NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A nationwide baby formula shortage is hitting local families and causing some infants to get sick.

A registered dietician with Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk said in the past six weeks about half a dozen babies have been brought into the hospital dehydrated or with failure to thrive.

“Be aware that water, Pedialyte, juice, cereal, those things are not substitutes for infant formula and
we can’t be diluting formula to make it last longer,” said Carolyn Kusenda.

Parents are frustrated and worried as they search high and low for supplies. Shannon Merritt-Castaneda spent Mother’s Days scouring stores and the internet for baby formula.

“I mean, it’s nowhere to be found. I mean at this point it’s ‘do I try to make my own formula?’ you know. It’s very scary when you can’t feed your child,” Merritt-Castaneda told WAVY.

Pediatric health experts strongly advise against making your own formula, and Kusenda said you should never use cow milk or goat milk as a substitute. “They don’t have the nutrient content that is required for babies to grow and develop normally.”

So when faced with empty shelves, what should a parents do? If your baby uses a medically-indicated formula for allergies or some other condition, call your pediatrician or WIC to help you find a suitable substitute. For babies with sensitive stomachs, experts say be open to switching brands.

Many stores are now limiting the number of formula products people can buy. Merritt-Castaneda is down to about a can, which will last one week.

“So once again I’m going to be on the hunt for formula and I don’t know what to do next,” she said.

In a statement, the makers of Enfamil told WAVY:

In response to shortages caused by the shutdown of a competitor’s manufacturing facility, we have taken a number of measures – including shipping over 30% more product in Q1, running our factories 24/7 with 3 shifts per day, and rationalizing our portfolio to focus on those sizes that allow us to provide the most formula. We have also significantly increased our quality assurance resources to make sure our rigorous safety standards are maintained. We are taking no chances when it comes to quality and safety.

We understand that this situation is worrisome to parents and know how important infant formula is for babies and children who rely on it. We are doing all we can to reduce disruption.

On its website, Similac states that it is working with the FDA and prioritizing production to increase supply.

In the meantime, Kusenda encourages new moms to breastfeed whenever possible. “I think it’s important now more than ever, not just for the health benefits but because of this infant formula crisis.”

She stresses if you cannot find formula don’t dilute it or make your own, rather call your doctor, CHKD Nutrition Services or the health department’s WIC program and they will find some.