Melissa Lucas had heard about the formula shortage when she began feeding her newborn daughter Ada $50-a-can hypoallergenic formula.

Slowly but surely, it got harder to find. 

Not being able to get it forced Lucas to begin breastfeeding her baby girl. 

On Monday, for the second time, Lucas visited the San Antonio Lactation Support Center to improve her baby’s ability to latch and get tips on how to increase her supply of breast milk.

At this lactation center, consultations, breastfeeding equipment and classes are available at no cost to San Antonio parents interested in breastfeeding, without income eligibility requirements, said Christina Padilla, senior management coordinator at the center. 

San Antonio’s lactation centers are seeing a spike in calls from women seeking to breastfeed as a result of the baby formula shortage. Some are brand-new mothers who are seeking to breastfeed right from the start, while others are like Lucas, hoping to increase lactation and feed their babies exclusively breast milk.

“We are seeing an uptick in women who are pregnant and interested in breastfeeding and getting more education,” said Padilla. “We’re also seeing an uptick in women who… because of the shortage, are interested in increasing their milk supply to provide nutrition for their babies.”

Recent data from Datasembly showed an out-of-stock rate for baby formula at 43% nationwide for the week ending May 8. Earlier reports listed San Antonio as having the highest out-of-stock rate in the nation.

Last week, the Biden administration invoked the Defense Production Act to increase baby formula manufacturing, prioritizing suppliers’ ingredients to go to baby formula manufacturers first, and on Sunday, about 75,000 pounds of baby formula was shipped Indiana from Switzerland for U.S. distribution. That’s enough to feed 9,000 babies and 18,000 toddlers for a week. The shipment, ABC News reported, was the first of multiple loads to arrive in the coming weeks. 

In San Antonio, the Lactation Support Center near Northwest Loop 410 is one of many places helping new parents through the shortage.

Any Baby Can, a nonprofit that specializes in serving families with children facing serious developmental health challenges, is offering free formula comparable to the brands in short supply to desperate parents through a partnership with Shield Healthcare. 

The formulas are “more specialized,” said Melanie Rios, director of programs at Any Baby Can, generally for infants with a milk intolerance or some type of special need, but they should be tolerated well by babies who’ve been using brands like Similac and Infamil, she said.

Myka Madrid, an administrative office intake assistant at Any Baby Can surveys specialized formula that is being given to mothers in need.
Myka Madrid, an administrative office intake assistant at Any Baby Can surveys specialized formula that is being given to mothers in need. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Within the past couple of days, Rios said, more than 60 mothers have walked into the nonprofit’s office to get free cans of specialized formula. Some break down in tears, said Elyse Bernal, president and CEO of Any Baby Can, grateful to have found an alternative, safe way to feed their children. 

Many women don’t have the luxury to breastfeed, noted Bernal. Breastfeeding, she said, is not like a “faucet” you can turn on and off. 

Lucas agreed.

“Breastfeeding is really hard,” she said. “Pumping takes so much. You’re restricted. … Not everybody has [enough money] to do that. … It’s a lot of pressure.”

Lucas said since breastfeeding, she’s had a hard time remembering to drink enough water and eat enough calories to produce milk.

“She eats every hour if I’m breastfeeding here because she’s constantly trying to get milk out” Lucas said. “Who has 30 minutes [of every] hour? … It’s not enough time,” she said. 

In San Antonio, a Latino-majority city where many families lack health insurance and work low-wage jobs, it can be difficult to find the time or resources to breastfeed. 

Some women who are able to breastfeed are helping other moms.

When a close friend told her she wasn’t producing enough milk, Peyton Acosta, mother of an infant, volunteered to act as a wet nurse and share some of her own milk.

Even as someone who makes enough milk to share, Acosta understands the many barriers women can face trying to breastfeed.

“As well as physically draining, it’s mentally and emotionally draining,” she said. “Breastfeeding is a full-time job.”

Peyton Acosta breastfeeds her six-month-old daughter Olive Acosta at her home on Sunday.
Peyton Acosta breastfeeds her 6-month-old daughter Olive at her home on Sunday. She has offered to share breast milk with a close friend and formed a Facebook support group to help parents in the area find formula. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

On Facebook, mothers across the area are doing the same, stepping up to help other mothers’ feed their babies. 

About three weeks ago, Acosta saw local mothers on Facebook desperately seeking specific brands and mothers willing to sell their extra formula. Though she didn’t need formula herself, Acosta wanted to create a safe space for her fellow mothers, so she created a local formula shortage group, which has already grown to 2,500 members. 

“I just wanted to try to help in any way that I could,” she said. 

Those seeking help with breastfeeding may find some delays; the Lactation Support Center usually has appointments available within 24 hours, but because of the uptick, the center’s latest appointments are available within a week.

“We can definitely feel an impact by the number of calls that we’re getting regarding concerns surrounding the formula shortage,” said Padilla. “We are here to support mothers throughout their whole breastfeeding journey.”

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Raquel Torres

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. She previously worked at the Tyler Morning Telegraph and is a 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University.