Baby formula on display at a news conference Monday.

Baby formula on display at a news conference Monday. Credit: James Carbone

The federal government this week took steps to allow foreign infant formula manufacturers to sell their products to Americans as worried parents continue seeking options to feed their babies amid a nationwide formula shortage.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday said it would allow foreign companies to apply for evaluation as to whether their formula can be used safely and if it provides adequate nutrition. The U.S. normally produces 98% of the infant formula it consumes, according to the FDA.

Still, the agency said it could be a few weeks before those imported products hit shelves.

The White House earlier this week announced an agreement with Abbott, the nation's largest formula maker, to reopen the largest domestic manufacturing plant of infant formula. The FDA has been investigating safety problems at the Sturgis, Michigan, facility.

Long Island experts interviewed said more formula choices amid the shortage are welcome, but they urged parents to keep several factors in mind if pursuing a foreign option.

First, European standards call for less iron than American formulas so that may cause nutritional problems long-term. “You have to feed your baby and if that's all you can find, yes,” said Lyssa Lamport, a neonatal nutritionist with Cohen’s Children Medical Center of New York. “Does it meet the nutrient needs of that specific child long-term? I don't know.”

Another aspect to consider is that a label may be written in a foreign language, making it impossible to discern information on dosing or expiration dates, experts said.

Some American parents were opting for European brands before the shortage, mostly obtained through methods not approved by the FDA, because of the perception that they are healthier. For example, they may be seeking formula without added sugars or stricter standards for an organic label, Lamport said. But there are American brands offering formula more in-line with that of Europe.

“We have emerging products in this country that are trying to match the integrity of these European products,” Lamport said.

For parents who have ordered foreign brands through a third-party vendor and not approved by the FDA, doctors note there is no guarantee that the product was kept at the correct temperature or that it wasn’t punctured during shipping.

“They do not benefit from that important consumer protection to ensure safety,” said Dr. Lincoln Ferguson, chief of pediatric emergency medicine at Mount Sinai South Nassau.

However, FDA approval should mitigate those concerns, he said.

A 10-month-old child may advance to whole milk amid the shortage, he said. But Ferguson stressed that parents should avoid concocting formula with homemade recipes or diluting formula to make it last.

Alexa Palacios-Pierre of Massapequa Park, mom to eight-month-old twins Luc and Ella, has already been dealing with the shortage for months and said she is open to buying foreign market formula to feed her babies. She tried a hack touted on social media where you switch your Amazon location to Canada and buy from suppliers there. But she still couldn’t find Enfamil Nutramigen, which is the only formula her little ones can stomach.

“We survived for a good chunk of time on samples from our pediatrician,” said Palacios-Pierre, a public relations profession. “We have family all over the country looking [to buy formula] for us.”

She would consider purchasing a brand from a foreign country but would be extremely cautious in finding one that is comparable to her baby’s specialty hypoallergenic formula.

“We've been kind of prioritizing getting what we can here,” she said. “But if it comes to that, we'll do it.”

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