Feb 7, 2022 - News

Got (breast) milk? Demand for donations is rising

An employee in protective medical gear caps bottles of donated breast milk
A milk technician caps bottles of donated breast milk before pasteurization. (Note: This was corrected from previously stating it was after pasteurization.) Photo courtesy of OhioHealth

The OhioHealth Mothers' Milk Bank in Whitehall is experiencing an unprecedented demand for donated breast milk.

  • But while requests are up 30%, the pandemic is making it more difficult to get donations to vulnerable infants than ever before.

Why it matters: Ohio's only milk bank ships free, nutrient-rich human breast milk to babies when their mother's milk isn't available (recipients just pay processing and handling). Most recipients are premature infants in intensive-care units.

  • Once hospital requests are fulfilled, families at home can access donations.
  • "Donor milk is to premature infants like a blood donation is to a trauma patient. It's life-saving," outreach coordinator Chris Smith tells Axios.

By the numbers: The bank is on pace to dispense nearly 468,000 ounces — or 3,656 gallons — this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

  • One ounce feeds three premature babies for an entire day.

Threat level: Milk banks across the country are reporting shortages of donors, per the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

  • Our local supply should last as long as our donor supply doesn't dry up, Smith says.

The intrigue: The more immediate issue is supply chain difficulties preventing the bank from operating at maximum output.

  • Milk donated from healthy mothers must first be pasteurized to remove potential bacteria and viruses. The bank's machines, from a manufacturer in England, use specific 3- and 6-ounce plastic bottles that are capped by hand.
  • But 6 ounce bottles have been unavailable for some time, making the process more tedious and time-consuming.

What they're saying: "We're trying to dispense at least 30% more milk with one hand tied behind our back," Smith says. "We're barely keeping up."

How to help: Donated milk is accepted up to seven months after the date it's expressed. Plenty of freezer space is available.

  • The bank has 14 drop sites across Ohio, including one in Westerville.
  • To become a donor or request donations for your baby, call 614-566-0630 or email [email protected].

Editor's note: This piece was updated to clarify recipients of donated breast milk do pay for processing and handling.

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