'Just breastfeed instead': Why breastfeeding isn't an option for many families facing formula shortage

Posted at 4:59 PM, May 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-26 19:11:29-04

BOISE, Idaho — In light of the nationwide baby formula shortage, many people have made remarks suggesting parents "simply breastfeed their babies instead." In short, it's not that simple — especially for families dealing with food allergies.

"These families often can't choose just another formula," Free to Feed co-founder Trillyte Paullin said. "They only have one formula, or a few formulas, which don't elicit an allergic response for their children specifically."

Paullin works closely with parents around the country whose young children have severe allergies. Her company, Free to Feed, offers parents online courses and a mobile app to help track diet and allergic reactions.

Related: Formula shortage impacting those with rare metabolic diseases

Paullin said many families dealing with allergies also face difficulties with breastfeeding because these allergens are passed from the parent's diet to the breast milk. Paullin faced those difficulties firsthand with both of her children.

"There ends up eventually being a balance. If the child is reactive to many, many foods and we are having to remove too many things from the maternal diet, then it is often best for the parent not to breastfeed because we are not able to get in the proper nutrition," Paullin said. "It is very, very mentally and physically taxing on the parent - as I can tell you firsthand; so it's very naive to make those statements to parents and honestly not helpful in the current climate."

The molecular biologist-turned-entrepreneur co-founded Free to Feed while living in Boise, advancing her research at Boise State. They've recently relocated to a lab space in North Carolina.

The company's long-term focus is on creating at-home test strips that will allow parents to test their breast milk for particular proteins prior to feeding. They expect to bring the test kits to the market in early 2023.

However, in recent weeks, Free to Feed has focused on connecting families across the country in search of specific formula or donated breast milk from families with dietary restrictions.

Related: 'It’s awful, you can’t feed your child': Treasure Valley moms impacted by formula shortage

"We do have families in the Treasure Valley who have utilized this and have donated their own breast milk or formula they have access to, but we're shipping all over the country," Paullin said.

In less than a week, the team of volunteers has coordinated cross-country overnight shipments of formula and frozen donor milk, shipping in and out of more than 35 states.

"It's certainly worth it, however it is heartbreaking to know that we're just scratching the surface," Paullin said.

To learn more about their efforts, click here.