- Lethargic babies are turning up in ERs with sodium deficiencies due to watered-down formulas.
- Dr. Owais Durrani said homemade formulas and others’ breast milk weren’t safe alternatives, either.
- Switching formula brands is OK for most infants, and parents can ask doctors for samples.
Some parents are taking desperate measures to feed their babies amid the formula shortage, and Dr. Owais Durrani is witnessing the consequences.
The East Texas emergency-room physician told Insider he and his colleagues had treated infants whose parents had been feeding them watered-down formula in an effort to make their supplies last longer.
But diluting formula offsets the electrolyte balance, leading to low sodium in infants. That, in turn, can shrink babies’ blood volume, causing low blood pressure and life-threateningly low levels of circulating oxygen. An electrolyte imbalance can also lead to fatal seizures, Durrani said, though his clinics haven’t seen any babies in that state.
“A formula is essentially regulated as closely as any prescribed medication when it comes to the ingredients in it to make sure a baby’s kidneys are developing, their liver, their electrolytes — everything else is in a very fine balance,” he said.
“They’re not as resilient as an adult who might be out in the sun for 12 hours and get dehydrated — we’ll still be OK for the most part, but for a baby, that’s not the case,” Durrani added. “Each electrolyte, each component, each mineral in that formula is very important.”
Parents are also asking about homemade formulas
Durrani said parents had also asked him whether various homemade formula recipes were safe. In no case can he or another physician answer yes, he said, since only regulated formulas are known to have the right balance of nutrients for body and brain development.
Recipes with cow, goat, or nut milk aren’t safe until a child is 1 year old, Insider’s Jane Ridley previously reported.
“They should really not be drinking any kind of nonhuman milk,” Dr. Victoria Regan, a pediatrician at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Texas, said. “If they’re not getting milk from either mom or a reputable breast-milk supplier, the essential nutrients are lacking, affecting both physical and neurodevelopment.”
Using a family friend or stranger’s breast milk isn’t safe, either, Durrani said.
“The issue with that is it can pass on disease,” he said.
Breast milk sold online (rather than through banks, which carefully screen and package donations), meanwhile, has been shown to carry disease-causing bacteria.
What parents can do
Durrani said most babies could tolerate other formula brands while they waited for their preferred brand to be restocked. Unless they have severe allergies, the worst side effects could be some spit-up or diarrhea.
Still, he said, that’s not a perfect solution.
“For a parent to make that change, it’s stressful as well because it’s another unknown,” he said.
Parents can also ask their pediatrician or local hospital for formula samples.
“Pediatricians are here to help. We’re here to help. We’re not going to turn a hungry baby away from the emergency department. We’ll make sure when that baby’s discharged, there’s some type of plan in place,” Durrani said. “But please don’t use any of those other options because that can lead to life-threatening issues.”