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Mothers' Milk Bank sees increase in demand for donor human milk due to nationwide formula shortage

Mothers' Milk Bank in Arvada
Posted at 4:37 PM, May 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-18 20:25:16-04

ARVADA, Colo. — The nationwide shortage of baby formula is affecting millions, with some retailers limiting the amount parents can buy as supply remains limited.

“I have never seen anything like this before,” said Lenna Gregory, donor relations and outreach manager of Mothers’ Milk Bank.

Mother's Milk Bank is a nonprofit that collects, tests and processes donated human milk, which is then given to babies in need. Gregory says they've seen the impact of the shortage firsthand.

“We started seeing a little bit of an increased need a couple of months ago and having a real increased demand for milk and more families reaching out,” said Gregory.

With recent recalls of baby formula and supply chain issues, many families are searching for alternatives. One of them is buying donated human milk from milk banks.

“We screen all of our donors and process the milk by pasteurizing it to make it safe for premature and medically-fragile infants, as well as for healthy-term babies,” said Gregory.

A big barrier for some parents is the cost.

“We have a processing fee, that's $4.50 per ounce. The milk is $18 for a four-ounce bottle,” said Gregory.

A newborn typically takes between 25 to 30 ounces of milk a day, meaning it could cost parents around $800 per week without any financial assistance. Gregory says the processing fee ensures the milk they provide is safe.

“Donors are screened for lifestyle factors, for medications that might not be compatible with our premium newborn population, screened for the same kind of things that blood donors are,” Gregory explained.

Mother's Milk Bank and Governor Jared Polis announced a partnership Tuesday to encourage donations of breast milk or financial support. The hope is that the increased awareness will drive down some of the costs.

“Colorado is calling for financial donors because Mother's Milk Bank has a fairly robust financial assistance program. So, anyone wanting to be get involved can help soften that cost to families,” Gregory said.

Mothers’ Milk Bank prioritizes about 80% of its milk to support babies in neonatal intensive care units (NICU). The remaining milk is then donated to other families in need.

“We're just one piece of the resources that these families have,” Gregory said.

While some milk banks are an alternative, it’s far from becoming a long-term solution.