In this tough economy, many families are cutting corners. The choice a Florida mother recently made to dilute her baby’s formula nearly cost him his life. Local experts fear it’s a growing trend.
Jerri Moss of Tampa had been watering down her 5-month-old baby’s formula to make it stretch further. Last week, she said he curled up in pain and stopped breathing. Emergency room doctors say he had water intoxication and that if he had gone one more hour without treatment, he would have died.
At Essential Pregnancy Services in Omaha, programs are offered to educate soon-to-be and new parents. When Channel 6 News visited, a UNL Extension Educator was teaching a nutrition class.
Most EPS clients are at the poverty level, which is a growing problem. "We definitely have seen a tremendous increase here in the last year," said nurse manager Pam Grosse.
Many low-income parents are turning to the WIC program for baby formula, but it’s only meant as a supplement. The program provides about three-fourths of what a typical baby needs in a month.
Some may be trying to make it stretch by watering it down. "We don't have any documented incidences of our moms doing that, but we have some strong suspicions that it is happening," said Grosse.
She said diluting formula comes with big consequences for infants, starting with a loss of needed calories and nutrients.
"Too much water can basically lower the sodium content and lower the ratio of other electrolytes in the blood and that can lead to seizures and other problems," said Dr. Seth Septer, pediatric gastroenterologist with Children’s Hospital. It can even be fatal.
Children's Hospital has seen a few cases of water intoxication, though none quite as severe as the 5-month-old who recently made headlines.
"That's one place to not try to save our money,” said Dr. Septer. “It's very important not to change from the recommended way of making the formula." In the first few months of life, it’s best to avoid any additional water completely.
Those who attended the EPS nutrition class know they have a lot to learn. However, one couple already made a decision that's both cost-effective and what experts recommend is best.
"I think we're just going to nurse,” said Gisela Cazares. “It’s going to be more healthy for the baby."
Families who are struggling should talk with their doctor for guidance. They can also turn to Essential Pregnancy Services.
EPS, located at 63rd and Maple streets, allows parents to earn credits for baby supplies including formula by keeping up on doctors’ visits and taking parenting classes.
EPS and the Omaha Food Bank are both in need of baby formula donations.