In El Paso, once-empty baby store shelves are filling up.
Abbott Nutrition’s familiar blue, orange and pink brands such as Similac and Enfamil, as well as Gerber brands, are starting to reappear in stores and families don’t have to search for certain brands.
The recall of several infant formulas and supply chain issues have caused a shortage for months, prompting the federal government to implement Operation Fly Formula – which transports tens of thousands of pounds of infant formula that meets standards American health and safety abroad.
The equivalent of more than 43 million 8-ounce bottles of formula are expected to hit store shelves across the United States by July 12 as part of Operation Fly Formula.
But that hasn’t alleviated all the worries of parents who need specialized formulas.
Additionally, there is still a shortage of certain baby products such as Zarbee + Immune Baby Cough Syrup with Agave and Ivy Leaf; A&D zinc oxide cream used to treat diaper rash; and Caldesene baby powder.
The formula remains the primary concern.
The search has become more than frustrating for new parents like Nichole Monroy, whose daughter Sophie was born prematurely in April.
Monroy intended to breastfeed but had to follow a special diet. The stress of looking at formulas every day wasn’t helping.
“We were living hand to mouth,” Monroy said in Spanish in late May. “We were afraid to serve her an extra ounce just for fear that she wouldn’t drink it and either run out the next day or have none. And it’s not like I can just change it from one formula brand to another that I might find at the store.
This led her to join the El Paso Find formula milk Facebook group, which has more than 1,600 members.
Monroy said more recently that she was able to find Puramino through Star Medical Specialties, a nutritional and medical supply company, since the ramp-up of formula production and Operation Fly Formula.
As formula shortages have eased, messages from parents looking for specialty formulas – hypoallergenic, lactose-free, amino-based or for premature babies – continue to post on the group’s page. despite the growing supply of infant formula on store shelves.
Sil Hernandez started the group in May when she struggled to find lactose-free formula for her son, who is now 5 months old.
“The main point here is to help moms or parents in general find formula so they don’t waste your gas running like they do all over town,” Hernandez said.
To exceed the limits
Some parents in El Paso have found themselves crossing international borders to find specialty baby formula and other products, which appeared in full supply and at low cost during a recent visit.
A 14-ounce box of Puramino formula can cost $60 in El Paso. The same box from Farmacias Benavides in Ciudad Juárez sells for around half the price.
The shelves of the Superette grocery store on Avenida Abraham Lincoln were fully stocked with Nestlé NAN and Nestlé Nido Kinder formulas. Gerber products were also readily available.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman in El Paso Roger Maier said customs officials have not seen an increase in the number of forms being transported across the border.
“Personal infant formula imports have been low since the US supply issue arose,” Maier said in an email.
Travelers can bring liquid and powdered infant formula into the United States from Mexico, as long as it is for personal use. The formula must be prepackaged and labeled in individual servings or retail packages.
Supply in stock at WIC
Adrian Archer, El Paso Program Texas Women, Infant and Children, or WIC, program manager said she was not aware of any parents trying to find formula in Mexico at the height of the shortage. The El Paso program serves 26,000 residents, including 6,400 infants, although not all babies in the program are formula fed.
On average, the WIC program provides up to 10 containers of formula per infant per month, Archer said. WIC allows substitutions of can types, brands and sizes.
“The problem isn’t so much that there isn’t a formula available, but rather that they’re having trouble finding their specific formula,” Archer said. “Throughout Texas, WIC works closely with grocers and vendors so we can direct our customers to stores that have what they need.”
There are 73 approved WIC providers through the city of El Paso.
What doctors advise
The US Department of Health and Human Services suggests that if parents can’t find their specific brand of formula, they can substitute it with another brand. Parents should consult their baby’s pediatrician first and, if changing brands of formula, do so gradually.
Dr. Denease Francis, a pediatric gastroenterologist, said there are plenty of formula alternatives that doctors can recommend – although they can be hard to find.
“So there has to be some flexibility,” said Francis, who is also an assistant professor of pediatrics at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso. “Your doctor may recommend a formula they hadn’t thought of (before) and that’s okay. A child should be able to tolerate the switch to a different formula.
When changing formula, parents are encouraged to mix the old formula with the new.
Signs that a child may need medical treatment following a change in formula may include persistent bouts of vomiting, development of an unusual rash, diarrhea, and blood in their poo .
“That would be concerning and something that would definitely indicate a potential intolerance to formulas and they should be seen by their pediatrician,” Francis said.
When babies are unable to switch formulas, pediatricians can help parents find the brand or type they need.
“In some cases we are able to contact the manufacturers themselves,” she said. “And they may be able to provide a special emergency form that we can fill out.”
With that formAbbott Nutrition, one of four formula manufacturers in the United States, can ship boxes of the specialty formula to the customer.
Parents should also consult with their child’s pediatrician before using formula purchased in Mexico, although the biggest concern is with the use of topical medications and ointments purchased outside the United States.
Dr. Ittay O. Moreno, medical director and pediatric hospitalist at the general pediatric unit at El Paso Children’s Hospital, said drugs and ointments from Mexico should be avoided.
“There are always a lot of combinations, suspensions that they add. But we don’t know exactly what percentage or what concentration is, or if that’s the appropriate dose,” said Moreno, who has treated patients on both sides of the border and also teaches at TTUHSC El Paso.
While accessing pediatric care or medication across the border may be easier or faster, it’s not always safer, Moreno said.
He has seen children brought to El Paso Children’s Hospital because they were misdiagnosed at a clinic or hospital across the border or given over-the-counter drugs. purchased in Mexico that caused adverse reactions.
Regarding the current lack of zinc oxide A&D cream on store shelves, Moreno said any barrier cream should suffice if the diaper rash is simply contact dermatitis.
“But if the infection is fungal, then all the diaper rash cream in the world won’t help,” he said. “The child should be treated by their pediatrician with an antifungal.”
Leaving the child without a diaper for a while when the rash persists also helps, he added.
The shortage of Zarbee’s Baby Cough Syrup + Immune with Agave and Ivy Leaf could be alleviated by other treatments, he said.
“It doesn’t do much for the cough and might actually prolong the course,” he said.
Steam showers would serve better because they help open the lungs, Moreno said. If further treatment is needed, a child’s pediatrician may suggest nebulizer therapy with albuterol.
Cindy Ramirez contributed to this story.