(AP) – The baby food shortage in the US has sparked a wave of interest among US milk banks, with some mothers offering to donate breast milk and desperate parents calling to see if feeding their babies is a solution to hold.
It’s a path that won’t work for every bottle-fed baby, especially babies with special nutritional needs, and it poses challenges as the nation’s dozens of nonprofit milk banks prioritize feeding medically vulnerable babies. The organizations collect milk from mothers and process it, including through pasteurization, and then work with hospitals to distribute the milk.
The shortage stemmed from a safety recall and supply disruptions and has attracted national attention with panicked parents looking to swap and buy formulas online, and President Joe Biden urging manufacturers to increase production and discuss with retailers. how they can replenish the shelves to accommodate regional differences. The Biden administration also said on Friday that formulator Abbott Laboratories has committed to offering discounts until August for a food stamp-like program that helps women, infants and children called WIC.
At the Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast, located in Newton, Massachusetts, interest in donating and receiving milk has skyrocketed because of the shortage. Typically, the milk bank gets about 30-50 calls a month from people who want to donate. On Thursday alone, 35 calls came in from potential donors, said Deborah Youngblood, the bank’s executive director.
“It’s interesting that the first kind of response we got was from potential donors — so people who responded to the shortage of formulas with kind of an amazing, compassionate response of ‘how can I be part of the solution?'” he said. they.
Youngblood talked 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 68 gallons after the birth of her first child, and had no intention of doing it again.
“I thought 18 gallons was enough for one person,” she said. “If I hadn’t heard about the shortage, I wouldn’t go through the process again just because I have three kids and it’s a bit chaotic here.”
She has pledged at least 150 grams of her milk, but said she expects to give much more than that.
“I’m very blessed to be able to produce milk, so I felt I had to do something,” she said.
She said she has shipped her frozen milk to Denver in special containers in the past, but this time her local hospital is taking the donations and can just drop them off.
It’s not just donors, though. Parents desperate for nourishment for their babies also hunt for milk banks.
At the Massachusetts milk bank, about 30 people called in search of milk because they couldn’t find their baby’s usual formula, Youngblood said. That’s more than almost no phone calls, as the milk bank typically serves hospitals.
Lindsay Groff, the group’s executive director, said the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, a nonprofit milk bank accreditation organization, is seeing a “big increase” in demand. She estimates that demand from parents looking to fill the formula shortage has increased by 20% in recent days.
Groff called the shortage a “crisis” and said it’s not as easy as parents replenishing donated breast milk because the vast majority of those supplies are for babies with medical conditions.
“If people can donate, now would be the right time because if we have more inventory, we can look beyond the medically vulnerable,” she said.
Parents are also turning to online breast milk exchange forums to meet the needs of their babies.
Amanda Kastelein, a mother of three from Middlebury, Connecticut, supplemented the special formula she needs for 10-month-old Emerson with breast milk from a mother she found on a peer-to-peer Facebook page called Human Milk 4 Human Babies .
Kastelein stopped breastfeeding after recurrent infections, but tried to breastfeed again in March after a formula recall, with little success.
“Emerson is allergic to most formulas, so it was difficult to find something he is not allergic to,” she said.
Hannah Breton of Naugatuck, Connecticut, got in, having produced more milk than her 2 1/2 month old son needs. She gives Kastelein about 60 ounces of milk every two weeks. That’s enough to top up her bottle feed and keep Emerson fed.
“She asked a lot of questions — what drugs I’m taking, if any, things like that,” Breton said. “So we decided, ‘OK, that’s perfect.’ So she comes by every few weeks and picks up the milk I’ve been saving for her.”
“I feel useful,” she added. “It’s exciting and rewarding that I can give to a mom who can’t find what she’s looking for, and if her son can’t bottle feed, I mean, it’s scary.
Rebecca Heinrich, director of the Mothers’ Milk Bank in Colorado, advises milk-seekers that seeking donors themselves can be risky.
“We want to make sure these moms are as safe as possible and meeting their baby’s needs, so talking to their healthcare provider about how to meet those needs is the best course of action,” she said.
The shortage is particularly challenging for lower-income families following the recall by formular Abbott, amid concerns about contamination. The recall has exhausted many brands covered by WIC, a federal program such as food stamps for women, infants and children, although it now allows branded substitutes.
On Friday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack sent a letter to the head of Abbott Laboratories expressing what he called “great concern about the accessibility of safe infant formulas” and noting that Abbott has infant formula contracts in place. federal WIC program. Vilsack asked Abbott to continue a program that offers discounts on alternative products, including formulas for competing brands, which it has been doing on a month-to-month basis. The White House said Friday that Abbott is committed to the discounts until the end of August.
The Biden administration said it is working with states to make it easier for WIC recipients to purchase different formats of formulas that may not currently cover their benefits.
Abbott has said it can restart a manufacturing site “within two weeks” pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
The company would begin manufacturing EleCare, Alimentum and Metabolic formulas and then begin manufacturing Similac and other formulas. Once production begins, it will take six to eight weeks for the formula to hit the shelves.
On Tuesday, the FDA said it was working with US manufacturers to increase their output and streamline paperwork to allow for more imports.
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