When Ryle Burbank turned 1 year old on May 5, a day of celebration turned into one of panic for her mom Becky when she received a call from the insurance company that covers Ryle’s baby formula.
“They called me on her birthday to tell me they wouldn’t be able to send me her formula anymore because Similac was no longer able to supply them with the formula,” the Powell mom said. “I was absolutely a mess trying to figure out what to do. I asked if Similac said when they’re going have enough in stock to fill orders and she said they didn’t know. So that was really frustrating for me.”
After hanging up the phone Becky pulled $1,000 out of savings, got on the internet and bought any of the formula she could find to try to get them through until it becomes available again. It currently sits in their shower because there isn’t another place to store it.
Ryle and her family are one of many dealing with the fallout of the nationwide formula shortage, but multiple gastrointestinal allergies makes it more dire for Ryle, as she can’t just switch to another formula.
It’s something the Burbanks have been struggling with since shortly after her birth. When Ryle was four weeks old, she had bad eczema and cradle cap, so Becky knew something was bothering her daughter. Because Becky uses natural and hypoallergenic products in her home she knew the problem wasn’t laundry detergent, lotions or soap. She called a friend who is a doula, a professional labor assistant, and she suggested Becky eliminate dairy from her diet. Becky, a registered nurse in Powell, had started out nursing Ryle as she had done with her other babies.
“I’m a researcher so I dove into the internet all night long and decided to just eliminate all of the top allergens from my diet right away for at least a month and then one by one put them back into my diet,” Becky said . “The eczema went away, but she was still having really mucousy diarrhea and frequent mucousy stools. She only had a little bit of blood in her diaper one time and that’s another big symptom.”
Becky continued to eliminate foods, but the frequent, mucousy stools remained and Ryle continued to lose weight, dropping from the 40th percentile to the 2nd. When she was 6 and a half months old, Ryle still wasn’t improving and the Burbanks made the decision to try formula.
“I was only eating elk meat and quinoa,” Becky said. “It had gotten to a point where I felt like all my efforts were still not helping and her body just couldn’t handle it.”
Ryle has one IgE-mediated allergy to eggs, which they have an EpiPen for. They haven’t determined all her many GI allergies, but know one of them is to corn, which is present in many hypoallergenic formulas. They finally found one that doesn’t have corn syrup solids included – Alimentum Ready-to-Feed.
“It’s a liquid formula,” Becky said. “Her symptoms almost overnight completely went away. I watched her relax for the first time. It was like she’d been holding herself in like a hollow rock almost from the time she was born.”
Laying on the floor, Ryle relaxed her legs and her mom said she was just a completely different baby.
Since switching to formula, Ryle hasn’t caught back up to the 40th percentile, but she’s improved.
“She’s stayed on a 10th percentile curve which I’m happy with and her doctor is happy with,” Becky said. “She’s a super happy baby now. It’s been a really hard year though. I had wanted to breastfeed her but that was just what was best for her was switching to this formula.”
Ryle’s food allergies have also led to changes for Becky’s older children. Food must only be eaten at the table and nowhere else in the house because if anything is dropped Ryle could possibly pick it up and eat it.
“I am so blessed because they’ve been so sweet to me as I’ve struggled through this because their lives have changed as well,” she said.
Becky also grieved not being able to breastfeed her last baby.
“It’s looked very different than I thought it would,” she said. “I breastfed my first two for 18 months and two years and I tried my hardest to breastfeed her and it just was better for her and for me mentally. I think this is the most depressed year I’ve ever had, just going through the food allergies with her and doing anything I could to help her feel better. And then you had the stress of the formula stuff on top of that.”
Becky said one of the things that’s always bothered her about the formula was the possibility of not being able to get it.
Ryle is slowly starting to outgrow her food allergies, but she still has a lot of GI triggers (cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.) with solid food. Because she’s now 1 year old, the Burbanks also were able to try goat’s milk, which she’s doing well on.
“I feel very, very fortunate that we have something else that will work for her instead of having to depend on something that’s made by a company,” Becky said. “I feel just incredibly blessed that she passed goat’s milk and we were financially able to buy formula to get through us however long this would take.”
She’s talked to other moms on Facebook who are struggling to find the hypoallergenic formula they need and has given them some of her own formula.
“These babies that have these allergies, it’s the scariest for them because you can’t just go switch to a different formula,” Becky said. “I’ve talked to moms with 2 and 3 year olds who are still on a specific hypoallergenic formula because it’s the only thing that they can get calories from. And now they can’t find it. It’s just absolutely insane that this is something we’re running into and we didn’t have a solution for it before it got to this point.”
How did the formula shortage happen?
Supply chain issues, labor shortages and a formula recall are among some of the major reasons for the baby formula shortage.
Abbott, the largest manufacturer of baby formula in the US, issued a recall of its products in February after strains of bacteria that are potentially deadly to infants were discovered at its factory in Sturgis, Mich. This led to the closure of the plant.
Federal and local regulators have been taking steps to try to increase supply. The Biden administration invoked emergency powers under the Defense Production Act to speed production of formula and ordered the use of government planes to import ingredients and formula. The Food and Drug Administration also said it would ease import rules.
At a White House roundtable with infant formula manufacturers last week, President Joe Biden said the next stage of “Operation Fly Formula” would bring 680,000 pounds of powder from the UK and Australia next week. That is enough to make 8.3 million standard bottles, or just under a fifth of average weekly consumption in America.
And Abbott restarted production at the Sturgis facility on June 4 and will prioritize EleCare production, with initial EleCare product release to consumers beginning on or about June 20. The first batch will include formula for children with severe allergies or medical conditions and will be sent to doctors, hospitals and consumers later this month, The Wall Street Journal reported.