Holding their crying babies in their arms, dozens of Egyptian mothers have rallied on a major Cairo road, blocking traffic to protest severe shortages of subsidized baby formula.

Thursday's protest reflects how austerity measures aimed at healing the country's budget deficit are hitting Egyptians hard.

Some of the mothers broke into tears while displaying empty milk bottles to reporters as they stood for hours on the asphalt with no protection from the scorching sun.

Riot police with helmets and batons were deployed to reopen the road but didn't force an end to the protest, held in front of the state-run Egyptian Pharmaceutical Trading Company in eastern Cairo.

Mohammed Fouad of the Egyptian Center to Protect the Right for Medicine says this is the first time Egypt has cut formula subsidies.