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During baby formula shortage, St. Louis parents turn to Facebook swap groups

Squeezed by a combination of supply disruptions and a nationwide recall, a shortage of baby formula is increasingly forcing parents to ration and scramble to keep their newborns fed.

But instead of hustling alone, they’re working together — and finding support on Facebook.

That’s what happened to Joanna Busby. Earlier this month, the High Ridge woman started a Facebook “formula swap” group after she and her husband had trouble finding formula for their 3-month-old son.

Online, they quickly connected with hundreds of local parents in the same predicament.

“It causes a lot of anxiety,” Busby told St. Louis on the Air. “Being a new mom, in general, is really hard. Anxiety really hits when you have a newborn — and then, the worry of not being able to feed your baby just exponentially makes it worse.”

New parents may also struggle with facing judgment and misconceptions about turning to formula for their children. Busby pointed out that suggestions to “just breastfeed instead” ignore the biological reality experienced by many new moms.

“I definitely started trying to breastfeed as soon as he was born,” she said. “Sometimes biology is just a little bit against you and you can't breastfeed, or you can't produce enough to be able to feed your child — or some people can't breastfeed at all. Formula is how we're going to make sure that our babies are fed — and, to us, fed is best.”

Busby’s Facebook group has grown quickly since she created it on May 6. After its first week, the group had collected about 100 members. Today, the number is above 900, with members posting daily photos of store shelves to alert others to restocks; other posts involve parents offering to swap cans of formula that their own babies don’t tolerate.

At the same time, Busby has had to enlist some members as moderators to combat scammers trying to infiltrate the group by pretending to have formula for sale.

“To see somebody from across the country join our group, simply just to take money from mothers who are in need, is really terrifying,” Busby said. “We're just trying to keep an eye out the best that we can, and encourage people to use discernment when they are paying people over social media.”

Joanna Busby joins St. Louis on the Air

Overall, the growth of the Facebook group is a hopeful sign for parents like Busby. And it’s not just formula-using parents getting involved. On Monday’s show, Busby described how new moms have reached out to the group offering to donate their own breastmilk, while grandparents are contributing to the effort by canvassing stores for specific formulas.

Still, with the country’s key formula factory potentially months away from restarting production, parents like Busby are hoping that their ad hoc swap groups and local support networks can hold up through the shortage.

While Busby says she’s glad the situation has gained national attention, she also worries how long the Facebook group can keep up.

“It's not going to be something we're going to be able to do forever,” she said. “I'm really hoping that there's something on the horizon that can get us through all of this.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."

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