“I have considered trying to relactate,” said Ms. Williams, referring to the difficult process of trying to restart breastfeeding after it has been stopped for weeks or months.
Caitlin Joyce, 22, is also researching relactation after spending hours every week searching for formula. Last week, she and her mother drove for two hours up and down the South Shore of Massachusetts, scouring every Target, Walmart or supermarket they saw along the way — “and they didn’t have anything,” Ms. Joyce said. Though she has not breastfed her baby in six months, she has been searching online moms’ groups for tips on how to restart milk production.
Dr. Casey Rosen-Carole, director of the breastfeeding and lactation medicine program at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said the physiology of breastfeeding “is not especially resilient, in that once it’s over it’s very hard to build it back.” The prospect that women may be attempting to relactate in response to the formula crisis concerns her, she said, because mothers could compound stress by pushing their bodies to do something that is difficult, if not impossible.
Dr. Alison Stuebe, an OB-GYN and distinguished scholar in infant and young child feeding with the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, said the idea that every woman can produce all of the breast milk her baby needs “is not predicated on reality. Every person can’t make all the insulin they need. That’s why there’s a disease called type 1 diabetes — and we don’t say, ‘Well, if you just tried harder, you wouldn’t need that medicine.’”
Staring down the prospect of being without formula, some mothers are mulling alternate ways to feed their babies. When her daughter was born, Zumely Ebanks, 23, had to be separated from her because of medical issues and could not breastfeed. Her baby got used to formula, she said, and at 3 months old has not breastfed at all. Ms. Ebanks, who lives with her mother and baby in Houston, called the shortage “alarming.” “If there isn’t any formula, I would not know what to do,” she said.
So far, she has been able to find her preferred formula at her local H-E-B grocery store, but if that changes she plans to turn to “previous traditions,” like rice water and atole, a corn-based drink. Health experts have warned parents against resorting to homemade baby formula, but women are worried they may have no other options.