Baby formula shortage highlights racial disparities

May 26, 2022, 9:06 AM | Updated: May 27, 2022, 5:24 am
Capri Isidoro, of Ellicott City, Md., looks at her one-month-old baby Charlotte, Monday, May 23, 20...

Capri Isidoro, of Ellicott City, Md., looks at her one-month-old baby Charlotte, Monday, May 23, 2022, in Columbia, Md., during a lactation consultation. Charlotte was delivered via emergency c-section and given formula by hospital staff. Isidoro has been having trouble with breastfeeding and has been searching for a formula that her daughter can tolerate well. "If all things were equal I would feed her with formula and breastmilk," says Isidoro, "but the formula shortage is so scary. I worry I won't be able to feed my child." (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

COLUMBIA, Md. (AP) — Capri Isidoro broke down in tears in the office of a lactation consultant.

The mother of two had been struggling to breastfeed her 1-month-old daughter ever since she was born, when the hospital gave the baby formula first without consulting her on her desire to breastfeed.

Now, with massive safety recall and supply disruptions causing formula shortages across the United States, she also can’t find the specific formula that helps with her baby’s gas pains.

“It is so sad. It shouldn’t be like this,” said Isidoro, who lives in the Baltimore suburb of Ellicott City. “We need formula for our kid, and where is this formula going to come from?”

As parents across the United States struggle to find formula to feed their children, the pain is particularly acute among Black and Hispanic women. Black women have historically faced obstacles to breastfeeding, including a lack of lactation support in the hospital, more pressure to formula feed and cultural roadblocks. It’s one of many inequalities for Black mothers : They are far more likely to die from pregnancy complications, and less likely to have their concerns about pain taken seriously by doctors.

Low-income families buy the majority of formula in the U.S., and face a particular struggle: Experts fear small neighborhood grocery stores that serve these vulnerable populations are not replenishing as much as larger retail stores, leaving some of these families without the resources or means to hunt for formula.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 20% of Black women and 23% of Hispanic women exclusively breastfeed through six months, compared to 29% of white women. The overall rate stands at 26%. Hospitals that encourage breastfeeding and overall lactation support are less prevalent in Black neighborhoods, according to the CDC.

The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses also says Hispanic and Black women classified as low wage workers have less access to lactation support in their workplaces.

The racial disparities reach far back in America’s history. The demands of slave labor prevented mothers from nursing their children, and slave owners separated mothers from their own babies to have them serve as wet nurses, breastfeeding other women’s children.

In the 1950s, racially targeted commercials falsely advertised formula as a superior source of nutrition for infants. And studies continue to show that the babies of Black mothers are more likely to be introduced to formula in the hospital than the babies of white mothers, which happened to Isidoro after her emergency cesarean section.

Physicians say introducing formula means the baby will require fewer feedings from the mother, decreasing the milk supply as the breast is not stimulated enough to produce.

Andrea Freeman, author of the book “Skimmed: Breastfeeding, Race and Injustice,” said these mothers still aren’t getting the support they need when it comes to having the choice of whether to breastfeed or use formula. They also may have jobs that do not accommodate the time and space needed for breastfeeding or pumping milk, Freeman said.

“Nobody’s taking responsibility for the fact that they’ve steered families of color toward formula for so many years and made people rely on it and taken away choice. And then when it falls apart, there’s not really any recognition or accountability,” Freeman said.

Breastfeeding practices are often influenced by previous generations, with some studies suggesting better outcomes for mothers who were breastfed when they were babies.

Kate Bauer, an associate professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, said she began hearing back in February about Black and Latino families in Detroit and Grand Rapids feeling stuck after finding smaller grocery stores running out of formula.

Some were told to go to the local office of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, better known as WIC, the federal program that supports low-income expectant and new mothers. Between 50% and 65% of the formula in the U.S. is bought through the program.

“Going to the WIC office is like a full day’s errand for some moms,” Bauer said.

She fears mothers are getting desperate enough to try foods that are not recommended for babies under 6 months.

Yury Navas, a Salvadoran immigrant who works at a restaurant and lives in Laurel, Maryland, says she was not able to produce enough breast milk and struggled to find the right formula for her nearly 3-month-old baby Jose Ismael, after others caused vomiting, diarrhea and discomfort.

One time, they drove half an hour to a store where workers told them they had the type she needed, but it was gone when they got there. Her husband goes out every night to search pharmacies around midnight.

“It’s so hard to find this type,” she said, saying sometimes they have run out before they can secure more formula. “The baby will cry and cry, so we give him rice water.”

On a recent day, she was down to her last container and called an advocacy group that had told her it would try to get her some at an appointment in five days. But the group could not guarantee anything.

Some mothers have turned to social media and even befriended other locals to cast a wider net during shopping trips.

In Miami, Denise Castro, who owns a construction company, started a virtual group to support new moms during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now it’s helping moms get the formula they need as they go back to work. One of them is a Hispanic teacher whose job leaves her with little flexibility to care for her 2-month old infant, who has been sensitive to a lot of formula brands.

“Most of the moms we have been helping are Black and Latinas,” Castro said. “These moms really don’t have the time to visit three to four places in their lunch hour.”

Lisette Fernandez, a 34-year-old Cuban American first-time mother of twins, has relied on friends and family to find the liquid 2-ounce bottles she needs for her boy and girl. Earlier this week, her father went to four different pharmacies before he was able to get her some boxes with the tiny bottles. They run out quickly as the babies grow.

Fernandez said she wasn’t able to initiate breastfeeding, trying with an electric pump but saying she produced very little. Her mother, who arrived in Miami from Cuba as a 7-year-old girl, had chosen not to breastfeed her children, saying she did not want to, and taken medication to suppress lactation.

Some studies have attributed changes in breastfeeding behavior among Hispanics to assimilation, saying Latina immigrants perceive formula feeding as an American practice.

“Over the last three to six weeks it has been insane,” Fernandez said. “I am used to everything that COVID has brought. But worrying about my children not having milk? I did not see that coming.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Seattle Mariners including Jesse Winker, left; Ty France, third from right; Logan Gilbert, second f...
Tim Booth, Associated Press

Mariners end two decades of misery returning to postseason

Baseball is fun again in the Pacific Northwest in a way that it hasn’t been in more than two decades. The longest postseason drought in the four major professional sports ended Friday night when the Mariners earned a long-coveted spot in the Major League Baseball playoffs.
15 hours ago
Associated Press

$500M-plus from opioid deal starts heading to Washington

SEATTLE (AP) — The first payments from a $518 million settlement with the nation’s three largest opioid distributors will begin reaching Washington communities in December, providing much-needed cash officials can use to hire first responders or direct toward prevention, treatment and other services, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Monday. “These significant resources will help Washington […]
15 hours ago
Associated Press

Indigenous wall paintings uncovered at Mexican convent

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Indigenous symbols like a feather headdress, an axe and a shield have been found under layers of lime plaster at open-air chapels in a convent just south of Mexico City, experts announced Monday. The finds suggest Spanish priests not only altered their church architecture to accommodate the large number of Indigenous […]
15 hours ago
Associated Press

$20K reward for info on killings of 5 wild horses in Nevada

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A $20,000 reward is now being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever killed five wild horses in eastern Nevada late last year, the Bureau of Land Management announced Monday. BLM officials said the National Mustang Association pledged to double the previous $10,000 reward in the case. […]
15 hours ago
Associated Press

NY’s limo safety task force releases safety recommendations

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A New York state task force created after a 2018 limo crash that killed 20 people issued a safety report with recommendations including equipping the vehicles with side impact protection devices and taking them off the roads after a certain number of miles. The 16-recommendation report from the task force was […]
15 hours ago
Kathie Hoekstra arrives to vote in Alexandria, Va., Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. In-person voting for th...
Associated Press

US warns about foreign efforts to sway American voters

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal officials are warning ahead of the November midterms that Russia is working to amplify doubts about the integrity of U.S. elections while China is interested in undermining American politicians it sees as threats to Beijing’s interests. An unclassified intelligence advisory, newly obtained by The Associated Press, says China is probably seeking […]
15 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
Baby formula shortage highlights racial disparities