Why The Baby Formula Shortage Is So Severe In The US, And It’s Not What You Think

The baby formula shortage in the United States is particularly severe, and the reason why is one you might not expect.

By Charlene Badasie | Published

baby forumula shortage

Following months of supply chain issues, labor scarcity, and product recalls, parents are still struggling to find baby formula. Store shelves across the country are empty, with some retailers limiting sales of the essential infant food. The shortage has also caused prices to increase by approximately 18% over the last 12 months, CBS reports. Naturally, the crisis is causing anxiety in new parents as the majority of babies rely on formula in some capacity. Some infants also need specific types of formula to cope with allergies, sensitivities, or digestive issues.

Interestingly, the low rate of breastfeeding in the country is another reason for the acute baby formula shortage. Compared to most industrialized nations, this has made the United States especially vulnerable to shocks in the highly concentrated market for the infant product. Another major part of the problem is the aggressive marketing and promotional practices from manufacturers. These campaigns undermine breastfeeding practices for new mothers and influence their decisions to use formula, according to CNN Business.

Baby formula makers distribute free supplements to hospitals, encourage doctors and health care workers to give mothers free samples, and use social media influencers to advertise formula benefits to expecting or new mothers. While effective and nutritious, health experts say these strategies undercut efforts to support breastfeeding, making the shortage of formula worse. “Formula milk marketing, powered by enormous budgets, is driving over-consumption of formula and discouraging breastfeeding,” the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund said in a recent report.

The report added that the baby formula industry systematically undermines parents’ infant feeding decisions, and this is directly causing a shortage. However, it’s worth noting that formula is a crucial, life-saving option for mothers who are unable to breastfeed. But there are concerns that the industry is marketing it to people who don’t need it. Unlike most countries, the U.S does not regulate the industry’s marketing practices. It also failed to sign the World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes (established in 1981) that prohibits marketing infant formula to the public.

The Code was developed due to the negative correlation between baby formula marketing and breastfeeding rates. “The failure of the United States to regulate the marketing practices of the $55 billion formula industry has meant that families in our country are not supported and protected against exploitative messaging at vulnerable times in their lives,” deputy director of the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee Amelia Psmythe Seger, told to CNN Business. Due to the shortage, the committee has called for stricter regulations, enhancing a network of nonprofit donor milk banks, and national paid leave to improve infant nutrition security.

However, manufacturers say they are providing a safe, nutritious option for babies who can’t or do not receive breast milk. Addressing the baby formula shortage, a spokesperson for the Infant Nutrition Council of America, which is a trade group representing several baby formula makers, said mothers should be encouraged and supported to breastfeed. “However, if breast milk is not available or not chosen, parents should have access to accurate, balanced information on all appropriate infant feeding options,” the representative said via CNN Business.