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Baby formula shortage impacts Oregon families

The national shortage began in the early days of the pandemic and worsened due to labor shortages and a major product recall.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The baby formula shortage is leaving parents across the country struggling. In Oregon, Governor Kate Brown is pushing to re-stock store shelves and businesses will be investigated if accused of price gouging as families scramble to feed their children.

Ashley Emerson's baby spent 6 months in neonatal intensive care before she was able her to go home in Gladstone. But, now mom and baby face another challenge.

"It's just been really difficult trying to find formula, and it's just been a nightmare," said Emerson "I have driven down to Albany, I've driven down to Salem, I've driven up into Portland, driven to Beaverton ... driven almost everywhere in the state."

43% of the nation's baby formula is out of stock, according to the retail pricing data website Datasembly. The shortage started in the early days of the pandemic, and worsened because of labor shortages and a recent major product recall.

Maura White, executive director at nonprofit Mother + Child Education Center says they're also dealing with the formula shortage. They've been forced to turn away new moms while tossing hundreds of cans of recalled formula.

"Imagine you're a low-income mom and you really need to have formula — you can't find it anywhere. You have to go carry your baby around from bus to bus to bus to try to find a store," explained White.

Sarah Hallaj, a dietician with Multnomah County's Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which serves low income families, says some parents are turning to dangerous alternatives.

"Some families are diluting the formula to make it last longer, some families are making formula at home, which may not have all the nutrition an infant needs," said Hallaj, "and some families are using fresh milk." 

Instead she recommends talking to a healthcare provider about alternative options.

"Unfortunately being a mom that's a WIC right now, it makes it hard," said Emerson. "You can go on Amazon and find some formula — but because you are a WIC recipient, you can't use your benefits online."

Emerson said her current formula supply will last about two weeks. She's turned to social media and family trying to provide for her baby.

"I'm having family members if they have it to send it to me out of state, and I then try to figure out how to reimburse," she said. "I feel like we are literally running out of options, every time I go to the grocery store it's just another stab in the heart that I can't feed my baby."

Emerson says she pays between $19 and $25 for formula depending on the store and can size. You can report suspected price gouging the Oregon Department of Justice, but make sure to keep receipts for your purchases.

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