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A monthly exploration of the many benefits available to you through your TRICARE health plan.

The Doctor Is In offers tools, information and resources focused on topics that are trending and may be affecting you and your family. Your TRICARE health benefit is robust – and we want to make sure you take advantage of everything your benefit has to offer. 

June 2022

Written by Dr. Joyce Grissom, HNFS Chief Medical Officer

Like other families, military families are facing challenges in finding formula for their infant children. A Marine mom living on Camp Pendleton made national news attempting to source formula for her two young children by posting on Facebook. Her call for help reached the New York Times and a White House spokesperson and her community responded. Why is this happening and why are such drastic measure needed?  

Infant formula shortages have been building for some time due to pandemic related supply chain issues. Then, in February 2022, an Abbott Laboratories (Abbott) plant in Sturgis, Michigan producing powdered infant formula was closed and supply recalled after several infants who had consumed formula that had been produced there fell ill and two died. The most recent USDA report from 2011 indicated Abbot had 43% of the infant formula market. Abbott plans to restart production at the Michigan plan in the first week of June. It’s estimated product from this facility will not be available on store shelves for 6-8 weeks after it reopens.

The government has taken steps to get as much product onto shelves as quickly as possible, including:

  • Urging state flexibility in the Woman, Infants and Children (WIC) Program
  • Calling on the Federal Trade Commission to monitor price-gouging
  • Allowing import of infant formula from other countries including Mexico, Chile, Ireland, and the Netherlands 

Abbott is prioritizing liquid ready-to-feed formula and other manufactures are increasing production to ease the shortfall. 

Like many other stores, military exchanges have set a limit on baby formula purchases to prevent exacerbating shortages through stockpiling. In addition to name brand formulas, military commissaries sell formula under the “Tippy Toes” store brand contracted to the Defense Commissary Agency. Tippy Toes formula is approved by the FDA and the European Union. Purchase limits apply to online Army and Air Force Exchange and Navy Exchange purchases. 

It is eye-opening and hugely alarming how rapidly homemade emergency baby formula recipes pop up when searching online about the formula shortage. Homemade infant formula is dangerous in several ways. Infants have very specific requirements for the balance of hydration (water) and nutritional density. Commercial infant formulas are regulated to ensure correct amounts of vitamins, minerals, protein, and fat and to ensure purity and lack of bacterial infection. 

It is critically important not to dilute formula to make it go further. (Breastmilk should never be diluted as well). Infants cannot handle the extra water and electrolyte abnormalities can result in seizures, brain damage or death. 

Also, do not switch prematurely to cow or goat milk as the protein concentration can cause dehydration in babies. Infant formula is generally recommended until age 1 followed by whole milk until age 2. 

Safe ways of meeting the infant formula shortage moment include:

  1. Expand your search beyond the local grocery store. Check into convenience stores, pharmacies, or baby specialty stores. Infant formula can also be ordered from the manufacturers. 
     - Get Enfamil formula direct from Enfamil
     - Get Gerber formula direct from Gerber

  2. If you shop online, only buy from well-recognized distributors and pharmacies, and make sure the product is FDA-approved. Avoid purchase from individuals or through auctions. 

  3. Check with your pediatrician who can order a specialized formula if one is required. Pediatricians may also have some samples or product stock for children with special nutritional needs. Your pediatrician may also direct you to an appropriate alternative formula. 

  4. If your baby does not require special formula consider trying another brand. Do not switch to a toddler formula for an infant as the make-up of the product is different. 

  5. For babies older than six months you can start to supplement formula with some solid. Start one new solid food a time and monitor for food intolerance or allergies.

  6. Consider breastfeeding with your own milk or with mild donated to a regulated breast milk bank. Milk banks can be located through the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

  7. Contact United Way’s 2-1-1 community resource specialists who may be able to help identify food pantries or other charitable sources of infant formula.  

  8. Contact Feeding America local food banks to see if they have infant formula in stock.

  9. Visit the Health and Human Services website for additional guidance on how to find formula.

While TRICARE covers formulas and vitamins for enrollees with metabolic disorders, TRICARE doesn't cover regular baby formula for otherwise-healthy infants. TRICARE also doesn't directly ship baby formula to beneficiaries. Parents with children who have a medical need for specialized formula should work with their pediatrician, primary care manager, or specialist in case they can't get the formula they need. 

TRICARE also covers banked donor milk under limited circumstances. Information on TRICARE coverage of medically necessary food and banked breast mild can be found at https://tricare.mil/CoveredServices.

The TRICARE program also supports breastfeeding through coverage of breast pumps, breast pump supplies, and breastfeeding counseling. 

Be persistent. Be safe.  

 

 

Reference

Karen Jowers, Military Times, 10 May 2022, Military stores scrambling to get baby formula — what new parents need to know (militarytimes.com)

 

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