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'Do not make homemade formulas!' warns CMH pediatrician

Canada is seeing a massive formula shortage affecting babies who need specialty formulas, because of supply issues from the United states. Doctors in Cambridge are urging parents not to panic and to not make homemade formula
Shelves at a Cambridge Walmart empty of most specialty formulas.

Canada is experiencing one of the worst baby formula shortages in history and formula designed for babies with allergies is disappearing from the shelves. 

Since February, there have been several recalls at a large Abbott formula plant in the United States. This has caused a ripple effect that has started to crawl across the border leaving some families feeling hopeless. 

Cambridge pediatrician Dr. Praveen Saroey said parents of children with milk allergies are scrambling to find an alternative to their missing hypoallergenic formulas. 

“Our group of pediatricians at Cambridge Memorial Hospital have discussed this amongst ourselves and we've been struggling to prescribe alternative formulas,” said Saroey. “And all of these alternatives are also not available, patients are struggling a lot.”

The recall saw most of the hypoallergenic formulas being recalled leaving only a few options left. The brands not affected by the mass recall have been bought out by people looking for an alternative food source for their baby. 

Health Canada said: “The shortage of extensively hydrolyzed formulations is putting additional pressure on the limited supply of amino-acid based formulas. Amino acid-based formulas are critical for babies who are at risk of very serious allergic (anaphylactic) reactions. It is therefore critical that consumption of these products be facilitated by doctors only to babies who require them.”

Babies who experience this allergy may break out into hives and experience symptoms such as; colic, reflux, abdominal pain and fever. 

Saroey said that babies who experience these symptoms usually clear up after three months of age. This is when their body can start breaking down the milk protein more efficiently and can better deal with things like reflux. 

He suggests talking with a pediatrician before making any decisions, but the only way to find out if a baby can use a non-hydrolyzed formula is to make the switch. 

“Reflux and milk allergy can all present very similarly. One of the easiest things to do, of course, is to change the formula. So a large majority of babies may be on hydrolyzed formula, may not actually have an underlying allergy,” said Saroey. 

This may work for some, but he said for the babies that are stuck on these extremely broken down formulas, families are going to have to try things like amino acid based formulas or a completely different brand of hydrolyzed formula. All of which are in very tight supply.

Saroey absolutely does not recommend making your own baby formula, saying it is dangerous and could have the potential to be fatal for a child. 

“Do not make homemade formulas! These companies have giant plants where they make this formula,” said Saroey. “They have to be very particular about how they fortify it, how much protein is in there, how much fat is in there and to make it in a sterile environment. We can barely manage to keep our surfaces clean, let alone having them sterile.”

The Canadian government has approved the importation and sale of over 20 formulas previously not sold in Canada from the United States and Europe. 

“The purpose of the enforcement discretion recommendation is to help prevent and mitigate shortages of these products in Canada in relation to the temporary closure of a large manufacturing plant in the United States, while ensuring a safe supply of these products to the vulnerable Canadians that rely on them,” said Health Canada. 

This measure has been extended until December 2022. 

Saroey relates to the struggles some parents are having to face and points to the relationship between families and the formula industry. 

“We are all together in this and it just reminds us of how heavily dependent we are on the industry to support us,” said Dr. Saroey. 

“Formula, it's a necessary evil. As much as we want to promote breastfeeding, it's a necessary part of what we need. At the end of the day, we want to make sure that they are appropriately gaining weight and that they are not getting dehydrated.”