Costco, Walgreens, other retailers are putting purchase limits on baby formula: What you need to know

Caitlin Rhea | Twenty20
Key Points
  • The U.S. is experiencing a nationwide shortage of baby formula.
  • Both Walgreens and CVS are limiting formula purchases to three units per transaction.
  • One way to find formula is to call your doctor, one expert says: "Pediatricians may have samples."

A nationwide shortage of baby formula has led to many retailers implementing purchase limits on the product. 

For people whose children need specialty formula, this situation can feel especially precarious.

Both Walgreens and CVS are limiting formula purchases to three per transaction. On the Costco website, some formulas are being limited to five per member. Target and Walmart are reportedly limiting how much formula shoppers can buy as well.

The disruption has 'hit all consumers' of formula

The shortage can be attributed to a couple factors, says Scott Grawe, chair of the department of supply chain management at Iowa State University. For one, "the supply chains that come together to make baby formula available at the retail level were affected by the same issues that affected many other products during the pandemic," he says.

Major baby formula supplier Abbott Nutrition shut down one of its plants due to contaminated formula that was linked to the deaths of at least two infants. That compounded the problem.

"Abbott Nutrition created a significant disruption that has hit all consumers of formula," Grawe says. "Since they produce over 40% of the formula on the market, the impact was severe and immediate."

Think outside the big box stores to find the formula you need

Watering down formula or making your own formula aren't advisable, according to American Academy of Pediatrics.

"If you use infant formula for your baby, no matter which form, be sure to follow directions closely," the AAP website says. "Formula that is diluted with too much water, for example, can cause serious health and development problems for your baby."

To find the formula you need, think outside the big box retailers like Target, Walmart or Costco, says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. Shop smaller retailers or your local grocer. And try calling your doctor. "Pediatricians may have samples," she says.

This is also not the time to be brand loyal. "Try lesser known brands that may be more available," she says. Abbott Nutrition's baby formula brand is Similac. If that's your go-to, try store-brand formula instead.

The shortages vary widely by location, so it could be beneficial to ask friends and family in other parts of the country to look for you and ship items to you. Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Missouri, Texas, and Tennessee are currently the states hit hardest by the shortage, according to an analysis from Datasembly.

Caregivers affected by the shortage are turning to online communities for advice and sources for formula. While that can yield results, there are scams popping up, too, so scrutinize offers on Facebook and other marketplaces before you accept.

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