At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Americans scrambled to find toilet paper amidst the shortage— but now, the worry over toilet paper seems inconsequential in comparison to the baby formula shortage that is panicking new parents across the country, caused by the closing of the largest U.S. formula manufacturing plant. In 2022, 75% of parents in the U.S. said that they rely on formula in order to feed their infants and toddlers, causing widespread alarm when the shelves all over the United States emptied out, leaving parents with insufficient nourishment for their growing children. For those who are not parents, or have not had kids recently, it seems reasonable to question how impactful this shortage really is, considering the natural production of breast milk that all mothers have relied on since the beginning of time.
Baby formula was invented in 1860 by a German chemist, initially intended to support babies who were orphaned and therefore had no source of breast milk, in addition to infants who were severely malnourished. Before formula was invented, mothers who could not produce enough milk supplemented their infant’s meals with cow’s or goat’s milk, contributing to the chilling statistic of one in three babies in the early 1800s dying before they reached the age of one.
The invention of formula created a massive breakthrough in healthcare and modern medicine, and by the 1950s, it was being advertised as an alternative to breast milk all together, rather than simply an additional food source. Every mother’s milk production varies after having a child, and even if one is producing enough milk, that doesn’t guarantee that a mother is always available to breastfeed for the first couple years of a child’s life. With more working mothers than ever in 2022, women should not be expected to abandon their professions in order to stay home and exclusively breastfeed, emphasizing the importance of formula. In addition, foster children are more severely influenced by the shortage due to the absence of any form of breast milk, and instead a complete reliance on only formula.
The U.S. has desperately been importing baby formula from other countries, such as Mexico, in hopes that the supermarket shelves will be restocked soon, and parents and caretakers can be relieved of their worries and feed their growing children once again.