COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — As a baby formula shortage persists for mothers nationwide, the state health department shared its local perspective on the situation and what the local Women, Infant and Children’s program is doing to address it.

Ohio Department of Health Director Bruce Vanderhoff spoke about the formula shortage topic during his Wednesday COVID-19 update news conference. He said WIC plays a part in helping local families with the shortage, because some of the infants the organization helps are special cases.

“Many participants in the WIC program, in fact, have medically complex needs, and are on prescription formula,” Vanderhoff said.

ODH also went on to say later in the day that the local WIC program contracts with formula manufacturer Mead Johnson and not Abbott Labs, the latter being the company having production issues contributing to the shortage. Abbott also said Tuesday that it was ramping up production at its oldest factory in Columbus to help combat the nationwide shortage.

While Mead Johnson is not experiencing production issues, ODH said some of the prescription formula WIC gives out has been impacted by the shortage. The organization has waivers that will let Ohio families pick from different kinds and sizes of prescription formulas through their WIC benefits, but WIC staff are also calling Ohio retailers and physicians to find additional options for families that need formula. WIC has also been meeting with these vendors and asked them to put more formula on the shelves as soon as it ships over.

There is potentially federal help on the way as well. Alongside a newly launched baby formula help website, The Ohio WIC program applied for additional U.S. Department of Agriculture waivers which would “extend even more flexibilities to families purchasing infant formula” through WIC, according to ODH.

ODH shared some advice on what to do and not do as families navigate the shortage. The two big warnings from the agency include to never dilute formula with water or other liquids, or try to make homemade formula, since this can have nutritional imbalances or introduce foodborne illnesses to a baby.

For families needing help finding formula, ODH said the best approach is to call stores to ask about formula availability. If the specific desired formula is not on the shelf, ask a store associate for assistance. For specialty formulas, the best bet may be to ask a pharmacy for help.

For WIC families, even if the specific formula they need is missing from a WIC vendor, they can use their SNAP or TANF benefits at another store to buy that formula. If there is no specialty or medical formula around, a family needing some can call their healthcare provider to find out what an appropriate alternative formula could be.

ODH also shared three resources for families needing more help:

  • If you need help increasing milk supply, reach out to WIC for help or call the 24/7 Breastfeeding Hotline at 888-588-3423 or text “BFHOTLINE” to 839863.
  • If funds are available, and a medical need is present, pasteurized donor milk may be available, at cost, through the Ohio Health Mother’s Milk Bank: (614) 566-0630.
  • Those participating in WIC may contact the state office at 1-800-755-GROW (4769) or their local WIC office for assistance.