Breast milk banks receive surge in calls from parents amid baby formula shortage

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A baby formula shortage has prompted a “major surge in interest” in donor breast milk, according to Lindsey Groff, the executive director of the Human Milk Bank Association of North America, which accredits nonprofit milk banks.

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With the formula shortage worsening in recent weeks, “every milk bank that I have spoken with has seen a major increase in demand,” Groff said, adding that premature or medically fragile infants, such as those in the neonatal intensive care unit, receive priority for donor milk but that healthy, full-term babies can be recipients as well.

At Mothers’ Milk Bank at Austin in Texas, one of the largest milk banks in the United States, requests for donor milk started ticking up in February, when a product recall added to existing supply chain woes.

The number of requests has “increased tremendously” in the last three weeks, with 30 extra calls each week to the milk bank, said Kim Updegrove, the milk bank’s executive director and the chairperson for the standards committee at the Human Milk Bank Association of North America.

Like other parents across the country, those reaching out to Mothers’ Milk Bank at Austin are frustrated by the bare shelves they keep encountering at grocery stores. They either can’t find formula at all or their infants are not tolerating whatever formula they have had to switch to, Updegrove said.

“Some are desperate. Some are angry. Some are sobbing,” she said of parents who are calling, some with just a day’s worth of formula left in their pantries.

“The challenge is not only to feed these infants, but to reinforce to parents that they are doing a great job,” she added. “There is no judgment here. They are reaching out. That’s part of problem-solving.”

Mid-Atlantic Mothers’ Milk Bank in Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has increased its donations by 20 percent in the last three weeks to meet demand, said Denise O’Connor, its executive director and a lactation consultant.

“I suspect this sustained demand is going to maintain,” she said.