In 2022, the United States went through a serious baby formula shortage. This meant that many parents didn’t have a stable source of food for their infants for several months. That kind of situation is stressful – even outside of a shortage. Below, we share helpful tips and information for finding baby formula when stock is limited.

We also cover the causes of the 2022 shortage, what to do if you can’t find any formula, and resources that can provide help and guidance for you and your little one.

Why was there a shortage of formula for babies in 2022?

The supply of baby formula in the United States was already under pressure due to supply chain issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Then in February of 2022, several bacterial infections were linked to formula made by Abbott Nutrition, at one of the largest formula-producing plants in the U.S. The plant was shut down, and a number of products made there were recalled. After cooperating with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Abbott was eventually able to overhaul and reopen the plant.

Where to find baby formula during a shortage

If you can’t find formula at larger stores, you may have success with one or more of the following methods. If you find a large supply of formula during a shortage, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has historically recommended only buying enough for 10-14 days at a time, so that other parents and caregivers can stock up as well.

  • Try smaller stores. Local non-chain pharmacies and grocery stores may have different supplies and serve a smaller number of people than big box retailers.
  • Shop online (if possible). It tends to be more expensive, but retailers that are out of stock at their brick-and-mortar locations may have more formula available online. Good places to check include Walgreens, CVS, Target, Walmart and Amazon. Online stock can vary from day to day, so check websites regularly.
  • Check community and social media groups. Some people are sharing locations that have formula in stock as they find them.
  • Visit local food pantries. People in Minnesota can look for locations near them through Hunger Solutions, and people in Wisconsin can check their branch of Feeding America.

In most cases, it’s safe to substitute your baby’s usual formula for whatever formula is in stock. However, if you’re unsure about making a switch or your baby needs a very specialized formula, talk to their pediatrician. They can give you guidance for meeting your baby’s specific needs.

Some retailers also make their own versions of brand-name formulas. For example, here’s a list of store-brand alternatives for Abbott Nutrition’s Similac products:

Similac-brand products Store-brand equivalent name
Advance, Pro-Advance, 360 Total Care Advantage
Sensitive, Pro-Sensitive, 360 Total Care Sensitivity
Alimentum Hypoallergenic
Total Comfort, Pro-Total Comfort Complete Comfort
Soy Isomil Soy
For Spit-Up Added Rice Starch

What if I get formula through my state’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program?

During the 2022 shortage, both Minnesota and Wisconsin temporarily expanded the formula options covered by their WIC programs. To see what substitutions are currently available or to apply for your state’s program, check the Minnesota or Wisconsin WIC sites, or contact your local agency directly.

What if I can’t find any baby formula?

In an emergency situation where you can’t find any formula at all, you may be able to get a limited amount of breast milk from a milk bank. Milk banks prioritize getting milk to babies with medical needs first, but if you’re approved, it’s a safe and healthy way to feed your infant. To find dispensaries, Minnesotans can use the Minnesota Milk Bank for Babies, and Wisconsinites can use the Mother’s Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes.

Baby formula alternatives: Answers to common questions

Baby formula is made to be a direct replacement for breast milk, meaning that it’s designed to meet infants’ exact needs – in terms of both calories and nutrients. Because of this, it’s very hard to replace in a way that’s still safe for a baby to consume.

There are some alternatives that may be used as short-term replacements under certain conditions, but only as a last resort when no baby formula or breast milk is available. Generally, they shouldn’t be used for babies younger than six months, and you should switch back to baby formula as soon as it’s available. For your child’s safety, it’s extremely important to talk to their pediatrician before trying any alternative to formula.

Can I give premature baby formula to a full-term baby?

In the same way that regular formula is designed for babies’ specific needs, premature baby formula is specifically designed to help premature babies with “catch-up” growth. However, it’s generally safe to give to a full-term baby for a few weeks.

Can I give toddler formula to my baby?

Formula made for toddlers isn’t recommended for babies, but it may be safe for a few days if your baby is close to a year old.

Can I give my baby soy milk?

If your baby is close to a year old, you may be able to feed them soy milk that’s been fortified with protein, calcium and vitamin D. This should only be done for a maximum of one week.

Can I give cow’s milk to my baby?

If your baby is at least six months old and doesn’t have any special dietary needs, you may be able to feed them whole-fat cow’s milk for a maximum of one week.

Unsafe alternatives to baby formula

Can I dilute baby formula with extra water?

Baby formula should always be used according to the instructions on the label. Diluting formula lowers the amount of calories and nutrients that your baby gets from it, which can lead to very serious dietary imbalances.

Can I give my baby homemade formula?

No. Homemade formula is not a safe option for babies.

Can I feed my baby other plant milks?

Aside from using fortified soy milk under the conditions described above, plant milks generally aren’t recommended for babies. Like diluted and homemade formula, plant milks don’t meet babies’ nutritional needs.

Can I feed my baby goat’s milk?

The FDA has not approved goat’s milk for babies.

We’re here to help

No parent wants their child to go hungry, and neither do we. If you’re worried about your child’s food supply and feed them with a combination of formula and breastfeeding, our lactation experts can help make breastfeeding easier and give you recommendations for increasing your milk supply.

And again, for guidance about formula substitutions and answers to any other questions you have, talk to your child’s pediatrician.