May 13, 2022 - Health

Milk banks see increased demand amid baby formula shortage

Breast milk at the Mountain West Mothers Milk Bank in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Breast milk. Photo: Natalie Behring via Getty Images

Americans are turning their attention to milk banks as the baby formula shortage has led to increased demand for milk in the United States.

Why it matters: Mothers have looked to donate breast milk to the milk banks to help struggling families, who are panicked by the shortage and seeking help from the milk banks to feed their infants.

What is a milk bank?

Milk banks collect donations from lactating women and distribute milk. Right now, milk banks are helping families facing difficulties due to the shortage.

  • These banks often work as nonprofits that reserve milk supplies for premature babies.
  • Premature or medically fragile babies receive priority at these locations, but healthy babies can receive milk, too, NBC News reports.

What they're saying: "Donations come from women with excess supply beyond what their child needs and they generously donate their milk to us," Linda Harelick, executive director of the New York Milk Bank, told CBS News.

Why there's increased demand at milk banks

State of play: There has been a "major increase" in demand for milk banks due to the baby formula shortage, said Lindsay Groff, executive director of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, per the Associated Press.

  • Demand has risen because families can't find their infant's normal baby formula due to the shortage and hope to find it at the milk banks.
  • Groff said questions about donations have jumped 20% in recent weeks amid the baby formula shortage, which has been caused by the supply chain issues and a recall of popular baby formulas.

Yes, but: Donated milk doesn't help every family. Premature infants and babies need specialized formulas because of their specific medical conditions, which has made the shortage even more troubling for some families.

  • A small percentage of babies are also intolerant to milk so they rely on soy-based formulas. There are also protein hydrolysate formulas for those who can't tolerate both.
Milk banks may not be enough

The silver lining: Groff told CBS News that milk banks are only "a partial solution" to the ongoing shortage, but there could be long-term benefits to donations.

  • "Demand is surging, people are desperate," she said.
  • "Babies are always in need of donors' milk," she said. "Hopefully this helps more people understand that." 
  • "If more healthy, lactating people contact their local milk banks to donate, we will have more milk available to extend beyond those with the most urgent needs," Groff said.

What we're watching: The White House, Congress, and the Food and Drug Administration are all working to improve the baby formula crisis.

  • "We recognize that many consumers have been unable to access infant formula and critical medical foods they are accustomed to using and are frustrated by their inability to do so," said FDA commissioner Robert Califf in a statement.
  • The Biden administration said it is looking to cut red tape to make sure baby formula gets on store shelves quicker.
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