Some N.B. parents scrambe to find formula for infants with allergies

·4 min read
Keyan Smith's baby Maeve drinks a kind of hypoallergenic formula that's been scarce lately. (Submitted by Keyan Smith - image credit)
Keyan Smith's baby Maeve drinks a kind of hypoallergenic formula that's been scarce lately. (Submitted by Keyan Smith - image credit)

New Brunswick is not immune to the shortage of formula for babies with food allergies that has in recent months affected many other jurisdictions around the world.

A mother in Woodstock says she had a desperate time last week trying to find cans of hypoallergenic formula for her 11-month-old.

"It was a terrifying and heartbreaking experience," said Keyan Smith.

Smith's baby, Maeve, has a cow protein intolerance and soy allergy, said her mom.

She has been fed Enfamil Nutramigen since February, when a recall led them to switch from a Similac-brand formula.

Didn't expect trouble

Smith said she had heard about recent shortages south of the border, but is kicking herself now for not expecting it to happen here.

"It was always nothing to run into town and grab a can or two, but when I went to five stores and there was nothing, my heart just sank."

Smith said she felt like she let Maeve down by not stockpiling more formula, but at the same time, she didn't want to be greedy, knowing that supplies were being rationed in other areas.

According to Health Canada, the shortage of formula for infants with food allergies is due to the closure of a large manufacturing plant in the United States that makes Similac and Alimentum.

Abbott Nutrition announced Saturday it had restarted production at its factory in Michigan. It had been shut down since February because of contamination issues.

However, the supply shortage has affected other brands as well and is expected to persist for at least another few weeks.

Smith said she was down to her last can and crying in her car because she didn't know how she was going to feed her child when she decided to share what was happening on social media.

She was overwhelmed by the response.

"I am still very emotional over this whole situation," said Smith, "from the stress to gratitude to everyone who has reached out to help.

"It was just so amazing."

Smith said people messaged her from all over Atlantic Canada and beyond.

Submitted by Keyan Smith
Submitted by Keyan Smith

"I actually had a woman message me from Alberta," she said.

The woman said she was "lucky enough to have a stockpile," and wanted to "pay it forward," by sending her a few cans in the mail at no charge.

Smith said four cans were donated to her. That's about a four to five week supply for Maeve.

And she was able to locate a couple of other cans to purchase.

"We spent $140 on Saturday morning on formula that will get us through maybe a week and a half."

"Our baby has to eat."

"We just have to do this."

She's optimistic she'll have enough to get through the shortage.

Her backup plan is to switch to Alumentum if necessary, but even that is "quite hard to find," she said. And, as with all hypoallergenic formulas, it's also "quite pricey."

Keyan Smith/Facebook
Keyan Smith/Facebook

"We will be alright," said Smith, but her relief is mixed with guilt because she knows others are struggling to find enough.

Smith isn't the only New Brunswicker having this kind of trouble and the New Brunswick shortage isn't only in the Woodstock area.

Tiffany Hogan of Fredericton has a daughter who's not yet seven months old and said it's been a struggle to find formula for her since she was about a month old.

"It's been stressful," Hogan said.

"The first time I went out, I checked seven different places and called my mom in tears."

When she finally found some she bought enough to last a month.

"I had everyone looking," she said — in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Edmonton, Alberta.

Submitted by Tiffaney Hogan
Submitted by Tiffaney Hogan

Her aunt and uncle in Moncton found some, she said, and have been kind enough to ship it to Fredericton by bus.

"I have enough for the next month," said Hogan.

"In a couple weeks, I'll have to get more sent down. And hope it's still in stock."

Staff at a pharmacy told her they've been ordering it twice a week, but shipments just don't arrive.

Hogan said Alimentum is the only brand her baby can have.

"Everything else made her so sick and her allergy is pretty bad."

"We had a few rough months there with . ... It's terrifying to think of maybe having to go through it again trying to find something else."

Meanwhile, Health Canada's advice to those affected by the shortage is to breastfeed if possible and consult a health-care provider about possible alternatives.

The department is asking people to only buy specialty formula if their babies need it because of a medical condition and not to try making homemade formula or watering down what they have because this won't give babies all the nutrients they need.

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