San Diego — If you’re a San Diego parent using baby formula to feed your child, you know how hard it has been over the last few months to find supply.

“This should not have happened. They should’ve had other sources in place,“ Joel Sutherland said.

Sutherland is a supply chain expert with USD’s School of Business. He says it started with frantic parents hoarding baby formula in 2020, then manufacturers slowed production in 2021. More recently, one of the largest supplier in the U.S., Abbott, was shut down amid a recall. 

“I don’t know what the market share is for Abbott I, but I know they are the largest with somewhere around 40%. That is a major disruption in the supply chain,” Sutherland said

Walmart is one of the largest sellers of formula in the county and now has row after row of empty shelves and restrictions on how man cans you can buy at one time here in San Diego. 

As parents struggle to find product, some are diluting it to try and make it last longer – experts say that’s a mistake.

“If you’re used to using one brand you can switch to a different brand. If it’s powder you can use the concentrate, but you don’t want to dilute or try to make your own formula,” Dr. Michelle Leff with UCSD Health said. “The components to go into formula are regulated very strictly because of the important nature of what they give for babies. “

According to recent data, overall, San Diego is seeing a 31.9 percent out-of-stock rate of all baby formula.  

A quick search online does find lesser known and more expensive brands available, with those platforms seeing a nearly 1400% increase in traffic in the last two weeks. 

Dr. Leff says if you absolutely cannot find formula and your child is over 6 months you can use cow’s milk.

“For the short term that’s assuming your child is also getting other nutrition from solids and you’d want to emphasize iron containing foods at that time because formula is supplemented with extra iron which you wouldn’t be getting from whole cow’s milk,” Leff said.