Struggling to find their baby’s formula, Long Island parents seek out help


Brian Barnett, a 40-year-old electrician from Ridge, says a recent trip to score baby formula to feed his 9-month-old son, Christopher, must have looked pretty fishy to onlookers.

“I drove from Ridge to Route 110 in Huntington to meet some stranger…in a Target parking lot,” Barnett says, where the woman handed him the goods.

A nationwide shortage of baby formula has caused some parents on Long Island to desperately seek creative ways to find the nourishment their babies need. Parents have turned to Facebook pages and other social media sites to enlist good Samaritans to help ferret out their formula brands, in some cases by buying and holding them for parents to pick up. Barnett even has his sister and father shipping him formula from their homes in Florida.

Some stores are controlling the number of products purchasers can buy each day, if they have the product at all. CVS Pharmacy, for instance, is limiting baby formula products to three per purchase in stores and online, says Matt Blanchette, senior manager, retail communications for the company. “We’re continuing to work with our baby formula vendors to address this issue and we regret any inconvenience this causes our customers,” Blanchette writes in an emailed statement. Target also is monitoring the situation and has a limit of four items per customer when buying online.

Left: Brian Barnett and Crystal Clacher, of Ridge, with their baby Christopher, 9 months. Top right: Ashley Kolwicz, of Deer Park, her husband, Daniel, and their son, John, who just turned 3 months old. Bottom right: Madelynn McHenry, 10 months. (Credit: Brian Barnett; Gina Ferguson; Kelly McHenry)

“My wife was absolutely terrified,” Barnett says of Christopher’s mother, Crystal Clacher, 27, a part-time shopper for Instacart, who worried about how they would be able to feed Christopher, who uses 60 ounces of Enfamil’s Gentlease formula a day. Other Long Island parents called the situation “horrible” and “stressful.” At least one formula manufacturer labeled the situation “unprecedented.”


“I drove yesterday 20 minutes to a friend of a friend who had three cans her daughter didn’t use anymore,” says Ashley Kolwicz, 37, a registered nurse from Deer Park whose son, John, just turned 3 months old and drinks Neocate Syneo Infant. “The manufacturer … told me it’s backordered until June. I’ve been able to get a can here and there, but nothing to last me until June.”

The shortages became widespread in February, after powdered formulas manufactured by Abbott Nutrition in a Michigan plant were thought to be linked to bacterial infections in infants and the company voluntarily recalled selected lots of Similac, Alimentum and EleCare formulas and halted production. That caused those parents to try to find other options for their babies, which caused an unexpected snowball of competition for other brands, says a spokesperson for Nutricia, the Maryland-based company that makes Neocate Syneo Infant. The company does not have a confirmed date for when its formula will become widely available again.

“It’s caused chaos in general in terms of parents trying to find suitable formula for their children,” the spokesperson says. “It’s not just our company that’s dealing with this. Even though we are taking a lot of steps to facilitate production, we can’t keep up with the demand caused by the Abbott Nutrition recall.”

Kelly McHenry, of Lindenhurst, says seeking formula for her daughter, Madelynn, 10 months, has been “very stressful.” 
Credit: Kelly McHenry

The Abbott recall exacerbated problems already caused by general supply chain issues of transportation and staffing challenges facing many industries, says Dr. Thomas McDonagh, a pediatrician with Northwell Health’s Huntington pediatrics practice. “The shelves are not fully stocked with many different products, including infant formula,” he says. “I’ve definitely spoken to many patients’ parents probably over a two-month period about the shortage.”


McDonagh has advised parents regarding safely switching to comparable formulas for their babies, which he notes is especially complicated for parents whose children have very specific dietary needs due to medical issues.

Such issues may include milk allergies, for instance, which cause gastrointestinal issues that prevent babies from easily digesting standard formula, says Matthew Harris, a pediatric emergency room doctor at Cohen Children’s Medical Center and the father of a 6-month-old who drinks Alimentum due to milk allergy. “It certainly has been a challenge for parents of children who require specialized formula to find it in a travel and cost-effective way,” he says.

Kolwicz is one of those parents – she says she tried about four different formulas before a pediatric gastroenterologist recommended Neocate Syneo Infant. Barnett’s son drinks Enfamil Gentlease because he regurgitated other brands. “Once we found something he can hold down, we wanted to stay with it,” Barnett says.

It’s been most challenging to find powdered formula, which is less expensive than the liquid counterparts, Harris says. Harris has turned to ordering from Amazon, where he has been able to get the pricier liquid option. Not every family can afford to go that route, he says.

“It’s been horrible,” says Kelly McHenry, 33, of Lindenhurst, who works for the electric company and whose daughter, Madelynn, drinks Enfamil soy formula because she has dairy issues. “It’s very stressful. Every weekend my husband and I are going to stores and calling places to see if they have it. It’s honestly like finding a needle in a haystack.”