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Experts weigh in on how to keep your baby healthy and healthy through a formula shortage

Thinking about making your own formula? Think again.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Families are still struggling to deal with a baby formula shortage, emptying shelves and leaving many uncertain where their next supply will come from. The latest data says 43% of baby formula brands are out of stock across the country.

Experts say that lack of access could have dire repercussions.

"I've been practicing for almost 20 years, and I haven't seen something like this in my career before," said Dr. Adam Brown, a pediatrician at the University of Iowa.

Iowa is being hit especially hard by the formula shortage, as one of six states missing over half of its supply of formula as of the end of April. For parents of young babies, that's plenty of reason to worry.

"I'd say that question came up from at least half the parents I've talked to this past time I was on," said Dr. Audrey Bush, a pediatric hospitalist with Blank Children's Hospital. "Questions about 'Are they going to be able to find what they need?' ... 'What other options are how they can safely provide for their baby?' So it's a big question that's come up for sure."

What are some of those other suggestions? 

On social media, you might have seen people encouraging rationing the amount of formula you're giving your baby, or using water to dilute the formula. Doctors say you should not listen to those posts.

"You don't want to have a limited supply where you need to ration. That's not okay for your baby, you want to have the right amount on hand, you don't want to dilute it, you want to fix it as instructed on the label on the packaging," Brown said.

There is an important reason not to take any chances with how you prepare the formula: infants need a very specific amount of vitamins, protein, minerals and other nutrients to keep their growth on track. Improperly changing up their formula can have some devastating consequences.

"Unfortunately, it's really sad to say that I have seen deaths in the past from infants who have a formula that either doesn't have the right content in it or wasn't prepared appropriately," Bush said.

So what can you do if you aren't seeing your usual formula on store shelves? First and foremost, talk to your pediatrician. Most non-specialty baby formulas are pretty similar, and they can help recommend an alternative if yours isn't available. 

"You can use a variety of different brands. And so going between the different brands, or even the store brands is all fine," Bush said.

Finally, when will this problem get better? 

Local 5 spoke with a representative from the White House on Monday, who said the FDA is set to allow additional imports of baby formula from around the world to help make up the difference. The closed Abbott production facility in Michigan that produces so much formula domestically now, officially, has a path to reopen.

The FDA reported infant hospitalizations with salmonella and Cronobacter sakazakiim in February.

"We’ve agreed to enter into a consent decree – a legal agreement – with the FDA for our Sturgis, Mich., plant, a major step toward reopening our facility and helping to ease the infant formula shortage," the company tweeted Monday.

So while there is no exact timeline yet, help is on the way for families in need.

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