Family Matters

Similac Recall Outrages Parents: Are Beetles Bad?

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AP Photo/Mike Groll

In a press release to announce the recall of up to 5 million containers of top-selling Similac powder formula sold mainly in the U.S., drug maker Abbott Laboratories sought to soothe parents. Sure, there might be some beetle parts in the powder your baby drinks, but contaminated formula, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “poses no immediate health risk.”

Oh, one more thing: there’s a possibility that “infants who consume formula containing the beetles or their larvae, could experience symptoms of gastrointestinal discomfort and refusal to eat as a result of small insect parts irritating the GI tract.” (More on Time.com: Giving Birth the IKEA Way: Do It Yourself)

Parents aren’t pleased. Even though bugs are common fare in other parts of the world, they’re not a standard on U.S. dinner tables. “I understand that the news said it doesn’t hurt them, but that’s not true,” wrote one parent in a comment on a YouTube video a dad had posted about the recall. “Many babies are sick and in pain due to the ‘gastrointestinal discomfort,’ which translates to horrible diarrhea, unwillingness to eat, nausea, and vomiting. I’m not really up for a corporation telling me that those symptoms aren’t harmful or detrimental to my son. It’s not just gross, it’s awful.”

Abbott discovered the bugs last week at its Michigan manufacturing plant. The recalled formula was sold in plastic containers and 8-ounce, 12.4-ounce and 12.9-ounce can sizes. To determine if your baby’s formula is affected, go to www.similac.com/recall/lookup, and type in the lot number or call (800) 986-8850.

On Facebook, Jeni McNally wrote that her two-week-old grandson was drinking recalled Similac and “has been screaming in pain for four days now. Nick Monge, the YouTube videographer, shared his son’s experience after drinking recalled formula. “Over the last couple of weeks, he spits up more, he hasn’t been feeling as good, he doesn’t want the bottle as much,” says Monge of Loma Linda, Calif. Monge called his son’s pediatrician and hopes to head in for a check-up today. In the meantime, Monge and his wife, Kate, have changed their son’s formula; he’s no longer spitting up as much. “I’m angry. It’s horrible,” says Kate, who wanted to breastfeed but couldn’t due to a  medical problem.  “It’s crazy to me.”

Across the Web, scores of other parents are reporting their Similac-fed babies are vomiting, crying inconsolably, spitting up more and having diarrhea. It’s not inconceivable that the symptoms are related to the formula, says Jatinder Bhatia, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Nutrition and a professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Georgia. (More on Time.com: An 11-Year-Old Babysitter Is Charged With Murder: How Young Is Too Young to Care for Kids?)

Bloody diarrhea, vomiting and unexplained crying are all symptoms of a reaction to foreign proteins, under which category beetles and their various parts fall. “Honestly speaking, though, we don’t know what the effect is,” says Bhatia. In any case, he also points out that powder formula is never sterile. Heat sterilization still allows a certain amount of bacteria in the form of tiny insects to remain in the powder. “Beetles,” he allows, “are not supposed to be in formula. Usually you find microscopic bugs.”

It may be extremely difficult to determine whether beetles are responsible for a baby’s symptoms. Inconsolable crying might simply be, well, inconsolable crying, which is sometimes just what babies do.

The good news? Any gastrointestinal problems that are truly related to the beetles should subside within 48 to 72 hours of switching formula.

Not surprisingly, news of the recall rekindled bottle vs. breast animosities, if only online. One woman predicted breastfeeding advocates would wax triumphant. “Very upsetting, and here comes the ‘breast is best!’ brigade to add to the anxiety by telling us all we asked for it.” Sure enough, another poster wrote, “Yea, breastfeeding is the best. My breastmilk has never ha(d) beetle parts in it.” (But it probably has flame retardants, as studies have shown breast milk contains this neurotoxin.)

As millions of parents are reeling from the thought that their babies have chowed on bugs, it’s a time for support, not gloating. All together now: Bye-bye, beetle juice.

More on Time.com:

Why Most Moms Don’t Follow Breast-Feeding Recommendations

In the Battle Over Breast or Bottle, Guilt May Play a Role

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