We have all heard the stories of families trying to make ends meet in these tough economic times. But, maybe the most shocking story to date, is that of a 23-year-old mother who almost lost her son because she was trying to stretch his baby formula.
The Tampa, Fla. woman had been stretching her 5-month-old son’s monthly supply of formula by adding extra water to it. News accounts tell of the little one having a seizure in a grocery store and ultimately being diagnosed with water intoxication and malnutrition. The mother publicly stated that she did not know of the dangers of diluting the formula.
According to Dr. Fidencio Alanis, of Alanis Pediatrics in Oregon, diluting formula, unless under the direction of a physician, is never a good idea.
“Parents are trying to make more formula out of what they have bu the formula will be weak. Infants need the calories and the protein in the formula to thrive,” Dr. Alanis said. “The problems, in the long run, will be malnutrition and failure to thrive which can cause delayed development in the child. If an infant is sick, we may tell the parents to dilute it for a short period of time but no one should dilute formula without their physician‘s advice.”
Amber Myers, a certified medical assistant with the Pediatric Center in Oregon, agrees.
“When you dilute the formula, the baby does not get enough of the nutrients in the formula. Infants are not to get water until they are at least six months old,” Myers said. “If parents are having problems purchasing formula, there are programs through the state where they can get free formula. If a parent calls, we will refer them to the programs.”
For families that meet certain income guidelines, free formula and supplemental foods may be available through the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program.
According to Tom Kuhn, director of the Lucas County WIC program, families do not have to qualify for programs through the Department of Job and Family Services to receive WIC foods.
WIC qualifications include: a woman who is pregnant, breastfeeding or a who recently had a child (up to six months); have an infant or child under age 5; or be at medical or nutrition risk.
A family of four making $39,220 or less annually would fall within the income guidelines.
WIC pays for supplemental foods like milk, cereal, infant formula, juices, eggs, and peanut butter. The agency also provides nutrition education, breast-feeding support, and health-care referrals.
According to Kuhn, there has been a steady increase in the number of families enrolled in the program over the last several years. In 1999, the average monthly caseload in Lucas County was 12,326. In 2008, the caseload is 16,157 per month, Kuhn said.
“We have seen a steady increase over the last several years. There has not been a decline in the numbers in the last six years,” Kuhn said. “We have seen a faster increase in the number of recipients in the last year most likely due to the economy. We also noticed that when troops were dispatched to IRAQ many wives and mothers with kids applied for WIC as well.”
Kuhn said he has not heard of any issues involving parents diluting infant formula to stretch their child’s food as yet.
“If I started to hear that this is happening I would be very concerned,” Kuhn said. “I am sure it happens, but we have not heard of anything that serious yet.”
In Lucas County, WIC has several sites for families to apply to the program including the River East Community Health Center and the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department the East Toledo Family Center. For more information on how to apply for WIC, please call (419) 213-4422.
According to the United Way’s 2-1-1 Hotline, the following agencies also help with baby formula and food: Behavioral Connections of Wood County, Inc., The Link, Crisis Lines at (800) 472-9411 or (419) 352-1545; Women Infants and Children Supplement Feeding Program - Wood County, (419) 352-8402; Wood County Combined General Health District, (419) 244-1610 in Northern Wood County and (419) 352-8402; The Good Samaritan Fund and Community Food Pantry, Pemberville, (419) 287-4182; Heartbeat of Ottawa County, Port Clinton, (419) 734-9359; and the Ottawa County Health Department, Port Clinton, (419) 734-6800 and (800) 788-8803.
United Way’s 2-1-1 service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by simply dialing 2-1-1. The service connects residents of Lucas, Wood and Ottawa Counties with agencies that offer help for a variety of issues including, emergency food, utility and rent assistance. 2-1-1 information is also available online at www.unitedwaytoledo.org