Montreal mother pregnant with twins searches desperately for baby formula amid shortage

Kathleen Glustein is due to give birth to her twin daugthers in about three weeks, but she's struggling to find a generic brand of powdered baby formula she'll need to feed them. She says all levels of government must take Canada's baby formula shortage more seriously.  (Kwabena Oduro/CBC Montreal - image credit)
Kathleen Glustein is due to give birth to her twin daugthers in about three weeks, but she's struggling to find a generic brand of powdered baby formula she'll need to feed them. She says all levels of government must take Canada's baby formula shortage more seriously. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC Montreal - image credit)

When Kathleen Glustein gave birth to her first son three years ago, she couldn't produce enough breast milk to be able to feed him but was able to rely on an inexpensive, generic brand of powdered baby formula to get the job done.

Now, at 34-weeks pregnant with twin girls amid a nationwide shortage of the coveted food, she's panicking.

"Not all women are blessed enough to have abundant supplies of breast milk and what are you going to do if you can't find formula to feed your baby?" said Glustein.

For months, a perfect storm of pandemic supply chain issues, panic buying, and a massive recall in the United States has left stores, pharmacies and doctors' offices across Canada scrambling to restock their baby formula.

Glustein, who lives in Montreal's Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood, has been on the hunt for formula for weeks at stores across the city, including Costco, Walmart and Provigo. She says the stock issue primarily affects the generic brands.

With just over three weeks until her daughters are due, Glustein says her friends and family are also going from store to store to try and help her.

"I know that I can't rely on my breast milk to feed them and the idea of not having a regular source of formula is very anxiety provoking," she said.

Pharmacist encourages alternatives

According to Health Canada, the temporary closure of a U.S. manufacturing facility in February has affected powdered formula stock. The plant has since reopened but may not return to full production capacity until 2023.

"Health Canada is aware of the current global supply constraints on infant formula and has been working to mitigate possible impacts on supply to Canada," the federal agency said in a statement to CBC News.

Health Canada released a table in March showing the different brands the country is importing from other countries to make up for the shortage.

While one pharmacist says the situation is improving, he says there are still some usual brands that are missing from his shelves.

"There's some formula that aren't here yet, but for most cases we found a solution for the shortage," said Aleck Brodeur, a Familiprix pharmacy owner in Montreal's east end.

Submitted by Sun Youth
Submitted by Sun Youth

He said the main solution has been encouraging clients to switch from one formula to a similar one until their preferred brand is back in stock.

But Brodeur says he has no idea when that will be.

"We could receive enough tomorrow or it could take up to a year, and sometimes they say 2023 but sometimes it can go further, 2024, we never know," said Brodeur.

He asks that parents be open-minded and receptive to trying out new formulas instead of trying to find one that may not be widely available for another year.

Calls for government to do more

For Glustein, the generic powder formula she's searching for is the easiest to use and prepare, and her son did really well on it.

It's also the cheapest.

"We're lucky enough that we can afford the name brands, but my heart really goes out to people who can't afford [them]," she said. "What are those people going to do?"

Glustein is calling on all levels of government to do more.

"I think it's it's something that needs to be looked at more seriously than it's being looked at. It seems like they're aware of the issue, but it doesn't seem like anything is being done," she said.

The Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz
The Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz

Glustein said she contacted her local MP Marc Garneau, but was sent a link to a website that outlines tips on what to do amid the shortage. One of them was to try and breastfeed.

"Easier said than done," she said.

The website also mentioned that some pharmacies are keeping formula behind the counter. After asking several pharmacists, Glustein said that was not true, at least not with the regular formats of formula (Hypoallergenic formulas have been the hardest hit of all throughout the shortage).

Glustein said she also contacted her provincial representative, but she never heard back.

"I just really hope that this becomes a priority, that they do whatever they need to do, you know, increase imports, increase production," she said.

"Many babies depend on formula and if the parents can't get the formula that they need for their children, we're going to see really terrible things."