According to Lindsey Groff, executive director of the Human Milk Bank Association of North America, which accredits nonprofit milk banks, a shortage of infant formula has caused a “major increase in interest” in donor breast milk. .
With formula shortages worsening in recent weeks, “every milk bank I’ve spoken to has seen a significant increase in demand,” Groff said, adding that premature or medically fragile infants, such as those in the neonatal intensive care unit are given priority for donor milk, but healthy, full-term babies can also be recipients.
At Mothers’ Milk Bank in Austin, Texas, one of the largest milk banks in the United States, requests for donor milk began to spike in February when a product recall was added to existing supply chain issues.
The number of requests has “significantly increased” over the past three weeks, with 30 additional calls each week to the milk bank, said Kim Updegrove, executive director of the milk bank and chair of the Human Milk standards committee. Bank Association of North. America.
Like other parents across the country, those who turn to Austin’s Breastmilk Bank are frustrated with the empty shelves they keep seeing in grocery stores. Either they can’t find formula at all, or their infants can’t tolerate the formula they’ve had to switch to, Updegrove said.
“Some are desperate. Some are angry. Some are sobbing,” she said of the parents who call, some with only a day’s worth of formula left in their pantry.
“The challenge is not just feeding these infants, but getting parents to understand that they are doing a great job,” she added. “There’s no judgment here. They’re reaching out. It’s part of problem solving.
The Mid-Atlantic Mothers’ Milk Bank in Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has increased donations by 20% over the past three weeks to meet demand, said Denise O’Connor, its executive director and lactation consultant.
“I suspect this sustained demand will continue,” she said.
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How is donor milk tested
Accredited milk banks carefully select donors by means of a verbal questionnaire, written authorization from a doctor and a blood test. The milk they give is tested and pasteurized to eliminate any pathogens.
Experts strongly advise against receiving breast milk from unknown sources, such as social media groups, where few, if any, precautions are taken to ensure the safety and purity of the product. Vendors can dilute breast milk with water or cow’s milk; milk can also be contaminated with bacteria or other dangerous contaminants which milk banks monitor closely.
“We don’t know what medications a person may be on, or the lingering effects of antibiotics in their system,” said Jenna Streit, director of advancement at The Milk Bank in Indianapolis, which last year received donations from 810 donors in 20 states. “We really connect with our donors once they are approved. We make sure none of their medications have changed.
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Streit said her organization has so far only received one or two calls a day from formula-feeding mothers requesting information about breastmilk donations. Most had never heard of milk banks before, she said, so part of the conversation is educating them about the process of receiving milk. Donor milk at The Milk Bank costs $4.50 an ounce, which is comparable to the national average of $4 to $5 an ounce to cover processing fees, according to Groff. It is often taken care of by hospitals when babies are in neonatal intensive care units; insurance will sometimes cover outpatient costs when there is a medical need.
In Valhalla, New York, the New York Milk Bank only distributes donor milk to people with a prescription. As calls have poured in from parents who have had no luck finding formula, the New York Milk Bank has seen an explosion of women volunteering to donate their milk over the past month. as formula shortages grabbed headlines, executive director Linda Harelick said.
“Our phones are ringing non-stop,” she said. “It’s a pretty rigorous selection process, and we’ve approved milk donors in record numbers.”
Groff hopes this will also be the silver lining for formula shortages at other milk banks.
“Everyone is aware of blood and organ donation, even hair. But very little is known about breastmilk donation,” she said. “What we hope is that people will become more aware of the possibility of donating breast milk in this time of crisis.”
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com.