the store and just swap formula with any brand that they see,” Madden said.
The formula shortage came to Madden’s attention when she read about it in a Facebook group for physicians who are moms. One of Madden’s patients needed formula; so Madden put out a call on her network of former patients, doulas and other birth workers to find supplies.
If the shortage continues, Madden hopes to establish regional hubs for formula exchanges across Greater Cleveland, so that families don’t have to drive far for help. Volunteers are already collecting donations in Lake and Geauga counties and Beachwood, Madden said.
Madden is collecting formula from families who have leftover supplies, either because they have weaned their babies to cow’s milk, can donate cans they were given at the hospital, or their babies refused to eat a certain type of formula.
The service is free. All types of formulas are needed.
To donate or receive formula, go to primrosenewborncare.com and click on the “donate or receive formula” banner. Fill out the form. Cash donations are also accepted.
To coordinate a drop-off or pick-up at Barry Pediatrics, go to the website and click on “contact me.”
Madden is not buying formula in stores in order to donate it, or encouraging others to do so.
See related Q&A: Is homemade baby formula safe? What parents need to know to safely navigate formula shortage
Other tips and ideas for finding infant formula include:
* Checking smaller stores and drug stores, which may not be out of supply when the bigger stores are.
* Buying formula online. Purchase from well-recognized distributors and pharmacies rather than individually sold or auction sites.
* Following local Facebook groups forums that can connect families in need with families who have formula to spare.
Area stores do not always have updated inventories on their individual websites, according to a local pediatrician, who said the best way to find out what is available is to go to individual stores.
Among options on the internet for finding more is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (type formula into the search field), and locator tools offered by the manufacturers: Similac, Enfamil and Perrigo.
Callers to the United Way 211 help line are referred to those who can help them access formula. The agency’s community resource content specialists have reached out to various agencies to confirm which agencies still have formula available for those who call the help line. There is a small group of agencies who can help with formula.
Staff with the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is working closely with local vendors to identify if formula is available. WIC offices do not have formula on hand. The program provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals and other support for women and children up to age 5 who are found to be at nutritional risk. WIC recipients in Ohio receive WIC nutrition cards that are redeemed at state-authorized stores for specified food and formula.
Pediatricians Dr. Jessica Madden, left, and Deanna Barry meet at Barry Pediatrics in Bath Township to discuss the stockpile of baby formula collected through Madden’s formula drive. The pediatricians want to help families cope with the formula shortage. Barry’s practice, Barry Pediatric, is serving as a collection point. The service is free. All types of formula are needed. (Julie E. Washington, cleveland.com)
The supply crunch is tied to the halt in production at a Michigan plant that manufactures formula, operated by Abbott Laboratories. Abbott is one of four manufacturers that together produce about 90% of the country’s supply, according to news reports.
In February, Abbott recalled its formula amid reports that bacteria sickened two children and led to the deaths of two others, though the company says there is no definitive link between the cases and its products. The plant could be operating again within two weeks, the federal government said Thursday.
Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff announced that department officials requested that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services allow for greater flexibilities in order to expand access to infant formula for families.
“We recognize that many Ohio families are finding themselves struggling to find appropriate food for their infants, and we are advocating for them,” said Vanderhoff in a statement following a Wednesday press briefing.
“We have been in ongoing and direct communication with formula manufacturers, and USDA and HHS leadership, urging them to do all they can to promptly reduce barriers to formula access.”
While Ohio’s WIC contracts with Mead Johnson and not Abbott, the company experiencing the shortage, Ohio WIC has applied for USDA waivers to potentially extend even more flexibilities to families purchasing infant formula using WIC benefits. The WIC program currently has waivers in place to add additional formula choice and size options for impacted specialty formulas to provide greater options for families, Vanderhoff said.
On the national level, President Joe Biden this week ramped up domestic manufacturing of baby formula rapidly to deal with the nationwide shortage. The administration also plans to ensure faster flights of imports using Defense Department air cargo contracts.
Also this week, The House passed a bill that would expand access to formula for low-income Americans.
The reasons why so many families are dependent on formula are many, Madden said. Before the invention of infant formula, mothers who couldn’t produce enough milk turned to lactating relatives or wet nurses.
The United States does not have a safe system for pasteurizing donated breast milk, or allowing people to sell it. And most companies’ maternity leave policies are so short that it’s impractical for many women to breast feed, Madden said.
A lack of lactation support — most private insurance pays for just one visit with a lactation specialist — decreases the number of women who are able to successfully breast feed.
Re-lactating is not an option for most women once they have stopped breast feeding, Madden said. The process is intense, requires women to take off work. Most women take four to eight weeks before they are producing enough breast milk to feed their child.
“That’s not going to get you through the shortage,” Madden said.
About 40% of the mothers that Madden hears from are seeking hypoallergenic formula, Madden said. Babies often develop an allergy to a protein in cow’s milk in early infancy. The condition is marked by digestive issues, blood in the stool and failure to thrive. Breastfeeding mothers of babies with this allergy can switch to a soy- and dairy-free diet, but if the problem persists, babies are switched to special formula.
Hypoallergenic formula costs twice as much as regular formula, Madden said. WIC covers 100% of the cost of hypoallergenic formula, but many types of private insurance don’t cover the cost.
About 5% of the babies in the United States have an allergy to cow’s milk, Madden said.
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