Bottles & Boobs

Oops! I’ve Run Out of Baby Formula


It happens. You think you’ve got everything you need on hand to take care of your baby, but weeks of sleepless nights can frazzle even the sharpest brains. In the middle of the night you drag yourself to the kitchen to prepare the baby’s bottle, and BOOM — no formula. Instantly, you begin to panic. You’ve got a screaming infant in your arms and nothing to feed them. 

Don’t panic, and don’t beat yourself up. Running out of formula happens to even the most prepared parents among us. We spoke with experts about what to do when you reach for the scoop and the can is on E. 

The team at Milk Drunk consulted Dr. Regine Brioche, board certified pediatrician at Tribeca Pediatrics, to get the scoop on what to do if you find yourself out of formula and out of options. Here’s what we learned. 

What To Do If You Run Out of Baby Formula

The main issue with running out of formula is ensuring your baby stays hydrated. While running out of formula likely just means your baby’s next feeding will be delayed or missed, it’s still really important to offer them something in place of the formula to keep your baby from becoming dehydrated. 

Dr. Brioche advises that, “In the first nine months of life, hydration options are limited to breastmilk, formula, and in emergency situations, Pedialyte.” 

While it might be tempting to give your baby water, this is not a good idea for babies under six months. Water is only approved for children aged six months and above, and even at that age the quantity of water a child should be given is limited. This is because too much water upsets the electrolyte balance in a baby’s body. This can lead to brain swelling, seizures, and in extreme cases, death.

Because giving an infant water can have deadly side effects, it’s a good idea to have a stash of Pedialyte on hand. Pedialyte has a specific ratio of water to sugar and minerals which is effective in keeping an infant hydrated safely. 

Rehydration options vary depending on your child’s age. Here are some of the options you can consider during the first year of life:

  • Pedialyte and/or coconut water, depending on age. “Coconut water is rich in carbohydrates and electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium, but it is also high in potassium, which can lead to hyperkalemia in infants with immature  kidneys,” advises Dr. Brioche. “Hyperkalemia can cause irregular heartbeats and even death, so it should only be given in small quantities to infants over six months of age.”
  • Cow’s milk, based on age. Per World Health Organization guidelines, unmodified cow’s milk should not be given to a child as a drink before the age of nine months. “If infants are fed formula, cow’s milk can be gradually introduced into their diet between the ages of 9 and 12 months,” advises Dr. Brioche. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that cow’s milk (and milk alternatives like soy and pea milk) should not be given until your baby reaches one year of age. Milk alternatives are low in iron and some essential vitamins which can lead to nutritional deficiencies. 

Can I Water Down Formula To Make It Last Longer?

We get it. It’s tempting. Especially during a year like 2020 when so many of us have found ourselves without steady employment. Adding water to your baby’s formula to make it “stretch” can seem like a good idea that will save you money, but this is a bad practice that you should never try. 

“From a physiological perspective, infant kidneys are not fully developed,” says Dr. Brioche. When you add water to formula, your baby will get an amount of water that their kidneys aren’t able to properly process. 

Getting too much water can:

  • Reduce the amount of nutrients your baby gets. Infant formula is specially formulated to deliver the appropriate amount of necessary vitamins and nutrients per feeding your baby needs for proper development. If you water down the formula, your baby won’t get the vital nutrients she needs, which can slow her growth and development. This can lead to failure to thrive. 
  • Can lead to water intoxication. Water intoxication is a potentially dangerous condition that leads to serious health conditions and even death. Because your baby’s kidneys are immature, they’re simply unable to process large loads of water.  Giving your baby watered down formula can lead to a diluted bloodstream which lowers the concentration of important electrolytes. This increases your baby’s risk of developing hyponatremia. Hyponatremia is a condition that can cause brain swelling, seizures, and even death.

Emergency Alternatives  

You know it’s not wise to water down formula or give your baby water or cow’s milk as an alternative, but what about the situation you might find yourself in now — standing in the kitchen with a screaming, hungry baby and no formula on hand? 

Here’s what Dr. Brioche advises when you’re in an emergency situation:

  • 0-6 Months: If your infant is under six months of age, you can supplement your baby with Pedialyte, but make sure you do not give Pedialyte for more than two days maximum. Ideally, you will want to replenish your formula supply as soon as possible, so that your baby doesn’t miss more than one or two feedings. 

Don’t attempt to give a baby under six months of age cow’s milk or a milk substitute, and do not give them pure water, as you can risk serious health conditions and even death. 

  • 6-9 Months: Between the ages of six and nine months, your baby is just getting acquainted with solid foods. Their solid food intake at this age, however, is supplemental to their formula intake, and is mostly centered around taste and texture introduction. 

If you’ve run out of formula, offering solids as an alternative is not necessarily a horrible idea. Providing nutrient rich meals at least three times a day, along with 4-8 ounces of water per day serves as a good bridge for your baby’s health needs, but do not give them this combination for more than two days. Pedialyte is also safe to give for up to two days. 

  • 9-12 Months: This is the safest scenario for running out of formula. In fact, some children this age have already begun to wean themselves off of formula and prefer solids to a liquid diet. They are beginning to transition to eating the foods they’ll eat as toddlers. Offering your child eight ounces of water, pedialyte, or coconut water per day along with their meals is appropriate to keep them hydrated and healthy.  

The most important idea to remember is to stay calm, and get your hands on some formula as soon as possible. Water, milk alternatives, Pedialyte, and solid foods aren’t appropriate substitutes for young babies, and even older babies shouldn’t be given these emergency options for long periods of time. 

Who To Call For Help

If you’re having trouble affording your formula, you’ve got options. Don’t assume you need to water down formula or offer a less expensive alternative. There are programs available to assist you in your time of need and ensure your baby has what they need to develop properly.

 If you’re struggling to get necessary formula, here are some places you can call for help:

  • Doctor. Your OB/GYN may have formula samples on hand they can offer to you to hold you over until you are able to get more. This isn’t a permanent solution for your formula needs, but it’s definitely an option you can explore in a pinch.
  • Clinic. Almost any pediatric clinic keeps formula in stock that they can give to you for your baby. Again, this wouldn’t be a permanent solution for your formula needs, but your pediatrician’s office may be able to connect you to a formula supply program in your area that can help. 
  • Pediatric. The pediatric units of many hospitals have formula samples they give out to their patients, and as such they may have samples they can give you in an emergency situation.
  • WIC. The federal WIC program ensures that infants have their food and formula needs met. To find out if you are eligible for WIC, you can check with your county’s WIC office or contact them online.
  • Breast milk banks. Many areas have local breast milk banks that can offer assistance to families in need. In a pinch, you can get donor breast milk for your baby by contacting these facilities.

Running out of baby formula isn’t the end of the world, but it is a serious issue that you’ll want to deal with as soon as possible. 

Making sure you have a continuous, reliable supply of formula for your child is crucial in ensuring their proper health and development. 

No matter your financial situation, there are programs available to ensure your baby gets the vitamins and nutrients she needs to thrive. 


The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant's pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.

Meet the Author

Bridget Reed, contributing writer for Milk Drunk with the expert advice of Dr. Jacqueline Winkelmann

Bridget Reed is an experienced writer, editor SEO content manager and proud mom of three.

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