ST. LOUIS — Empty shelves and empty bellies.
Nationwide, parents are trying to feed their little ones, but some are limited by the baby formula shortage.
To make matters worse, Missouri is one of six states where more than half of baby formula supplies are sold out, with St. Louis Metro not far behind.
This is worrying many parents, including Metro East mom Brandy Lavite.
She lives in Bethalto, but she's looking on both sides of the river.
She relies on formula milk for 7-month-old Elayna, since she can't produce when breastfeeding.
"I didn't try with her because whenever you try to breastfeed and don't end up successful that is such a blow to your mental and emotional health. Being postpartum already, I decided this time: I am not going to lead myself down that path and break my heart again," Lavite said.
In the last few months, it's been getting increasingly harder to find her daughter's type of formula.
It was really this week when there weren't any options left.
"I started looking at Walmart. It was out," Lavite said. "I looked for other stores in a 50-mile radius, and it said no. I checked Amazon— and nothing."
She leaned on her friends for advice.
Instead, they got in the car and went hunting for her.
One friend went to four locations before she finally was able to get some formula.
Another friend drove to Alton and found a big 54-ounce bag at a Walgreens.
Lavite said, she was thankful for the search team.
"I'm just like. 'How did I get so lucky to get an awesome group of people,'" Lavite said.
But Brandy also worries for her other friends, including those who rely on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children— which is also known as the WIC program.
Parents in the WIC program qualify with a certain income.
Dina Payeur is the nutritionist at the St. Louis County Department of Health.
"It is for pregnant women, breastfeeding women, those in postpartum, and infants and children under the age of five," Payeur said.
As of Friday, the state is giving parents some flexibility.
"We are able to provide other formula that isn't on our contract formula to make it easier for people to find," she said.
While this releases some pressure, Brandy said she hopes this anxious feeling will ease soon too.
"I'm kind of hoping it's like the toilet paper shortage where you just get what you need and hope for the best to wait it out," Lavite said.
She doesn't want to switch formula for her baby because she worries it can upset her stomach, but if it worsens, Lavite said she'll have to do it.
She also wants to make sure her baby can digest breast milk if they switch to a milk bank.
There are several breast milk banks in the St. Louis area.
SSM Health Cardinal Glennon has a drop-off-only milk depot.
It was the first hospital in St. Louis to start implementing the use of pasteurized donor human milk and the first milk depot in St. Louis.
Last year in 2021, it had 14,000 ounces donated from more than 35 different moms.
That was higher than years prior. This year they are on track to do at least that much, if not more.
Melissa Liebhart is a lactation consultant at Cardinal Glennon, and she said they work with the Milk Bank in Indiana.
All of the milk donated goes to premature or fragile infants in the NICU.
It's pasteurized donor human milk and families can get milk from them. If you are interested, you can click or tap here. You'll need a prescription for donor milk.
If you'd like to donate, there is a process and Cardinal Glennon is holding a milk drive.
St. Louis County residents who qualify can receive electronic benefits to obtain free formula and nutrition guidance through the St. Louis County DPH WIC program.
If you're wondering if you qualify, you can call at 314-615-7900 to schedule an appointment.