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Actually, ‘Fed is best.’ AP takes a closer look at the issue of breastfeeding amid formula shortage

This March 2022 photo provided by Morgan Fabry poses for a photo with her daughter in Chicago, in a March 2022 photo provided by Fabry. Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months of life by major medical entities, giving rise to the saying “breast is best.” But breastfeeding doesn’t work for everyone, leading Fabry to say, “The bottom line is fed is best.” (Morgan Fabry via AP)

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When a single-factory shutdown triggered a nationwide baby formula shortage in early May, AP naturally stepped up to cover the story from multiple angles. In those initial offerings pediatric health experts noted that breast milk is recommended over formula: “Formula may be designed to mimic breast milk, but studies show breastfeeding yields better health outcomes.”

That may be, but not everyone has that option. AP technology reporter Barbara Ortutay and Central Region Deputy Director Sarah Rafi pointed out that for a number of reasons, many babies simply can’t be breastfed; there is no alternative to formula. AP set out to explore the issue from the perspective of parents who were already challenged to feed their babies.

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At left, formula is distributed during a baby formula drive in Houston, May 14, 2022, during a nationwide shortage of the product. At right, Ana Rodney poses with her son Asher at home in Baltimore, in a May 2022 photo provided by Rodney. Rodney runs MOMCares, a Baltimore organization that provides baby supplies and support to new mothers in the city’s Black community. The baby formula shortage has hit the local Black community hard, she says, because formula feeding is typically more common among Black women — often because they don’t get breastfeeding encouragement or support from the white medical community. – Courtesy Ana Rodney via AP; AP Photo / David J. Phillip

Enter the reporting team of health and science reporter Lindsey Tanner; Boise, Idaho-based Rebecca Boone; and Honolulu’s Jennifer Sinco Kelleher. The trio put together a smart — and sensitive — story on how the shortage was exacerbating an already delicate topic for parents who have to rely on formula and have struggled with the stigma.

The team’s story deftly used science and personal accounts to help readers understand some of the many reasons why breastfeeding may not be on the table — sometimes for the health of the baby. The piece also examined how the shortage triggered feelings of guilt and anxiety,sometimes fostered by parents’ own friends and family. The key takeaway came high in the story, from 34-year-old Morgan Fabry: “The bottom line is fed is best.”

The result was an AP story that clearly resonated with readers and customers during a week absolutely suffused with news. It had 283,000 Facebook interactions,scored high for reader engagement and played widely,including,among many others,The Washington Post,ABC News,Chicago’s WBEZ and the San Francisco Chronicle.

For resourceful,compassionate,informative work that demonstrates the AP’s ability to expand on its previous reporting,Tanner, Boone and Kelleher earn AP’s Best of the Week — Second Winner honors.

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