Study Found That Food Shortages and COVID-19 Have Led to Unsafe Feeding Practices Among Formula-Reliant Families

Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and disruptions in the supply chain of formula, some parents have been forced to make unsafe modifications in the way they feed their formula-fed infants and babies, according to a study co-authored by Denise Diaz Payán, PhD, an assistant professor of health, society and behavior at the UCI Program in Public Health.

The study, which is published as a pre-print paper in the open access site SocArXiv, found that the adjustments being made, such as diluting with water, juice, cow’s milk and rice cereal, are creating risky and potentially negative impacts on the health of young children.

Dr. Denise Payan

Researchers conducted an online survey with more than 300 U.S. caregivers of infants to assess how the pandemic impacted breastfeeding, formula feeding, and household ability to obtain infant-feeding supplies and lactation support. Results revealed 69% of families who had trouble accessing formula reported using deleterious formula-feeding practices. Families with lower incomes and those enrolled in food-assistance programs were more likely to take these measures.

“With more severe and frequent impacts on maternal and infant well-being and supply chains, government programs and policies must continue to promote exclusive and supplementary breastfeeding practices to protect pediatric nutrition,” said Payán. “If we increase breastfeeding practices among mothers, supply chain disruptions, such as the one going on right now, won’t be as devastating.”

The study suggests the pandemic had a greater negative impact on infants whose families relied on formula than human milk. Participants cited formula being sold out, having to travel to multiple stores and high costs as the top challenges in obtaining formula.

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