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Finding Formula on Facebook: area moms help others through formula shortage

Preparing powdered formula with water for babies
Getty Images
Getty Images
Preparing powdered formula with water for babies

When Sarah Mueller’s son was born in September 2020, she often struggled to find the specialty infant formula he needed.

“I would have to drive two hours and go to 10 stores to try to find a formula for him for a week,” she said.

The Roaring Brook Twp. resident thinks back to those days in the grocery stores now, as a nationwide formula shortage continues.

“It was very scary, and it's even worse now,” she said. “And I needed help back then to find formula.”

Store supplies of formula have been running short since February, when Abbott Nutrition recalled several major brands of powdered baby formula and closed a plant in Michigan. The recalls worsened ongoing supply chain issues that were already straining supplies of essential goods like formula in stores.

Mueller, after seeing mothers and families in the area struggling to find formula, decided to find some way to help. She decided to post in a local Facebook group, Scranton Area Moms of Munchkins, and offer a place for members to share where they see shelves stocked with formula.

They started sharing photos and tips to help one another find the formula they need. Once the post took off in Mueller’s group, Jermyn resident Kristen Miller-Hahn decided to make a similar post in a group with a larger audience.

“I took it on another platform and said, if we can do it here, we can do it on a larger scale to help people that might not be involved in the moms group,” Miller-Hahn said. “I shared it on the NEPA strong group.”

Miller-Hahn started the NEPA Strong Small Business and Community Support group over the pandemic to gather local support for small businesses and essential workers. The group has more than 15,000 members and her post calling for members to help one another during the formula shortage now has more than 100 comments from people sharing where they’ve found formula or asking other members to be on the lookout for specific types of formula for their children.

“One girl on the post actually was posting where she saw someone was getting rid of a formula on the state border, and she was willing to pick it up and bring it to another local family who might not have had transportation,” Miller-Hahn said. “So people are really working together to help each other make sure that the kids are fed, the moms have what they need, and the families are staying afloat.”

Dr. Elizabeth Kosmetatos has been helping her patients through the shortage as director of the NEPA Breastfeeding Center at PAK Pediatrics. She helps mothers breastfeed and formula feed their newborns.

“Whatever mom chooses to do, she should be able to feed her baby, she should have the ability to provide some sort of nutrients for her baby,” Kosmetatos said. “So with regards to moms who are supplementing with formula to perhaps shore up their breast milk supply, or moms that formula feed exclusively, we should not be seeing a situation where they were not able to find formula to feed their baby.”

Kosmetatos estimates 40-45% of the patients PAK Pediatrics sees throughout the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Area are under 6 months old and therefore dependent on either formula or nursing for their nutritional needs. She advises patients against changing formula mixtures to stretch their supply, which can be “tempting.”

“When you do that, you change the nutritional components, the electrolytes, the proteins and the calories the baby gets,” she said. “And that can be very dangerous.”

Most of Kosmetatos’s patients have been making due, whether by asking family members to keep an eye out for formula, joining Facebook groups where threads like Mueller’s exist, or consulting their child’s pediatrician for help finding store generic formulas that most closely match what their baby is used to or requires.

As of May 18th, President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act as a means to combat the formula shortage. Under the order, suppliers of formula ingredients need to direct resources to infant formula manufacturers before any other customers.

While waiting for assistance or relief, Mueller hoped to keep seeing her local community helping one another.

“It's not a want… it's a necessity, these babies need this to live and what these moms have to go through, the stress and uncertainty of being able to simply feed their baby, which should never be a concern is heartbreaking,” she said. “We need to try to help each other, you know, reach out for help and ask around… that's kind of all we can do right now.”

Sarah Scinto is the local host of Morning Edition on WVIA. She is a Connecticut native and graduate of King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, and has previously covered Northeastern Pennsylvania for The Scranton Times-Tribune, The Citizens’ Voice and Greater Pittston Progress.

You can email Sarah at sarahscinto@wvia.org