Trust Index: The facts about the formula shortage for Metro Detroit parents

Switching to a store brand could be an option if a child is on a traditional cow’s milk-based formula

Parents are desperate to find baby formula. Now scam artists are taking advantage of the situation tricking parents and caregivers into paying sky high prices for formula that never arrives.

DETROIT – A scary situation is unfolding as parents are wondering about where their next container of baby formula is coming from -- that’s why we’re separating fact from fiction regarding what you’re hearing about the formula shortage.

As seen in the video player above, store shelves are bare, and stock of the much-needed formula is sold out online as parents desperately search to find a solution.

Officials told us that scam artists could be taking advantage of the situation by tricking parents and caregivers into paying sky-high prices for formula that never arrives.

Sadly that is true. Parents should look out for fake websites or social media profiles with pictures and logos of well-known brands to make them look official.

The Federal Trade Commission suggests that you check out a company by searching its name with words like review, complaint, or scam and always pay with a credit card as its form of payment offers another layer of protection.

The next question being asked is if you can buy formula on amazon or from Canada and have it shipped to a U.S. address?

No, our Help Me Hank team tried it out with two different U.S. addresses, and it didn’t work. You can cross the border to Windsor, but the Retail Council of Canada says you will be limited in how much you can buy.

“What our retailers have done in the past little while is that a lot of them have started to impose buying limitations, so that’s to make sure that there’s enough product to go around for everybody,” said Michelle Wasylyshen of Retail Council of Canada.

Read: What we know about new efforts to ease formula shortage in Michigan

What about cow’s milk? Is it a safe alternative to baby formula?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends it could be an option for babies six months and older who are on regular formula but only for a brief period.

The answer to that is to be very careful as we consulted with a C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital Pediatrician for advice, who says parents shouldn’t do this without talking to their child’s doctor first.

“You can have a conversation with them about your child and their needs and make a decision based on it,” said C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital Dr. Ladonna Hendricks-Sparrow. “If you do come to the decision where you do have to use cow’s milk, you want it to be whole cow’s milk so that you’d have sufficient fats. The good thing about cow’s milk is that it is fortified with calcium and vitamin D. The thing that we have to be cautious about with using cow’s milk is anemia. So this is intended to be a short solution.”

Some parents are looking to water down the baby formula for a longer duration, but Dr. Hendricks-Sparrow says it is not safe.

“That is not safe,” Dr. Hendricks-Sparrow said. “Watering down your formula rolls off the nutritional value, but more importantly, it throws off some of the minerals. And if you dilute that formula, you can run the risk of your child having issues with those minerals in their bloodstream. It can be dangerous.”

Some people are looking into making their own formula, as indicated online. Pediatricians have suggested that you do not take that route.

It is better to have a conversation with your child’s doctor to figure out a better solution moving forward, especially if you can’t find formula on store shelves.

The pediatrician we spoke with says switching to a store brand could be an option if a child is on a traditional cow’s milk-based formula. But when you get to the more specialized formula, it can be more challenging to find.

Two children in Tennessee were admitted because the specialty formula they needed was out of stock.

About the Authors:

Hank Winchester is Local 4's Consumer Investigative Reporter and the head of WDIV's "Help Me Hank" Consumer Unit. He works to solve consumer complaints, reveal important recalls and track down thieves who have ripped off metro Detroiters.

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.