The US baby formula shortage has sparked a lot of interest in US milk banks with some moms offering to donate breast milk and desperate parents calling to see if it’s a solution to feed their babies. their babies.
It’s a path that won’t work for all formula-fed babies, especially those with special dietary needs, and it presents challenges because the nation’s dozens of nonprofit milk banks prioritize feeding medically fragile babies. The organizations collect milk from mothers and process it, including through pasteurization, and then work with hospitals to distribute it.
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The shortage was due to a safety recall and supply disruptions and has captured national attention with panicked parents looking to swap and buy formula online and President Joe Biden urging manufacturers to ramp up production and sparring with retailers. how they might restock shelves to meet regional disparities. The Biden administration also said Friday that formula maker Abbott Laboratories has committed to providing rebates through August for a food stamp-like program that helps women, infants and children called WIC.
At Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast, based in Newton, Massachusetts, interest in donating and receiving milk has skyrocketed due to a shortage. The milk bank typically gets 30 to 50 calls a month from people looking to donate. On Thursday alone, 35 calls came in from potential donors, said Deborah Youngblood, the bank’s chief executive officer.
“It’s interesting that the first type of response we got was from potential donors, so people responded to the formula shortage with an amazing and compassionate response of how can I be part of the solution.” she said.
Youngblood was talking about people like Kayla Gillespie, a 38-year-old mother of three from Hays, Kansas. Gillespie first donated to the Mothers’ Milk Bank in Denver six years ago, giving 18 gallons (68 liters) after the birth of her first child, and she did not plan to do so again.
“I thought 18 gallons was enough for one person,” he said. “If I hadn’t heard about the shortage, I wouldn’t be going through the process again, just because I have three kids and it’s a bit chaotic around here.”
He has promised at least 150 ounces of his milk, but said he hopes to give much more than that.
“I am very blessed to be able to produce milk, so I felt like I needed to do something,” she said.
She said she has sent her frozen milk in special containers to Denver in the past, but this time, her local hospital is accepting the donations and she can just drop them off.
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However, it is not just about the donors. Parents desperately seeking nutrition for their babies are also looking to milk banks.
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At the Massachusetts milk bank, about 30 people called looking for milk because they couldn’t find their baby’s regular formula, Youngblood said. That’s due to almost no calls, since the milk bank usually caters to hospitals.
The North American Human Milk Banking Association, a nonprofit milk bank accreditation organization, is seeing a “major surge” in demand, according to Lindsay Groff, the group’s executive director. She estimates that inquiries from parents looking to fill the formula gap have increased 20% in recent days.
Groff called the shortage a “crisis” and said it’s not as simple as parents simply supplementing with donated human milk, because the vast majority of those supplies are intended for babies with medical conditions.
“If people can donate, now would be the time because when we have more inventory we can look beyond medically fragile,” he said.
Parents also turn to online breast milk exchange forums to meet their babies’ needs.
Amanda Kastelein, a mother of three from Middlebury, Connecticut, has been supplementing the special formula she needs for 10-month-old Emerson with breast milk from a mother she found on a Facebook page called Human Milk 4 Human Babies. .
Kastelein stopped breastfeeding after getting recurrent infections, but tried to resume breastfeeding in March after the formula was withdrawn from the market, with little success.
“Emerson is allergic to most formulas, so it’s been difficult to find something he’s not allergic to,” he said.
Enter Hannah Breton of Naugatuck, Connecticut, who had been making more milk than her two-and-a-half-month-old son needs. She has been giving Kastelein about 60 ounces of milk every two weeks. That’s enough to supplement her formula supply and keep Emerson fed.
“He asked a lot of questions: what medications am I taking, if any, that kind of thing,” Breton said. “So we decided, ‘OK, that’s perfect.’ So, she comes every two weeks and collects the milk that I have been saving for her.”
“I feel useful,” he added. “It’s exciting and rewarding to be able to give it to a mother who can’t find what she’s looking for, and if her child can’t take formula, I mean, she’s scary.
Rebecca Heinrich, director of the Mothers’ Milk Bank in Colorado, warns those seeking milk that searching for donors on your own can be risky.
“We want to make sure these moms are as safe as possible and are meeting the needs of their babies, so consulting with your health care provider on how to meet those needs is the best way to do that,” she said.
The shortage creates particular hardship for low-income families after formula maker Abbott’s recall due to contamination concerns. The recall depleted many brands covered by WIC, a federal program similar to Food Stamps for Women, Infants and Children, though it now allows brand-name substitutes.
On Friday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack sent a letter to the director of Abbott Laboratories expressing what he called his “serious concern regarding the accessibility of safe infant formula,” noting that Abbott has infant formula contracts in the federal WIC program. Vilsack requested that Abbott continue a program that provides rebates for alternative products, including formula for competitive brands, which he had been doing on a month-to-month basis. The White House said Friday that Abbott has committed to refunds through the end of August.
The Biden administration said it is working with states to make it easier for WIC recipients to purchase different sizes of formula that their benefits might not currently cover.
Abbott has said that, pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration, it could restart a manufacturing site “within two weeks.”
The company would start by producing EleCare, Alimentum, and Metabolic formulas and then begin production of Similac and other formulas. Once production begins, it will take six to eight weeks for the formula to be available on shelves.
On Tuesday, the FDA said it was working with US manufacturers to ramp up production and streamline paperwork to allow more imports.
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