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Shortage of infant formula: Advice for parents in Canada

A severe shortage of infant formula in the United States caused by a major recall has left American parents going to great lengths to ensure they have enough supplies for their babies, leaving some wondering if the same could happen in Canada.

Abbott recalled a number of its powdered Similac products in February after four babies, two of whom died, contracted a bacterial infection believed to be linked to a formula-making factory in Michigan. Product tests came back negative for the contaminants in question, Abbott said. The company previously said it could take six to eight weeks after restarting the factory – which remains closed four months after the recall – for products to hit shelves.

A number of factors, including alternative options, have made the situation in Canada much less dire. Some retailers saw the recall compound pandemic-related supply chain issues, while others saw little impact or only temporary shortages.

For parents worried or facing a shortage, however, here are some tips and expert advice on what to do.


Talk to your child’s pediatrician, family doctor, nurse practitioner, or visit a walk-in clinic or pharmacy.

“The wisest thing to do is seek medical support,” Leanne De Souza-Kenney, assistant professor in the University of Toronto’s human biology and health studies program, told CTVNews. that in an interview.

“Everyone should know about it and everyone should be on deck…talk to the people in this space as they can give advice based on your child’s age, nutritional needs and any dietary restrictions. “

Danikka Frey, a mother from Waterloo, told CTV News Kitchener earlier this week that she stopped seeing the brand of formula she normally uses in February.

“It was terrible. It was terrifying. To think that I might not be able to feed my son,” Frey said. “One night I spent hours driving all over town trying to find this formula.”

The shortage is especially hard on people in rural areas who often travel hundreds of miles to shop and don’t have the same options as city dwellers, SafelyFed Canada’s Michelle Branco told CTV News Toronto earlier this week.

Since the situation in Canada is generally still manageable, parents may be lucky to shop around and go to smaller retailers instead, De Souza-Kenney said, but noted that’s much easier said than done. what to do, especially for those who live in rural areas, those who do not have access to a car, or those who have other constraints.

“It really speaks to bigger issues that have always been there, but COVID-19 has brought to light issues around inequalities, health disparities, black people, indigenous people, people of color and the marginalized, poor and underserved,” De Souza said. -Kenney, who specializes in research on health disparities and the social determinants of health.

“Food security comes to mind directly related to this topic as something that people have been struggling with for a long time, and then the burden of the pandemic has exacerbated that…in addition to this group of parents, families and children who will be affected by this [shortage]there are subsets with constraints, financial constraints, but also food deserts and transport difficulties.

Changes at the policy level are needed to address these issues, she said. In the meantime, for those facing immediate challenges as well as financial or transportation constraints, community partners and organizations can help. Food banks, while a temporary fix, are another place that could help fill immediate gaps, she suggested.


Experts say switching formula brands is usually not a problem.

“There is no extreme variability in most brands. Many brands have a lot of the same ingredients,” De Souza-Kenney said.

“Changing brands is a practical and wise decision that you may be forced to make, hopefully temporarily.”

The only notable exception would be for children who have specific dietary needs that require special attention. That’s why it’s really important to talk to a healthcare provider who knows your child’s needs, she said. They can also help ease concerns or answer questions about another brand’s ingredients.

Branco says switching brands is rarely a problem because most formulas are very similar in content and easy to digest, but she said children with medical conditions such as dairy allergies are a concern. Other alternatives include breastfeeding if possible, using donor milk, and increasing solid food intake for older babies.


For many parents, going to a breastmilk bank will not be an option. There are only four banks in Canada, located in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal. They only supply hospitals across the country or, in some cases, by prescription to families who have sick infants discharged from a hospital and at home.

“Milk is also available in [select Alberta] pharmacies for mums who may be ill, the milk needed to fill the baby if the mum’s supply is low. Up to 10 bottles can be purchased,” Jannette Festival, CEO and co-founder of Calgary-based NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank, told via email.

Festival and Debbie Stone, director of Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank, said there has been no recent increase in demand following the recall and the supply of donor milk for hospitals is robust and stable.

With files from Pauline Chan of CTV News Toronto and Heather Senoran of CTV News Kitchener