JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Parents continue to find empty shelves in the baby formula aisle at stores not only across our region but across the nation as well.

Here in Tennessee, a top leader at the Department of Health said the state is adjusting the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program to help families find formula for their babies.

The federally-funded program is designed to provide supplemental food assistance and nutrition education to low-income pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women, infants, and children until age five.

“We have put in a number of flexibilities for the WIC program, and that does include actually significantly expanding the types of formula that WIC vouchers can be used for,” said Dr. Morgan McDonald, the deputy commissioner of population health for TDH.

The vouchers work for the substitutes on the department’s website so families don’t have to go back to the clinics for new ones.

According to the state, specialty formula that requires a WIC qualifying condition still requires medical documentation, but the medical documentation waiver Tennessee is using allows participants to switch to a non-contract formula. The participant would need to call the clinic to have their benefits updated on their WIC EBT card.

McDonald says Abbott is starting to work directly with pediatricians to get samples out.

“One thing that recently came out last week from the manufacturer was an opportunity for providers to directly reach out to the manufacturer to request samples be sent from Abbott, from the manufacturer to either their offices or to the homes of their patients,” she said. “It does have to be requested directly by the pediatrician’s offices or facilities themselves. It can’t be requested by parents. “

If you can’t find your baby’s formula, McDonald warns against diluting what you have or trying to make it at home.

“Diluting formula is not really the way to go, so don’t stretch it out. That can lead to chemical imbalances and can be pretty dangerous for an infant,” she said. “Similarly, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the FDA are very strongly encouraging parents to not make homemade formula. This similarly can lead to metabolic problems and electrolyte problems with infants.”

And if your baby is between four to six months old, she says you can try to introduce solid foods.

Parents with infants close to a year old have a few other options.

“Using toddler formula for a little while is okay, substituting that for infant formula for those older infants close to a year of age is okay,” suggested McDonald. “Using cow’s milk at close to a year of age, so after 6 months for a few days is okay. And the older those infants are, the closer to one year of age, we switch over to cow’s milk at one year of age in usual times and so doing that a little bit earlier is okay.”

WIC also encourages breastfeeding for those who can, but Dr. McDonald says to be careful feeding it if it’s not your own.

“A mother’s milk is the best thing for her infant and beyond that, it’s a space where there’s not a lot of guidance,” said McDonald “It could be risky for individuals in thinking about potential medical risks, potential exposure risks and potential infections risk as well. Those are all certainly things to think about.”