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The hunt is on for elusive baby formula

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Baby formula for sale at a Chicago store.

Baby formula has been pricier and in short supply thanks to supply chain issues and a February product recall. Scott Olson/Getty Images

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Between inflation and supply chain woes, it’s become a lot more expensive to be a new parent. Take infant formula, for example. Three-quarters of American babies receive it in their first six months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But prices are up, and it’s getting harder to find.

For a couple of months, Deja Carson has had trouble finding her 7-month-old’s preferred formula in stores in Richmond, Virginia, where she lives. She couldn’t get any online either. 

“Even on Amazon. It’s even sold out on Amazon,” she said.

Monday morning, Carson finally had some luck at a grocery store. “I just so happened to find four cans.”

The infant formula supply started to tighten up last fall, according to Krishnakumar Davey with research firm IRI. 

“There have been supply chain issues all over the economy with respect to packaging, materials and so on,” he said.

Then in February, a recall by Abbott Nutrition over bacteria concerns hit the market. “The recalls just didn’t help the case,” Davey said.

That company typically makes about one-third of the infant formula sold in the U.S., Davey said. Since the recall, though, it’s been tough to find some specific brands. 

“For products that you and I consume, that’s OK. We can substitute,” Davey said.

But babies are loyal to their brands, said Bridget Young, who studies infant nutrition at the University of Rochester. Especially if there’s an allergy or intolerance to standard formula. 

“I definitely work with families who are driving five, six hours across state lines, having family and friends ship formula across the country,” she said.

But those solutions aren’t available to folks who work long hours or can’t afford that much gasoline or the cost of shipping, Young added. So, low-income families are being hit the hardest. 

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