Canada’s infant formula shortage has stabilized and is improving, officials including Health Canada, pediatricians and industry representatives say.
But supply issues remain, leaving many parents and caregivers with questions — including what they should be doing.
It’s been more than a year since a product recall forced formulation giant Abbott Nutrition to close its Michigan plant in February 2022.
Although the plant reopens in July 2022, “it has not yet returned to normal production capacity,” Health Canada’s website says, noting that several products made at the plant “represent a significant portion of the Canadian market. “.
“This has increased demand for infant formula produced by other manufacturers,” Health Canada said.
What is the status of our infant formula supply?
“We’re still seeing issues in the infant formula supply chain,” Retail Council of Canada spokeswoman Michelle Wasylyshen said by email.
Liquid ready-to-eat formula has the most consistent supply, but powdered formula remains limited, she said.
Health Canada notes that formula is generally less expensive, so more of it is being imported and shipped to stores across the country.
“This could provide additional options and may help reduce some of the stress Canadian families are experiencing,” Health Canada said.
Canada doesn’t have any domestic infant formula manufacturers, so it’s completely dependent on imports — mostly from the United States.
How about a special hypoallergenic formula?
Dr. Janice Heard, a Calgary pediatrician and member of the Canadian Academy of Pediatrics’ public education advisory committee, said specialty formula was a particularly worrisome part of last year’s shortages.
Specially formulated to hydrolyze – or break down – milk proteins.
Babies who are allergic to cow’s milk proteins and premature babies who haven’t developed all the enzymes needed to digest them need them.
Special formula options are limited, so the shortage “is stressful for parents who are already dealing with children who are medically deficient,” Hurd said.
The availability of specialty formula in Canada has “improved,” Wasylyshen said.
Health Canada agreed, adding that the shortage of hypoallergenic formula “has largely subsided, replaced by a limited but steady supply.”
What is the federal government doing?
Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have been allowing more infant formula without the required bilingual labels to be imported into Canada under a special “temporary policy.” The policy has been extended until the end of the year.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Health Canada have been working with “several manufacturers” including major U.S. manufacturer Abbott, British manufacturer Reckitt and Irish-American manufacturer Perrigo. Dialogue to “resolve short-term issues” and discuss longer-term solutions, the minister’s spokesman said in an email to The Canadian Press.
But industry representatives have called on the federal government to do more.
“The root of the challenge we face is Canada’s very unique, very stringent and very regulated regulatory system around infant formula,” said Michi Furuya Chang, vice president of public policy and regulatory affairs for food, health and consumer products. Canada.
Canadians don’t have access to many “safe and effective products” that other countries offer, she said.
In general, Canada also takes much longer to approve the same infant formula than the U.S., Chang said.
The association wants Health Canada to shorten the time it takes to review and approve infant formula from other countries whose approval process is “similar” to Canada’s.
What should parents do if they can’t find their baby’s formula milk?
Parents whose babies require special formula should talk to their pharmacist before the current supply runs out so they can try to source and order more, Heard said.
They can also seek help from a pediatrician, family doctor or nurse practitioner, she said.
For infants on regular formula, parents don’t have to worry about switching to another brand, Hurd said.
“All of these baby formulas are basically equivalent. They’re all approved by Health Canada,” she said.
If parents must try a new formula, she recommends a gradual transition by mixing some of the new formula with their usual formula so babies get used to the taste.
In rare cases where babies spit up formula “as soon as they drink it,” or develop hives or a rash, parents should contact their healthcare provider to find a different formula, she said.
The best solution is to continue breastfeeding, but that’s not an option for everyone, Hurd said.
things parents should not do
Parents may be tempted to dilute the formula with more water to extend the formula’s shelf life, but they definitely shouldn’t, Hurd said.
“From a nutritional and energy standpoint, it’s dangerous for their kids,” she said.
Parents also shouldn’t substitute cow’s or plant-based milk for formula.
“Infant formula is designed to mimic human breast milk as closely as possible,” Hurd said.
“Milk is just different.”
Additionally, Wasylyshen of the Retail Council of Canada urges consumers to avoid panic buying “because that in itself creates shortages.”
—Nicole Ireland, Canadian Press