Everything you need to know about European baby formula
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There's no question that the baby formula shortage has many parents panicking. While baby formula producer Abbott expects to be able to resume production at its Sturgis, Michigan, facility on June 4, the formula shortage won't be alleviated right away.
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In an effort to provide parents with some alternatives, the FDA announced that they would relax some restrictions on the importation of baby formula from other countries, and Bubs Australia plans to provide at least 1.25 million cans of several varieties of its infant formula over the next few weeks.
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Choosing to start—or switch—your baby to a European or Australian formula can be a fraught decision.
We spoke with Mallory Whitmore, certified infant feeding tech and founder of education and advocacy website the Formula Mom, and Dr. Natasha Burgert, pediatrician and spokesperson for Philips Avent and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to get the scoop on what makes European formulas different—and what parents need to know.
Why is there a baby formula shortage?
During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when people were panic buying products, baby formula was one of the items that people hoarded. This led to retailers not truly knowing how much formula to order to keep shelves stocked during more "normal" purchasing times.
Ongoing supply chain issues, followed by a product recall and subsequent shut down of an Abbott Laboratories production facility, served to exacerbate the problem.
How European baby formulas differ
The two biggest differences are the iron content—which is higher in American formulas—and the DHA levels, which is higher in the European counterparts. American regulations require that baby formulas contain 1 milligram of iron per serving, whereas European guidelines require just .2 milligrams per serving.
All U.S. formulas are required to be nutritionally complete for babies ages 0 to 12 months, whereas European formulas have varying nutrient levels based on the stage for which the formula is designed.
Commonly, those labeled Pre-formula are nutritionally complete for babies 0 to 12 months, Stage 1 is for 0 to 6 months, and Stage 2 is designed for 6 to 12 months.
"The iron content varies based on age, with typically more iron seen in the stage 2 formulas for 6 to 12 months when iron stores from pregnancy have decreased," said Whitmore.
It's worth noting, as Dr. Burgert points out, that "not all products are the same across all countries of the EU. Specifically, a popular brand in Germany may have different components when bought in France. Overall, however, the labeling does [make it] difficult to make these determinations—even when you speak the native language in which they are written."
Is European formula regulated?
Yes, it is regulated by the European Commission, which is similar to our FDA. As stated, however, the nutritional guidelines for infant formula differ from those in the U.S.
Only purchase from reputable sellers
The number one thing that both of our experts stressed is to purchase from a reputable retailer.
Dr. Burgert says, "Since European products are illegal to sell in the U.S. because they are not FDA regulated, any product purchased is going through a third-party vendor. There are going to be nefarious characters who take advantage of this import market. Today, I don't know if my families are getting a preferred German product or a can of flour with a photoshopped label."
If you have friends or family in the EU who can purchase formula locally and ship it to the U.S., that's the best way to ensure that you're getting the right product.
Pay attention to shipping times
If it's offered, choose expedited shipping, as this reduces the risk of time the formula will spend outside of a temperature controlled environment.
Whitmore says, "We know that if formula is sitting in extreme temperatures it can degrade the nutrient value, so we don't want formula that's coming from Australia or Europe and that's in transit for a week or two. We don't want it sitting in a warehouse in customs for a long time."
Make sure the product is unopened and what you ordered
Once your shipment of formula arrives, Dr. Burgert suggests carefully checking to ensure that "what arrives at your home is unopened, not expired and is the product you ordered."
If the packaging is at all dented or torn, bacteria or moisture may have entered the formula, rendering it unsafe. If that's the case, toss it in the trash immediately.
Find mixing instructions in English
International formulas often have different mixing equivalents than those of U.S. formulas—usually two scoops of formula rather than one—so if the formula you ordered doesn't include instructions in English, be sure to reach out to the company to get some you can understand.
Don't run the risk of inadvertently using too much water and not enough powdered formula, which can be dangerous for your baby.
Always talk to your pediatrician first
As with anything having to do with changes to your baby's feeding routine, it's best to discuss your intentions with your pediatrician first before starting something new.
Plus, you may be pleasantly surprised to discover that they have formula options you may not have known about.
As Dr. Burgert points out, "Many of us have access to alternative brands that will be close to products a baby is used to using, or have suggestions on other options that will be more reliable until this crisis passes."
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